CEBU -- Though more dancing contingents are joining the Sinulog parade this year, fewer people are expected to attend the Sinulog activities due to the papal visit to Manila and Tacloban City next week.

Also, those who want to come to Cebu may also experience problems with their flight bookings, as some Cebu-Manila flights have been cancelled when Manila becomes a no-fly zone at certain hours on January 15, when Pope Francis arrives, and on January 19, when he leaves the country.

Manila will also be a no-fly zone at certain hours on January 17, the day the Pope flies to Tacloban.

Sinulog Foundation Inc. (SFI) Executive Director Ricky Ballesteros said it is understandable that those from Luzon and Leyte provinces would opt to join the activities of the Pope in Manila and Tacloban, considering that seeing the Pope would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most Filipinos.

“Affected gyud ang Sinulog ani (in terms of number of people) because they are torn between two big events… Those from Luzon, Manila and Leyte might decide to attend the Pope’s activities instead,” he said during the AGIO (Association of Government Information Officers) forum on Tuesday.

The solemn procession on January 17 will coincide with the trip of the Pope to Tacloban to be with the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda.

On January 18, the day of the Sinulog grand parade, he will conclude his visit with a mass at the Rizal Park in Manila.

The Pope’s itinerary has not changed yet, but Ballesteros said they are prepared with a plan if he decides to swing by Cebu.

Despite the possibility of having a smaller crowd, organizers and their partners have prepared plenty of treats for revelers who will come to see the Sinulog, which will cost the SFI some P45 million to stage.

‘Sinulog feel’

As soon as guests arrive at the airport, GMR Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC), the manager of the airport terminals, will welcome them with the Sinulog dance starting on January 12.

Arriving passengers will also be asked to join a Sinulog raffle, and they stand to win hotel accommodations and airline tickets.

“What we would like them to feel is that when they come home, the celebration starts right at the airport. The moment they get off the plane, they will immediately feel the Sinulog,” said Estee Marie Plunket, GMCAC corporate affairs head.

Given the importance of the Papal visit, the SFI will place two large screens at the Cebu City Sports Center during the grand parade.

“Whenever there is a lull during the program, we would show a live feed of the Pope’s activities so the people at the grand stand would also get to watch the Pope’s activities,” Ballesteros said.

As of Tuesday, January 6, 36 contingents confirmed their participation in the grand parade, but organizers expect the number to increase to at least 45 next week.

With nine out-of-town groups, Ballesteros said the number of contingents will be more than last year’s 42 contingents.

‘Be spiritual’

Among the contingents coming from outside of Cebu are those from Tangub City, North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Placer City, Masbate Province, Catbalogan in Samar, and Albuyog and Alang-Alang in Leyte.

For the grand parade finale, revelers will see performances depicting the history of Cebu. Some 1,000 performers and 400 choir members will join the grand finale, which will end with a fireworks display.

In Cebu City Hall, Mayor Michael Rama had all 500 traffic enforcers, parking attendants and office personnel of Citom undergo a traffic management training on Tuesday, since all of them will be deployed to the field during the Sinulog activities.

He also urged the Cebuanos to help ensure that the Sinulog will be a peaceful and successful event.

“Sinulog is Cebu. Let us defend, protect and contribute to its success. To all the undesirables, please take a leave and be spiritual instead. Attend all the religious activities at the basilica,” he said.

Extra alert

Starting today, January 7, Senior Superintendent Conrad Capa, officer-in-charge of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO), declared a heightened alert status in preparation for the Sinulog.

This means that all CCPO personnel are not allowed to go on leave starting today, until January 18, the day of the parade.

Capa added he will allow street parties, in contrast to recent years.

“Let the people enjoy Sinulog,” Capa said.

He will consult the Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas if they will declare a gun ban during the festivities.

About 700 personnel from the Regional Public Safety Battalion will be deployed in the city during the Sinulog.

About 400 others will be sent to Leyte for the papal visit, said Senior Superintendent Erson Digal, chief of the Regional Operations and Plans Division of Police Regional Office.

Members of the Presidential Security Group will secure Pope Francis, but the police are needed to secure the perimeter and take on other security tasks. (With JTR/Sun.Star Cebu)