CEBU CITY -- Despite the rain, an estimated two million devotees turned up for the procession in honor of the Señor Sto. Niño, a marked increase from last year's crowd of 1.5 million.

Cebu City Police Director Patrocinio Comendador Jr. provided the estimate, which included those who filled the Pilgrim Center at the Basilica del Sto. Niño and who stayed along the procession route, waving when the image of the Holy Child was wheeled past them.

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The high end of the crowd estimate is 2.3 million, the police said, or the equivalent of over 65 percent of Cebu's total population.

No crimes disrupted the ceremony, Comendador said, but at least eight children were reported missing in the crowd that turned up to honor the Holy Child. Some of the children were later reunited with their parents.

With a large crowd expected in Sunday's parade, Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas Director Lani-o Nerez appealed to politicians not to use the Sinulog Festival for their political advancement.

He said the Feast of Señor Sto. Niño and the Sinulog are both religious and cultural activities that politicians should not "turn into a political forum."

Giving away political leaflets, for example, is discouraged to prevent stampedes, he said.

Political figures also joined Saturday's solemn procession. Among them was Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, who for about five hours helped pull the lead "carroza" or float that held the image of the Señor Sto. Niño.

Also spotted near the "carroza" were Representatives Eduardo Gullas (Cebu Province, first district), and Raul del Mar (Cebu City, North District), and del Mar's daughter, congressional aspirant Cutie del Mar.

The procession, which started at 1:30 p.m., lasted five hours. It passed by downtown Colon, P. del Rosario St., V. Rama Ave., B. Rodriguez St. and Osmeña Blvd. before returning to the Basilica.

The police force's request not to use balloons or pyrotechnics was ignored by some participants. Fortunately, no accidents occurred.

The Basilica's media liaison officer, Fr. Tito Soquino, reported some difficulties when the procession approached downtown Cebu City.

"Some areas had really small routes, so that security men surrounding the carroza had to adjust the alignment of the crowd just to pass through," said Soquino.

At the mass that capped the procession, Bishop John Du reminded the faithful that God, in the form of the Sto. Niño, wants His flock to approach Him without fear.

"A child's power lies on his being powerless," said Du.

After the mass, the traditional Sinulog dance was performed, and a fireworks display lit up.

The excitement was lost on Erlinda Canoy, 30, who was separated from her three-year-old son near the Fuente Osmeña rotunda.

Canoy, a resident of Dumlog, Talisay City, appealed over radio station dySS for help. Police said she was reunited with her son past 5 p.m. at the Fuente Osmeña Police Station. (JKV/JTG/Sun.Star Cebu)