FILIPINOS who returned to Cebu and visiting foreigners received a warm welcome from the Balik Cebu event on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, as part of the festivities for the Fiesta Señor and Sinulog Festival.
Balik Cebu is an annual event of the Cebu City Tourism Commission, which includes holding a welcome party at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) in Lapu-Lapu City and distributing freebies to the arriving international passengers.
One of those who received a warm welcome was Kenneth Renegado, a nurse from California, U.S.A., who came home for a two-week vacation. He said attending the novena masses and participating in the solemn procession and the Sinulog Festival are among his priorities.
He was among the more than 1,000 individuals who arrived at MCIA on Thursday.
Renegado, who hailed from Kinasang-an Pardo, Cebu City, told SunStar Cebu that this was his second visit home since the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Niuli ko diri tungod sa akong debosyon sa Senyor Sto. Niño. It started with my parents kay mao ang ilahang devotion. Karon nga wala na sila, I always make sure nga makabalik ko,” Renegado said.
(I returned home because of my devotion to the Holy Child Jesus. It started with my parents because that was their devotion. Now that they are no longer here, I always make sure that I can come back).
“I wanted to enjoy the usual Sinulog stuff like the food, the dancing, the mardi gras, and of course the solemn procession,” he added.
Renegado said he also invited friends from the U.S. who will be experiencing the festivities for the first time. For him, the Sinulog Festival is incomparable to other celebrations.
Meanwhile, Alice Queblatin, Balik Cebu committee chairperson, said that international arrival was in time for the Sinulog activities.
Balik Cebu was successfully relaunched last year, after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
Queblatin told SunStar Cebu that they were hopeful of an increase of passenger arrivals in time for Sinulog, as restrictions were already lifted.
“A lot of them are coming on their own and have arrived already. So, the ones that we are meeting today are the ones who really used to coming in during the Sinulog week,” Queblatin said.
She said a handful of balikbayans had already pre-booked from various tour packages that were about the Sinulog Festival, including the participation of the seaborne procession.
She added that the organizer prepared the usual activities including the welcome dinner at the Ayala Terraces in Cebu Business Park, serving the balikbayans with Cebuano and Filipino fiesta dishes.
They will also be entertained by various performances prepared by the committee.
The welcome party was also attended by officials of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority led by general manager Julius Neri Jr., Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and other stakeholders.