IT’S a first-hand “Pit Senyor feels” for balikbayans who were able to experience the warmth of Cebu at the balikbayan reception party at the Terminal 2 arrival area of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) on Thursday, Jan. 17.

Diomedes Montecillo, 76, a balikbayan from Texas, expressed his appreciation for this welcoming effort.

“First time ni nga ingon ani, and nindot siya actually, lingaw (It’s my first time to see this, and it’s good, entertaining),” he said.

MCIA Public Affairs Manager Mary Ann Dimabayao said the balikbayan welcome reception is just one of the activities of the Balik Cebu project of the Department of Tourism (DOT) 7 in coordination with the MCIA, which aims to serve the balikbayans at their convenience.

She said the reception party started 17 years ago. The opening salvo, which is part of the Balik Cebu Project, always starts at the airport.

“Kini atong ipahigayon para ma feel bitaw sa atong mga balikbayans, especially karong Sinulog season, ang warmth of Cebu. Atoang ginalantaw ba nga ang airport mao man gud ni siya ang first impression sa atoang mga balikbayans nga diri mangabot (We hold this so that the balikbayans can feel the Sinulog season and the warmth of Cebu. We believe it’s the airport that makes the first impression for arriving balikbayans),” she said.

Montecillo, on the other hand, said his family’s homecoming is part of their devotion to the Sto. Niño every Sinulog season.

“Tomorrow, we’re going to the church, to Sto. Niño (Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño), and we’re planning to join the procession (solemn procession). Then we go to Carcar and then go to Sogod,” he said.

His wife, Vivian Demecillo, who is from from Sogod, Cebu, said they pray to the Sto. Niño for good health.

Lorna Cabrera, an expatriate from Chicago and a native of Samar, said one of her petitions to the child Jesus is for her daughter-in-law to conceive and have a baby.

“I want help for my eldest son and his wife to have a baby. How do I do that? Should I dance and shout Sampit Senyor? It’s our first time. Mao ra gyud na nga makaanak akong umagad (For my daughter-in-law to bear a child). I pray for a baby, a blessing,” she said.

Ethel Buot, 50, a registered nurse in Los Angeles, California, looks forward to a gathering of her family during the feast day of the child Jesus.

“I look forward to the Sinulog, especially family reunions and fun this Sinulog. Ang naandan (The usual) family gathering and the procession,” she said.

Glenda Spencer, 30, said she was actually surprised after she learned that her husband bought her a plane ticket to Cebu.

“I did not expect it because my husband was the one who bought my ticket. It was a big surprise. The Sinulog festival, I’m kind of excited about it and of course family time. I’m originally from Bulacao, Talisay,” said Spencer.

Pete Lagura, a caregiver for 15 years from Chicago, USA, was ecstatic upon reaching the terminal.

“Kalinaw gyud, kalinaw sa katawhan ug magmabungahon ang paningkamot sa katawhan (Peace, peace for the people and hopefully for their hard work to bear fruit),” Lagura said when asked what his intentions are for the Fiesta Señor.

Lagura, who hails from Roxas, Zamboanga del Norte, said he intentionally dropped by Cebu before heading home to his town to attend the festivities.

“I am very happy that my prayers from the Sto. Niño that I will be able to go home this fiesta was granted,” Juliet del Mar said. Del Mar has been an overseas Filipino worker in the last six years in Dubai.

DOT 7 Director Shahlimar Hofer Tamano said balikbayans play a great role in boosting tourism in Cebu.

“The balikbayans are important, because they are our top four visitors. We have the Koreans, the Chinese, the Japanese, and then the balikbayans. In fact, last year, we had the ambassadors visit. These are all the attaches in the US that visited us,” he said. (Wenilyn Sabalo, USJ-R Intern)