UNLIKE in the past three celebrations, there will be no interruption of cellular phone signals during the activities of Sinulog 2020.

This is what Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella and Cebu City Police Office officer-in-charge (OIC) Col. Engelbert Soriano said after the send-off ceremony of around 1,600 police personnel for the Sinulog festivities on Wednesday morning, Jan. 8, 2020.

But Soriano said they will shut down phone signals “only when the need arises.”

He said they will immediately interrupt phone signals if they detect suspicious persons and items, among others, during the Sinulog celebration. A final advice from an intelligence team will then prompt the shutdown of signals.

“The keyword there is as the need arises. It depends on the present and prevailing situation at the moment,” he said. The police, he added, have the needed equipment and resources to jam phone signals when needed.

The National Telecommunications Commission and telecommunications companies have agreed to wait for the police decision on phone signal, he also said.

The signal shutdown started in the Sinulog 2017 following bombing incidents in Mindanao where police said bombs were detonated remotely through the use of mobile phones. Without a cell phone signal, blasting devices could no longer be activated. The shutdown continued in the 2018 and 2019 festivities.

Labella said the decision not to shut down signals will provide the Sinulog attendees and spectators, especially tourists, better communications during the celebration.

“There are many tourists; there will be about four million who will attend the celebration and it is important they can communicate,” Mayor Labella said. “(Before) many were complaining, especially the foreigners because they had a hard time going back to their hotels and condominiums.”

But the reaction on social media was mixed. When the no-shutdown announcement came, some people welcomed it while others insisted that the public’s safety was more important than being able to use mobile phones.

On the Facebook accounts of SunStar Cebu and Superbalita Cebu, there were those who were happy that they would continue to have a phone signal during the Sinulog highlights, namely, the solemn processions and the grand parade. Some said it was difficult to coordinate with companions with the shutdown.

There were also those who said a shutdown was not a bad idea, considering the threats from terrorists and criminal groups. Never mind if we cannot use our mobile phones, some said, for as long as we can be assured of our security.

To ensure security, city police OIC Soriano said intelligence teams deployed in various areas will be strengthened. Among the focus areas are the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu and Talisay and the town of Cordova. The gun ban for these areas is also effective Thursday, Jan. 9.

The 1,600 police personnel will be deployed starting Wednesday evening in preparation for the start of the novena masses at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño on Thursday, Jan. 9.

Soriano also urged attendees and spectators to be vigilant, adding that the public can augment the monitoring done by the police.

The police also called the different fraternities in Cebu to a meeting for the signing of a peace covenant to prevent any confrontation between warring groups. Fraternities were told to keep their members in check and prevent any incident.

Labella is confident the Philippine National Police and intelligence teams will do well in the job of securing Cebu for the Sinulog.

Meanwhile, Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak said the public can get free water sponsored by the Metropolitan Cebu Water District along the route of the Sinulog culminating activity, the grand parade on Jan. 19.

Bring your tumblers or containers, and get free water to keep hydrated, he added.

On the part of the Department of Health, medical officer Shelbay Blanco said medical teams will be stationed at strategic areas starting with the opening procession today, Thursday. This will continue until the last Sinulog activity.

Each team will have five medical personnel, one ambulance driver and one communicator. More personnel will be posted in their areas and in the operation center.

At the same time, Blanco reminded devotees to keep hydrated and bring an umbrella, handkerchief or face towel and snacks such as candies. Wear flat or comfortable shoes and loose clothing.Remember not to push people or rush in order to prevent a stampede. Those who are not feeling well are advised to stay home.

Aside from health personnel, members of the Provicial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) are getting ready for the influx of devotees and for possible emergency situations. On Jan. 14, the PDRRMO will meet with local disaster responders to outline their preparedness. (JJL, AYB, ANV, USJ-R Journalism intern Mae Fhel Gom-os)