CEBU CITY (Updated) -- Some 3.2 million people walked in honor of the Sto. Niño during the solemn procession yesterday afternoon in Cebu City, a police official said.
The estimated crowd was larger than last year’s 2.7 million. A breeze fanned them as they walked five kilometers in Cebu’s largest religious activity, under gray skies but without the rain that weather forecasters had warned about.
“It was generally peaceful at sana magtuloytuloy na bukas (we hope it stays that way tomorrow),” said Senior Supt. Noli Romana, director of the Cebu City Police Office.
The carroza carrying the image of the Child Jesus left the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño on Osmeña Blvd. at 1:30 p.m. and reached it again a little over four hours later.
Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III failed to attend the procession, saying he had a very pressing commitment.
“I thank Him for all the blessings received; ask Him for peace and no more major calamities; and pray that He will make me a good servant of the people, so that I will be able to govern according to His will,” Davide said in a text message.
A little over three months before today’s fiesta, the large parts of the Visayas have had to deal with a powerful earthquake and one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded worldwide.
Cebu Province, for example, is asking for P26 billion from the National Government to rehabilitate more than 10 northern towns severely damaged by typhoon Yolanda last Nov. 8.
But Palo, Leyte Archbishop John Du thanked the Santo Niño for protecting much of Cebu from the full force of the typhoon.
This enabled the province to serve as the hub of relief operations for the affected provinces, where schools and hospitals have to be rebuilt, and about four million displaced persons provided with shelter and a means to earn a living.
Du also thanked Cebuanos for helping the people of Leyte and Samar after the typhoon.
While it is good to openly express devotion to the Santo Niño, the archbishop urged the faithful to accompany their faith with hard work.
“The Santo Niño is not a magician. He cannot turn into a talisman that protects people from being shot,” Du said.
He emphasized, however, that despite the calamities, the people’s faith in God remains strong.
Roman, the Cebu City police chief, said that at least 1,800 police personnel hit the streets to ensure peace and order during the foot procession.
He met with his key staff and personnel of the 11 police stations right after the event to fine-tune preparations for today’s Sinulog grand parade.
The foot procession started at the Basilica, proceeded to Osmeña Blvd. It also covered parts of D. Jakosalem St., Magallanes St., Borromeo St., Sanciangko St., Panganiban St., N. Bacalso Ave., V. Rama Ave. and B. Rodriguez St.
Devotees filled even the widest roads, like Osmeña Blvd. near the Fuente Osmeña rotunda. No major incidents were reported.
Many brought with them Sto. Niño images in different sizes, from elaborately clothed two-foot statues, to icons less than a foot tall.
Chief Insp. Romeo Santander, head of CCPO’s intelligence branch, said the fine weather probably contributed to the larger turnout of devotees.
“Mga tiguwang nangapil kuyog sa ilang pamilya kay wala niuwan unya dili sad kaayo init (The elderly walked with their families because it didn’t rain and wasn’t too hot),” he said.
Santander said they didn’t encounter any crowd control problems.
“Cooperative ra man sad gyud para ni (People cooperated in honor of the) Sto. Niño,” he said.
Santander said, though, that the police did arrest some suspected pickpockets.
The Waterfront Police Station also received complaints of theft, such as lost mobile phones and wallets.
Among the prominent victims was GMA 7 reporter Tina Panganiban-Perez, whose bag was slashed while she covered the procession.
Waterfront Police Station chief Wildemar Tiu revealed that Perez and her crew were moving with the crowd on Borromeo St. when unidentified thieves slashed her blue bag and ran off with her wallet.
The procession began at 1:30 p.m. yesterday, when the carroza or carriage bearing the image of the Santo Niño was brought out from the Basilica.
The carroza was heavily cordoned by security personnel and criminology students. Priests and seminarians under different orders of the Augustinian family surrounded it.
Behind the carroza, Basilica rector Fr. Jonas Mejares walked with Archbishop Du and Auxiliary Bishop of Cebu Emeritus Antonio Rañola.
While the solemn procession took its course, the rosary was recited in the Basilica.
After a five-kilometer journey, the carroza eventually arrived at the Basilica at 5:45 p.m. with devotees joyfully welcoming the image of the Child Jesus.
THE ORIGINAL SINULOG. A fluvial procession on the eve of the fiesta brings the images of the Child and Our Lady of Guadalupe to Cebu City from Mandaue, for a procession that winds its way across the heart of the city and into the hearts of thousands of devotees. (Photos by Arni Aclao, Ruel Rosello, Allan Cuizon, Alex Badayos & Julius G. Neri Jr.)
But while the solemn procession ended without any rain, some problems were caused by those who defied ban on balloons and firecrackers along the route.
When the main carroza passed by Sanciangko St., an explosion occurred on one of the electricity posts after a party popper hit one of the high-tension wires.
And just after the carroza had left the Basilica, balloons were still being launched.
“Gatuo ko nga strikto run sila pero naa paman diay makaipsot (I thought that they were strict this year, but there were still some people who refused to heed the ban),” said Arturo Dayagro, a devotee from Danao City.
The procession took place under cloudy skies, but without a drop of rain. Du said he was thankful that devotees did not have to get drenched during the procession.
He ended the mass by dancing the traditional Sinulog prayer-offering, in front of the gathered faithful. (Sun.Star Cebu)