EXPLAINER: Disagreement on Sinulog parade site threatens 'One Cebu Island' theme of festivity. Guv Gwen says Mayor Mike's SRP choice is ill-timed and may cause serious problems, notes that the mayor hadn't consulted other LGUs.

CEBU. Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama (left), Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and a Sinulog sa Kabataan 2023 contingent. (Photos from Cebu City PIO and SunStar File)
CEBU. Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama (left), Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia and a Sinulog sa Kabataan 2023 contingent. (Photos from Cebu City PIO and SunStar File)

KEY ISSUES. [1] No disagreement about having the South Road Properties (SRP) as site for the Sinulog parade and performance. The dispute is on when. Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama says it's now. Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia says the site is not ready; the risk of serious problems is high.

[2] There's a Plan B or fallback, the good old Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC). But it's not known whether there's a mechanism for that and if there is, when and how it works.

Last January 6, Mayor Rama and Governor Garcia jointly declared open the 2023 celebration of Sinulog, with Cebu's top leaders affirming the theme of unity: "One Cebu Island."

Three days later, on January 9, Guv Gwen publicly disagreed with the choice of the site for the Sinulog parade and showdown: the SRP, instead of the "usual" City Sports Center in the city's downtown. In a press-con streamed live from the Capitol, the governor complained of the mayor not having consulted her and the mayors in Metro Cebu on the choice of the parade site.

A tear on the fabric of unity among the LGUs has begun to show. But more apparent and pressingly urgent is the threat on the civic part of Fiesta Senor Sto. Niño: the street parade and final performance of dance groups, which for decades had been held at CCSC.

The host of problems catalogued by the governor would affect thousands of celebrants from all over province and some parts of the country, and it could impair Cebu Sinulog's title, conferred recently by the International Events and Festivities Association, as one of the top three festivals in Asia.

REASONS FOR THE CHOICE. Even before the elections, on April 19, 2022, the mayor announced that Sinulog 2023 would be held at SRP. What clinched the choice was the Marcos Jr.-Sara Duterte rally the day before, which gathered an estimated 300,000 people. "I want the Sinulog done in SRP... (it's) much larger than the City Sports Center." "The crowd, the vendors, the whole 300 hectares, the road network, bring everybody, then we'll have a beautiful Sinulog."

Nobody of the governor's rank and caliber disputed any of Mayor Mike's reasons for his choice or asked for specifics. Maybe because when he announced it, he was not yet a full-fledged mayor with a fresh term. And the problems from the choice of the site didn't loom then as large as they do now, a few days before Sunday (January 15) festivity.

CONCERNS, raised by the governor -- and separately by former

Sinulog Foundation executive director Ricky Ballesteros -- range:

[] From the "impact" on her constituents commuting to and from the south (the Natalio Bacalso Ave. "cannot hold" the number of vehicles diverted by the SRP closure), on the business of merchants along the old parade route who have still to recover from losses in the past two years when Sinulog was celebrated digitally, and on security of visitors, especially VIPs in an open area...

[] ... To the SRP site not being ready yet (the stage and grandstand for performers and viewers and amenities for the crowd were still being built then); the unpredictability of the weather (rains would make the route and showdown area muddy; heat could cause heat stroke).

Neither Guv Gwen nor Sinulog expert Ballesteros rejected the SRP as suitable site in a future celebration. Both hammer on the state of unpreparedness. Garcia said time is essential for the "nitty-gritty": "the devil is in the details."

The governor and the former SRP Foundation director agree on the City Sports Center as the site for now, even as the SRP can be developed as ideal site in the next few years. CCSC is "tried and tested," Guv Gwen said. "Better safe than sorry... (Now) is not the right time." Ballesteros said the City Sports Center is the "best fallback," in case the SRP won't do.

FALLBACK OR 'PLAN B.' City Councilor Philip Zafra, head of the Sinulog executive committee, said last January 9 the CCSC "remains to be the fallback position" if there's a "need to abandon" SRP as this year's site.

But Zafra said that need was "far-fetched" since the stage was already completed. First, the Plan B option didn't come from the mayor who still appeared to have latched on to his SRP pick. Second, Zafra's response addressed only the problem of stage construction, only one among the publicized concerns.

MAYOR MIKE CALLS THE SHOTS. It's Mayor Mike's call as chairman of the Sinulog Foundation on the choice of parade and showdown site. (The City picks up a huge chunk of the bill and the Sinulog Foundation is led and controlled by city officials even though it is supposed to be a private organization.) But the mayor is duty-bound to decide "wisely and well," guided by what is best for the traditional festivity and the people taking part in it.

Mayor Mike's thrust on a "One Cebu Island," reflected in the theme, adds the burden of promoting unity among local governments and projecting a face of solidarity. Guv Gwen's concerns suggest that it hasn't been satisfactorily done.

There's no hostility in the disagreement though. No harsh words are said yet by the top local officials. It's not like a solution can't be reached anytime soon.


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