Considering I had one too many rounds in Mandaue the previous night, I was up curiously early – not early enough to witness the fluvial procession, but still early enough to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. It was the third Sunday of January, the day of Sinulog proper. More notably, it was my first ever.
Ariane picked us up at half past eight. Mom decided to sit this one out on account of her bad knee. So it was just me and Tita Beth, our visitor from Ontario.
It was the festival’s 40th anniversary. But really, its core ideologies predate it by at least five centuries. The dance rituals were already in practice even before Magellan arrived, and they would remain intact through the spread of Catholicism. In many ways, the Sinulog encapsulates our country’s transition from paganism to Christianity, as it blended ancient custom and colonial influence.
In recent years, however, there was much concern over solemnity taking a back seat. Sinulog became more synonymous to wild street parties and maintaining peace and order became a challenge. Many felt that the true essence of the festival was diluted, if not tarnished. That’s why the objective this Ruby Year was to bring devotion back in focus.
We took a cab from Ayala Center, where Ariane left her car, to Cebu Business Park, where masks and headdresses were sold in droves. After purchasing a feathery headpiece myself, we continued through Gorordo Avenue on foot.
We made it to General Maxilom Avenue, known colloquially as Mango Avenue on account of mango trees once actually lining its path. These days, it’s known as one of Cebu City’s top commercial hotspots, with restaurants now standing in lieu of trees. Unsurprisingly, it was part of the Grand Parade route. We elbowed through the congealing crowd until we wound up in front of Lighthouse Restaurant. It was from that spot where we chose to watch the festivities.
Participants of the Higante (giant puppet) category soon sprouted from the horizon. The parade had finally arrived.
There’s no other way to put it: it was a shutterbug’s delight. Each presentation was a testament to collective ingenuity, commitment, and talent. The fact that they were in competition almost felt unjust, mounting them was already a victory. .
One of the standouts, at least in the portion we got to witness, was Banay Labangon, whose Ritual Showdown presentation clearly derived from the Stone Age. The contingent comprised of nearly a hundred teenage boys dressed as cavemen. And in a refreshingly stark departure from the juggernaut petticoats and towering plumes we’re accustomed to seeing, their lead dancer wore a Wilma Flintstone-inspired white tunic. A minimalist outfit, to be sure, but it allowed her to showcase her ballet prowess to a hilt. Turns out, she was also a runner-up in the Festival Queen pageant held a few days prior.
For some reason, the parade was stalled in that spot. But in a commendable display of showmanship (and protocol, most likely), they didn’t stop dancing. They went on, until sweat visibly seeped through their loincloths and fake beards.
Since we were there anyway, we decided to have lunch in Lighthouse. There, I managed to enjoy lengthier chatter with our de facto tour guide. Last I saw Ariane, she was a quiet 5-year-old sitting on her father’s lap aboard the speedboat to Caw-Oy. Now, she’s on her way to following her parents’ footsteps as a law student.
A few minutes later, my two-day-old lechon cravings were finally satisfied.
Sleepiness soon started catching up. It was probably the lechon or simply because I didn’t get enough sleep the previous night. Probably both. Either way, we decided to start heading back.
The screams became progressively deafening, signalling that the stars had arrived.
The Cebu LandMasters float served a one-two punch reminder of both my TV5 Artist Relations tenure and one-shot Mutya ng Pilipinas gig. Aloft were Miss Tourism International 2019 Cyrille Payumo and the ever-hyperactive Daniel Matsunaga.
Pizza Hut’s float followed suit. As expected by anyone familiar with the Araneta chain of companies, on board were Bb. Pilipinas titleholders. In front were Bb. Pilipinas – International Atty. Patch Magtanong and Miss Globe 2019 2nd Runner-Up Leren Bautista. Much to the crowd’s delight, seated (or rather, enthroned) at the back was Gazini Ganados, a Cebuana herself, making her first public appearance since Miss Universe 2019.
We had returned to the corner of Mango Avenue and Gorordo, when an army-inspired float triggered the loudest cheers we heard that afternoon. In front were actress Jennylyn Mercado, modestly clad in a white blazer, and actor Dingdong Dantes dressed as a soldier. It was a promo for GMA‘s upcoming remake of the K-drama Descendants of the Sun. At the left side of the float was another cast member, Rocco Nacino, also dressed in fatigues, waving at fans on the sidewalk. At the back, resting, was Andre Paras.
No exaggeration: There was a party in every corner. Even entrances of buildings were turned into makeshift stages, where employees played music in full blast and even invited foreign passersby to join the fun. Budget was also no issue for those who wanted to step out in costume. Every one had to be in the spirit, by hook or by crook.
I went back to Waterfront past 4:00PM, feeling both drained and invigorated. It was a strange feeling. But it made wonder why I missed out on the Philippine fiesta scene for that long. It’s an experience I’m inclined to repeat, hopefully, soon.
Mom invited me to dinner hours later. Midway through the buffet, the overlapping sounds of drums and glockenspiels started echoing across the lobby. Minutes later, a golden ensemble made their entrance. It was a pocket Sinulog staged by the Waterfront that evening. I’m glad to know that Mom didn’t miss the experience after all.