By Julius D Mariveles, Hannah A Papasin and Mira Nicole Magbanua
KABANKALAN CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – The Tunnel of Lights continues to shine bright here as the Santo Nino marks its return to the streets with the opening today of the Sinulog Festival that dovetails with Mayor Benjie Miranda’s campaign since last year for the city to hope amid a series of misfortunes brought by two storms and a pandemic.
“It’s an extravaganza,” broadcaster Eric Tenerife said as he pointed out that for the first time in the more than two-decade history of the Sinulog, there will be lots of live events featuring entertainers from Manila and homegrown bands like Cali Island from Bacolod, a city 100 kilometers away.
Tenerife said hotels and lodging houses here have been fully booked as early as November soon after City Hall announced the return of the Sinulog to the streets after a two-year absence forced by health restrictions brought by the COVID pandemic.
“It’s like the floodgates were opened,” Tenerife said in describing the public’s response to the return of the Sinulog that came after two storms – Odette in 2021 and Paeng in 2022 – left a trail of destruction and death, Odette worse than Paeng, in this city already reeling from the COVID pandemic.
The blow dealt by COVID to the local economy was made worse by high fuel and fertilizer costs that affected production cost for sugarcane farming, a major economic source for the city and the island.
“Viva, Senior Santo Nino!” the crowd roared the traditional chant three times after the Holy Mass here at the public plaza.
“Kabankalan Sinulog Festival is, first and foremost, a celebration of life and a commemoration of the blessings and protection that Sr. Sto. Nino has given all of us,” Mayor Benjie Miranda said in a statement for the opening day as he invited residents from all over the country.
Miranda told DNX in a separate interview that the Sinulog also signified the faith of a people amid the adversities they have been facing over the past two years.
“Floods, pandemic and the downfall of the sugar industry before challenged the best in us here in Kabankalan,” he said but “despite all that, we still manage to get on our feet, much stronger than the past and more united as a people.”
“Today, we stand proud as a community and rejoice to celebrate the feast of Sr. Sto Nino and thank him for the mantle of protection he has bestowed on us.”
Today’s mass is the first of nine to be heard over the same number of days as a novenario in the Roman Catholic tradition, a practice rooted in the festivities for the Child Jesus that marks the presentation by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon who later converted to Christianity along with his family.
As night fell after the Mass, devotees of the Santo Nino, some holding statues for hours near the plaza, flocked to the streets for the sadsad, a worship dance characterized by slow rhythmic steps and a forward-backward movement accompanied by drumbeats in sync with the steps.
Viva! some devotees chanted as they held their statues aloft as the sadsad made its way around major streets in a loop that ended at the plaza where icons and children were blessed.
Tenerife hastened to point out that the Sinulog is made more significant by the fact that Miranda is the first chief executive to have come from an indigenous people’s community.
“The Sinulog is going back to its roots,” he added.
As the sadsad made its way back to the plaza, the smell of roasting meats filled the air as stalls popped up at the plaza and as people here made their way to neatly arranged tables and chairs under tarpaulin canopies.
For the first time after a long time, people in this premier city of the South, battered and bruised by events not of their ow making, paused and heaved a sigh of relief and thank their God for blessings.