EXPLAINER: Cebu City has not cancelled Sinulog, only its physical activities. But opposition of police, doctors, others persists: practice for the show still requires mass gathering.

Pachico A. Seares
·4 min read

WHERE THEY ARE NOW. Doubts over the wisdom of holding the Sinulog, the cultural-civic part of Fiesta Senor 2021, solidified into specific and express opposition only in the last few days:

[1] Last Monday, January 4, the police regional office, through Lieutenant Colonel Glenn Mayam, announced that the police have recommended to the regional Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Management of Emerging Diseases the "prohibition of the holding of Sinulog."

[2] Wednesday, January 6, the Cebu Medical Society, through its president Dr. Minnie Montesclaros, opposed the Sinulog, citing the spike of active cases in Cebu City, fearing mass gatherings to speed up transmission.

[3] Thursday, January 7, the Sinulog Foundation Inc. (SFI) and the steering committee announced their decision to scrap "all the physical activities" of Sinulog 2021, notably the "ritual showdown" among the dance groups at the South Road Properties and the "carousel of dancers" on specified streets.

"100% VIRTUAL." Vice Mayor Mike Rama, SFI chairman and head of the steering committee this year, must believe that Sinulog, after Thursday's announcement, has become 100 percent virtual and zero physical. Two days earlier, Tuesday, January 6 -- when Rama insisted that Sinulog was a "go" -- his estimate was 99 percent virtual and one

percent physical.

Is physical activity completely eliminated? Not quite.

Mike Rama said the steering committee has held about 70 meetings already to plan and make the Sinulog "unorthodox and innovative" and, most of all, as safe against Covid-19 as possible.

The showdown at SRP (moved from the traditional site, the Cebu City Sports Complex) would've been "a bubble," no actual audience, he said. No floats, "higantes," and stalls on the streets.

And yet the opposition persists.

GATHERINGS DURING REHEARSALS. SFI and Rama did not reckon the mass gatherings that preparations for the cultural show demand. They said that dance contingents no longer have to travel to Cebu City, stay here and perform. Their performances will be video-recorded in their respective locations and the "tapes" sent to the Sinulog committee in Cebu City.

Lieutenant Colonel Mayam, explaining the police opposition, said that "even if mostly all activities are virtual, the performances of the dance contingents are still considered mass gatherings."

Councilor Nina Mabatid (Barug) said the dancers would still gather and physically interact during practice. In a Facebook post, Mabatid said she is a devotee of Senyor Sto Nino, having been born on the fiesta day, but she "cannot allow to risk public health and safety: "unya na lang nang sayaw-sayaw oi."

Councilor Alvin Dizon (BOPK) wanted the Sinulog deferred "until it is safe again for us to gather." Reacting to VM Rama's privileged speech during Wednesday's session, Dizon said the "context now is different since we are in a pandemic with another serious threat of a more infectious Covid-19 variant."

QUESTION OF MONEY. Dizon wanted the city administration to focus more attention on developing a more comprehensive vaccine procurement and rollout plan. VM Rama, at a press-con Thursday (January 7), said the City Council appropriated in the 2021 budget P400 million for the vaccines and will add in a supplemental budget P100 million more, not exactly the concerns Dizon specified.

Mabatid was among the councilors who voted for the P25-million budget for this year's Sinulog, P10 million larger than 2020's outlay but may still be reduced because of the "fewer and simplified" activities in the 2021 presentation.

MORE THAN SEMANTICS. Is the Sinulog being cancelled?

Not if there are still activities left and the budget for them remains. But if the opposers to the Sinulog will have their way, there must be no physical contact or mass gatherings that the present IATF and local government rules prohibit. Under a modified general quarantine or MGCQ, the crowd is limited to 50 percent of the capacity of the venue. How would that be applied to a practice session or recorded performance?

The Sinulog overhauled version still requires dancers to gather for practice and the filmed performance. And police and the doctors appear to oppose even that.

Thus the IATF may ultimately decide the issue. Significantly, that starts with the regional IATF where the police recommendation went, the organization under which Councilor Joel Garganera, deputy implementer for Cebu City, last Wednesday told the public that a Sinulog dancer was quarantined after being struck with the corronavirus.

Quibbling over the word "cancelled" involves more than semantics in the current dispute over Sinulog. Specifically, what would the ban on physical activities cover? Would it include mass gatherings of dancers and other performers in their respective localities before Sinulog Day?

The casualty here is obviously the Sinulog, Cebu's decades-old cultural event, surely not just a "sayaw-sayaw." But the activities of Sinulog that could be Covid-19 super-spreader are the actual target. As the Cebu Medical Society sees it, the balancing is between tradition and public health. Where does the scale tilt heavier?