THIRTY-FIVE years ago, a former Customs collector became the father of the country’s “festival of all festivals.”

In 1980, David “Boy” Odilao Jr., then a customs collector and director of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development (MSYD), came up with the idea of holding an activity that would show Cebu’s religious and festive side.

Inspired by his earlier concept, the Bahug-Bahug sa Mactan (now the annual Kadaugan sa Mactan), Odilao assembled eight Physical Education (PE) teachers from Cebu’s prestigious universities and colleges and started conceptualizing what the festival would be like.

That festival was the Sinulog.

When the first Sinulog started, physical education students from eight universities and colleges in Cebu first served as dancers.

“Back then, we only depended on government support. We had neither major sponsorships nor prizes for the participants,” Odilao told Sun.Star Cebu yesterday.

Odilao then already had an inkling that the Sinulog would grow into one of the biggest festivals in the country.

When he was reassigned to Surigao in 1980, Odilao gave his concept to the Cebu City Government, then led by Mayor Florentino Solon.

But before he gave the Sinulog to Cebu City, Odilao had asked Solon to “create a foundation for the Sinulog.”

Odilao said that with a foundation handling the Sinulog, he assured its legacy will never die. And it never did, he added.

Growth

Thirty-five years later, Odilao said the Sinulog continues to grow despite the challenges.

“When we started out, our concept was to create a festival that would serve as our “halad” (offering) to the Santo Nino. No more, no less. When you shout ‘Pit Señor!’, you are actually asking the Child Jesus for something,” Odilao said.

For 35 years, Odilao saw how his concept has evolved.

He admitted that there were times that he opposed some new concepts introduced in the dances, such as using grease as make-up for the dancers or using revealing costumes.

Odilao said that putting two categories-Sinulog-based and free interpretation-was a good idea and created new interpretations of the traditional Sinulog dance.

Odilao said the Sinulog created a standard for all festivities nationwide.

“Sa una, wala ma nay uso ang street dancing. Tungod sa Sinulog, daghan na kaayo kang makit-an nga mag-street dancing sa mga festivals (Before, street dancing wasn’t fashionable yet. Because of the Sinulog, there are now many street dancing in festivals),” he said.

What Odilao admired the most about the Sinulog is that it has gone beyond Cebu as a festival.

Odilao, who has a daughter in the United States, recalled seeing a Sinulog Festival organized by a Filipino community in Houston, Texas.

He said that from its humble beginnings, Sinulog has gone global, with Filipino communities in different countries celebrating it in their own way.

Odilao also credited the use of social media and modern technologies for promoting Sinulog outside Cebu.

He said that the festival will continue to stay as long as the Cebuanos continue to remain in their faith in the Santo Niño.

Saved

For the 77-year-old retired government official, his love for the Sinulog saved his life once.

When he was district collector of Zamboanga City, a group of unidentified men broke into his office and gunned down his deputy.

But during the time of the incident, Odilao was on his way home to Cebu to celebrate the Sinulog.

Despite the success that he had with the Sinulog, Odilao said he never sought praise or recognition for his work.

While he was recognized by the Cebu City Government several times for his work, Odilao was more contented with how the Sinulog has been celebrated annually.

Para nako, si Santo Niño ra gyuy mag-igo (For me, it all depends on the Santo Niño),” he added.