HUNDREDS of balikbayans (returning Filipinos) and guests from the United States and Europe arrived at the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) for Sinulog 2015.

They were welcomed by Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, officials of GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC) led by Corporate Affairs Manager Estee Plunket, MCIAA officials led by General Manager Nigel Paul Villarete and tourism stakeholders.

Sisters Gaudencia and Elizabeth Estrada, who came from Las Vegas, and Rolly Santos, who came from San Diego, California, were among the 211 passengers who arrived from the US via Hongkong on board flight number 5J546 of the Cebu Pacific.

They said they grew up and studied in Cebu.

An additional 152 passengers arrived from Incheon airport in South Korea via Singapore on board flight number 0Z709 of Tiger Airways.

Increasing

Rama said they have prepared for the arrival of balikbayans and guests because they are increasing in number every year.

Rama said millions are coming to the Sinulog celebration every year in thanksgiving.

In the past years, there were terrible rains, but when the Sinulog carousel started, the rain stopped, said Rama.

“There were miraculous happenings with Señor Sto. Nino,” Rama said.

On the possibility that Pope Francis may pass by Cebu, Rama said it may happen with the intercession of Señor Sto. Nino.

“Remember that Cebu is the cradle of Christianity in Asia. But it all depends on the Pope whether he will come to Cebu or not,” Rama said.

Lourlie Balmes, chief of the Travel Control Enforcement Unit of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) at the MCIA, said they have eight counters, but only six were used yesterday. However, the processing of travel documents was still smooth.

Operations

Under the GMCAC management, baggage is quickly brought to the conveyor or carousel.

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) also quickly cleared all the baggage.

Villarete said that based on records, the number of balikbayans and guests is increasing every year.

Alice Queblatin, vice president of the Visayas Tourism Congress and commissioner of the Cebu City Tourism Commission, said giving a warm welcome to balikbayans and guests is one way to promote tourism in Cebu.