A SINULOG participant has manifested symptoms of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) while the Talisay City Government has decided to back out of the festival, further fueling doubts over the conduct of cultural activities this year.
The participant has been swabbed and the test result is expected to be released today, Jan. 7, 2021, Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera said.
The 90 other members of the group were being identified by contact tracers. Garganera declined to identify the barangay to which the group belongs.
“If it turns out to be positive, all their homes would most likely be placed under lockdown,” Garganera said Wednesday, Jan. 6.
Garganera, who is the Cebu City Emergency Operations Center (EOC) deputy chief implementer, said they learned about the case after the barangay captain asked for assistance.
Talisay City Mayor Gerald Anthony Gullas Jr., in a Facebook post late Wednesday night, announced that the City made the decision after weighing the risks posed by the pandemic.
A fervent devotee of the Sr. Sto. Niño, he said their participation this year would have been their offering to the Holy Child.
Whether the Sinulog Festival’s cultural activities will push through as scheduled remains to be seen.
Cebu City Vice Mayor Michael Rama, who is the lead convenor of the Sinulog this year, is pushing for the conduct of the cultural activities.
But he also said he will wait for the decision of the national Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella had asked the IATF to decide as soon as possible.
He said he will abide by the IATF’s decision.
“If there’s going to be an IATF resolution cancelling the Sinulog, then I will abide by it,” Labella said in a press conference Wednesday.
If it will be allowed to push through, Labella said he will require all participants to undergo a swab test.
If it will be cancelled, Labella said the P25 million budget for the prizes and cash subsidies for the contingents may be reprogrammed or used to augment the City’s budget for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines.
The City Government has already approved P350 million for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccines under its 2021 annual budget.
While waiting for the IATF’s decision, Labella said he hoped Rama and the Philippine National Police (PNP) could come up with a win-win solution.
The police previously called for the cancellation of the Sinulog cultural activities.
The PNP, however, has not formally submitted its recommendation to the Regional IATF, according to secretariat head Kenneth Lucero.
Lucero said the regional task force will convene only upon receipt of the PNP’s recommendation.
Police Lieutenant Col. Glenn Mayam, head of the Regional Operation and Management Division 7, earlier said they will recommend to the RIATF to cancel the activities in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A few days earlier, the Cebu City EOC recommended two options.
One is that each contingent’s performance be recorded on video for presentation during the Sinulog ritual showdown.
In its letter submitted to the IATF, the EOC said each contingent may be given a schedule to perform at the Cebu City Sports Center and film their presentation.
Another option is that all cultural activities be postponed to April 2021 to coincide with the 500th year celebration of Christianity.
Rama said the EOC should have made these suggestions earlier.
“I wish they could have said that before. Why only now?” asked Rama.
Rama said he asked the EOC five times to join the meetings on Sinulog, but no one from the EOC attended even one meeting.
In his defense, Garganera said he had not received any invitation to attend a meeting.
Speaking in behalf of the police, Cebu City Councilor Phillip Zafra said the conduct of rehearsals for the ritual showdown already poses a risk to the participants.
Zafra, who chairs the committee on peace and order, said some participants in one contingent reside in different barangays.
He also said that although the audience during the ritual showdown and street dancing at the South Road Properties (SRP) will be limited, a crowd is still expected.
“Those living near the SRP, in Barangay Pasil, Ermita, they would still watch it even from afar. That would create (a) crowd,” said Zafra.
But Zafra said the PNP will still do its job if the cultural activities will push through.
He said the biggest challenge now is not only crowd control, but also enforcing the social distancing policy.
No DOH recommendation yet
The Department of Health (DOH) 7 has yet to come up with a recommendation on the conduct of Sinulog activities this year.
Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, DOH 7 spokesperson, said in a text message to SunStar Cebu that it would be better if there is coordination among the different government offices involved in the Sinulog Festival celebration.
She said the Cebu City Government has yet to share with them the procedure and setup of the planned Sinulog festival showdown.
“We need to know how the presentation will be like — like the number of performers and the physical distance that will be implemented,” she said.
Citing IATF restrictions on mass gatherings, she said it would be best to hold the Sinulog activities virtually.
“Our safety protocols will work best if all the public health measures are implemented. More so with the new variant that is most likely to be circulating already,” she said.
“We need to be vigilant and temporarily sacrifice the actual physical presentations of the Sinulog,” she added.
The Cebu Medical Society Inc., in a statement, said it strongly opposes the holding of the Sinulog and other related activities.
The group appealed to the public to just stay at home and observe the standard precautionary measures as the virus remains “deadly.”
“It is our dilemma to strike a balance between physical expressions of faith and cultural preservation versus public health and safety. However, it is our firm belief that public health and safety should be of utmost priority,” reads a portion of its statement. (JJL / WBS / AYB)