‘Sinulog’ dancers in Moro attire carrying image of Child Jesus draw flak

‘Sinulog’ dancers in Moro attire carrying image of Child Jesus draw flak

THE Muslim community in the Philippines has expressed protest over the “insensitive” depiction of the cultural heritage of the Moro people during the opening salvo of this year’s Catholic-led “Sinulog Festival” or the popular ritual prayer-dance honoring the Señor Santo Niño or the Child Jesus in Cebu, the nation's first Spanish settlement and the birth of Roman Catholicism.

On January 12 festivities, a dance troupe from Cebu Technological University (CTU) surprised the public and the viewing audience when they performed a ritual dance on the streets and the stage while carrying the image of Child Jesus in traditional Muslim attire.

“This cultural misappropriation and misrepresentation of Moro intangible traditional and heritage property are a clear manifestation of cultural and religious insensitivity because they blatantly ignored the fact that as Muslims, the Moros of Ranao, nay the Muslims of the Bangsamoro, do not participate in the festivity celebrating a folk Christian tradition honoring a saint or ‘god,’” said Robert Alonto, the commissioner of Bangsamoro Commission for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage- Lanao del Sur Office.

“In other words, the cultural and religious tradition of celebrating the Sto. Niño is for the Christians and not for us,” added Alonto in a public statement posted on its social media page over the weekend (January 13).

As they decried “in the strongest term possible the brazen distasteful misappropriation and misrepresentation of Bangsamoro traditional dances,” the commissioner maintained that the Bangsamoro Muslims “fully respect the Christian religion of our Christian compatriots because it is the dictate of our Islamic Faith that teaches tolerance.”

“Unity and reconciliation cannot be achieved by cultural theft, misappropriation, or imposition but by acknowledging cultural diversity through mutual respect and tolerance,” Alonto said.

“In this context, we, too, expect the same reciprocal respect and tolerance from our Christian Filipino compatriots in this country,” added the Moro official, as they demand “accountability” on what happened.

“This accountability should come in the form of a public apology to the Bangsamoro Muslims,” Alonto said.

During their “Sinulog” presentation, the CTU dance group performed the “Singkil,” a popular dance of Muslim royalty originating from the Maranao people of Lake Lanao, in Muslim-dominated southern Philippines.

Ahod Balawag Ebrahim, the chief minister of the Bangsamoro Government, earlier slammed the performance, calling it "grossly inappropriate and culturally insensitive."

"While we acknowledge the enthusiasm and interest shown by the Cebu Technological University in embracing, and to an extent, mainstreaming our cultural practices, we also believe that such expressions should come with genuine sensitivity and deep understanding of the unique and vibrant Bangsamoro cultural context," Ebrahim said in a separate statement on January 13.

In response, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, who stood as the overall chairman of the Sinulog festivities, quickly issued a public apology over the controversial incident.

“Apology is a precious. Sometimes, it is too difficult when pride sets in, but for people with humility, it becomes very cheap….To the Muslim community, I apologize,” Rama told reporters in Cebu on January 15.

The mayor opined that the dancers had no bad intentions, and that “excitement probably was reigning” during their performance.

While the mayor no longer seeks an investigation, he said the incident taught a lesson to everyone, according to the report from state-owned media Philippine News Agency on January 15.

“We understand and deeply regret that elements of our performance may have been perceived as insensitive or disrespectful towards your culture and religion. We assure you that there was absolutely no intention to cause harm or offense, and we are truly sorry if any aspect of our presentation came across as such,” also reads the university's statement on Jan. 13.

“We understand that apologies alone cannot fully repair the hurt caused. However, we hope that our sincere remorse, commitment to learning, and proposed actions demonstrate our genuine desire to build bridges and foster understanding between our communities,” CTU added.

As this developed, Ebrahim emphasized that the Bangsamoro Government “is open to working with all parties involved to ensure that cultural expressions are shared in a manner that upholds the dignity and authenticity of our rich cultural heritage.”

"We also appreciate Cebu Technological University’s gesture of issuing a public apology regarding this incident. We are hopeful that the same sad incident would not be repeated in the future,” Ebrahim said.

Amid the incident, Cotabato City Mayor Mohammad Ali Matabalao extended the “warmest wishes for a joyful celebration” of Cebu’s Sinulog celebration.

“In line with the spirit of the Sinulog Festival, known for its embodiment of unity and respect, we urge Cebu Technological University to initiate constructive dialogue with the communities impacted. This act of goodwill and understanding would significantly contribute harmonious spirit the festival seeks to promote,” Matabalao said in a statement on January 13.

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