For whom is the Sinulog?
While Cebu City Government officials praise the recently concluded Sinulog 2024 as a success, there is a need for stakeholders to assess a festival that defines Cebu at several levels as a center of religious veneration, hybrid of traditional and contemporary expressions of culture, and travel destination for business and tourism.
It is essential for public and private stakeholders to share a harmonized vision of what the Sinulog festival should represent and achieve for the different groups that, every January, converge in Cebu to take part in the religious, cultural, and entrepreneurial activities arising during the festival.
It is also as important to keep in mind that the conduct of the Sinulog affects approximately three million residents of Cebu City and other cities and municipalities in Metro Cebu.
Even if they stay away from and do not join Sinulog-related activities, residents of Cebu, Mandaue, Consolacion, Liloan, Lapu-Lapu, Cordova, Talisay, and other cities cannot escape the spillover of Sinulog, particularly the least savory of consequences: traffic and crime.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama declared the Sinulog 2024 as a “success,” adding that “we cannot please everybody.”
Redolent of Pontius Pilate’s public act of the washing of hands, the latter comment seems to be an official evasion of responsibility to take a serious stock-taking of an event that not only happens with regularity and therefore can be planned for but also presents paramount significance for the Cebu community, economy, and identity.
In recent years, the change having tremendous impact on Cebuanos is the transfer of the staging of the Grand Parade, involving the cultural and secular events falling on the day of the fiesta, from uptown Cebu City to the South Road Properties (SRP).
Police estimate that from 2.5 to 3 million people converged for the Sinulog. Whether this crowd estimate is accurate or not, many of those who went to the SRP narrated extreme difficulties in commuting home after the Sinulog festivities, as well as long intervals of staying stationary in slow-moving traffic for those leaving the SRP premises in their private transportation.
In past years when the Grand Parade was held in uptown Cebu City, people who could not afford to purchase a ticket to the Cebu City Sports Center could still watch from the sidewalks the contingents dance and perform the Sinulog.
Last Jan. 21, Marian and Tim brought their infant and his three older siblings to the SRP, leaving Lapu-Lapu City at 8 a.m. and returning to their home only at 2 a.m. on Jan. 22. With the the youngest of the children carried by the parents, the family walked for hours before they found a ride home on public transportation after the Sinulog Grand Parade ended.
In a viral multimedia report, Jovelyn Patulan cried when she reported selling only P100 of her merchandise at the SRP access road by the midmorning of Jan. 21. Patulan said she paid P500 to secure a permit to sell P20,000 worth of headdress and other Sinulog accessories.
Taking advantage of the crowd, many vendors once converged along the sidewalks of uptown and downtown Cebu City when the Grand Parade was held there. Sinulog visitors and residents had more choices for food, clothing, and other commodities to fit a range of budgets.
In the 2023 Sinulog, the SRP venue was exposed to the elements, aggravated by a downpour. In the 2024 Sinulog, the same venue was still exposed to the elements, leaving many vulnerable to exhaustion from the heat.
Have these adverse experiences of the public with the SRP-based Sinulog escaped the attention of Cebu City officials? Rama said that he has not undergone “any change of heart” about holding the Sinulog again at the SRP in 2025.
The future of the Sinulog should be shaped in consultation with all stakeholders as the best interpretation of the divine lies in participatory, inclusive governance.