Seares: 'All systems go,' says Cebu City Hall. Move Sinulog from SRP or no province contingents, insists Capitol. Kons Jerry Guardo promises dance route won't be muddy. Mayor Mike-Guv Gwen talk Friday night didn't work. Province withdrawal also seen as 'final.'

HOW things are, as of Saturday morning, January 14, a day before the Sinulog parade, the civic-cultural main event of the annual Fiesta Senor Sto. Niño:

[1] 'ALL SYSTEMS GO.' Thus assured Cebu City Councilor Jerry Guardo, chairman of the City Council committee on infrastructure. Guardo was assigned by the mayor to "supervise" and coordinate with the contractor on road asphalting, stage building and other infrastructures for the Sinulog parade and showdown at South Road Properties (SRP) Sunday, January 15.

The stage will be "ready," Guardo told me Saturday, and "no part of the dance route will be muddy."

[2] LOOKS LIKE IT'S FINAL. Pullout of contingents from eight towns, two cities and one guest team of performers was already ordered by Capitol. Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia announced that Friday, January 13, at about 9 p.m. Earlier, Thursday night, she gave the warning to the organizers: no Abellana, no dance groups from the towns in the province.

Friday night's public address served as ultimatum, delivered by phone to Mayor Mike himself. The mayor, upon hearing from the governor herself, said he'd confer with the people directly handling the arrangements. She ended her live-streamed media briefing that night with no word from the mayor. The eight town mayors and two city mayors have agreed on Capitol's move, the governor said.

Is the door closed then on any compromise? Apparently yes. The noise from both Capitol and Cebu City Hall suggested finality of their decisions. As of this writing, it's "Go-we're-not-changing-sites" on Cebu City's side and "We're-out-of-here" on the part of the Province. Sound bites -- such as Guardo's "All systems go" and Mayor Mike's latest quip "All roads lead to SRP" -- speak volumes. The ultimate decider, the City, is not yielding. And Province participants are breaking away.

[3] TWO VERSIONS ABOUT PREPAREDNESS. City Hall says -- exemplified by Kons Guardo's status report -- the SRP Grounds will be ready for Sunday's Sinulog. Cebu Capitol -- repeating the governor's statement Friday night -- says the SRP is not ready and will not be by Sunday.

Capitol's assessment seems to be supported by photos taken of the site and continual rains in the past few days.

Besides the social media chatter, Ricky Ballesteros, former executive director of Sinulog Foundation, and Anthony Gerard Leuterio, Filipino Homes founder and president of Filipino Homes, underscored the high risk of using "a new and untested" venue after the lull in the past two years and decades of using the city streets and Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC).

Guardo conceded that a "huge adjustment" was needed for the new site but, he said, "All will be ready for the big event."

[4] 'GENERALLY SAFE.' There have been complaints about the SRP being not ready, including that from Talisay City dancers who reportedly were exposed to the rain during their practice. "Children's safety" was the major reason the governor cited in her decision to shun Sunday's activity at SRP.

Guardo said the Sinulog route is "generally safe" for the dancers and spectators. An over-all answer, which didn't pursue concerns catalogued by Guv Gwen, including slippery and/or muddy roads and showdown area, traffic congestion with the closure of SRP to traffic exiting from or entering the city, and safety of VIP guests.

[5] REDUCED NUMBER OF CONTINGENTS. Councilor Guardo said the Sinulog will be more "exciting" if the province contingents will participate instead of boycotting it. Sixteen out of 26 will remain, news media reported. Guardo didn't say if the reduction of number will mean disaster.

In 2019, the number of participants was reduced to 27, under two categories: Sinulog-based and free interpretation. In 2020, ordered by then mayor Edgardo Labella, the organizers kept the number at not more than 30. Cutting down this year's contingents will mean the showdown ceremony may not go beyond 8 p.m., which was Labella's thrust.

[6] THE MATTER OF MONEY. The City Council last December appropriated P35 million for Sinulog 2023, not counting funds for the physical setup at SRP and, obviously, money spent by various departments helping prepare for the event. And not including cash donations and product sponsorships from private companies and organizations, which the Sinulog Foundation receives.

Kons Guardo told me that "most" of the constructions at the site were funded by private contractor(s) and "anonymous" suppliers, who donated dump trucks and heavy equipment. Filling materials, he said, were mostly waste from CCLEX and the ruins of the demolished White Gold building.

Before the controversy, Cebu Province pledged a P20 million donation to Sinulog Foundation. The promise will be kept, Guv Gwen said Friday night, an indication of her continued support to Cebu's "traditional, international" cultural-religious event.

[7] WHO DECIDED ON SRP, CAPITOL MOVE. Guardo said there were prior consultations, without specifying who were consulted. It was "finally decided by the Sinulog board and supported by majority of the City Council." The governor had complained that Capitol and local governments were not consulted about the site.

Mayor Rama however is seen by the public as the principal decider, although he has been known to hold "convergence" sessions to get consensus on major issues. If people were listening, in October 2022, the mayor already said the choice of SRP as Sinulog site was "final."

As to the Capitol move to pull out town dance groups from Sinulog, the governor is seen as main author. Guv Gwen said she has the support of the town mayors whose contingents have withdrawn. It doesn't matter that the mayors may have only ratified an accomplished fact; what's important is that they agreed and will follow Capitol's plan in the power play.