Viva Pit Señor: Sinulog 2011

Cebu goes all out in this grand celebration in honor of the Holy Child Jesus.

By Peter Imbong
January 27, 2011

Writer and Manileño Peter Imbong travels to Cebu City to witness his first Sinulog Grand Parade. This city boy shares his thoughts and provides useful tips for would-be Sinulog revelers.

On my first morning in Cebu, the sound of crowing roosters woke me from my sleep. Like some ancient form of communication, a single crow would trigger several other crows from nearby houses, and so on. Soon, a chorus of drunken roosters would rouse you from your sleep and greet you a bitter good morning in this sun-kissed island.

Cebu lies east of Negros Island, with Leyte at its west and Bohol province to its southeast. Long, thin, and almost entirely devoid of forest, Cebu is surrounded by 167 smaller neighboring islands that include Mactan Island, Bantayan, Daanbantayan, and the Camotes Islands. Of the hundreds of small islands, some are still uninhabited, making them the object of adventure-seeking tourists, both local and foreign. Being at the most an hour away by plane from any point in the country, Cebu has become a prime destination for beach and culture lovers.

As one of the most developed provinces in the country, Cebu has long been regarded as the commercial, cultural, and political center of the Southern Philippines. The area has a thriving arts and crafts tradition. In some parts of its capital, Cebu City, the skyline is beginning to look like Manila as major developers invest millions in its infrastructure. Cebu now has five-star hotels, casinos, white sand beaches, world-class golf courses, convention centers, bars, spas, and shopping malls. When you come right down to it, Cebu is just like Manila but with a pristine coastline, less traffic, and an abundance of crowing roosters. And then there's Sinulog.


Pit Señor!

Dubbed as the Philippines' own mardi gras, the Sinulog Festival kicks off the country's festival season with Kalibo's Ati-atihan and Iloilo's Dinagyang Festival following a few days after. The festival is meant to honor the Santo Niño, or the child Jesus, and commemorates the Filipino people's pagan past and their acceptance of Christianity.

While the Grand Parade is held on the third Sunday, the Sinulog Festival lasts for nine days with grand masses and processions attended by thousands of devotees held every night. The day before the Grand Parade, a fluvial procession is held at dawn with the statue of the Santo Niño carried on a boat and paraded from Mandaue City to the island of Cebu.

Meanwhile, schools from all over the region perform in their own street dance competition, while different concerts and cultural shows are held at the Cebu Coliseum.

All this culminates on the final day with the Sinulog Grand Parade. Here, more than 100 groups from different towns in Cebu and neighboring provinces compete in what's essentially a dance-off to the tune of drums, trumpets, and chanting while dressed in elaborate and traditional tribal garb. And always at the front of the line is the wooden statue of the Santo Niño, proudly carried by ladies dressed in equally magnificent dresses, a scene that has since become the image of Sinulog.

Sinulog 2011

Streets are closed off so walking is the only mode of transport. While the public festivities are going on, houses and establishments in and around city celebrate their own version of the street party, dancing not to drums or trumpets, but what has become the unofficial theme song of the most recent Sinulog Festival, Jay Sean and Nicki Minaj's 2012, as early as four in the afternoon.

As the day continues, so does the drinking and dancing. By nightfall, the party moves from patios and restaurant alfresco areas to the middle of the street, with partygoers smearing paint on other people's bodies and faces, and in some cases, pouring alcohol down their backs. So dressing up, as I learned that the hard way, isn't required. I have a ruined new pair of pants and a previously pristine white shirt, now a shade of blue green as evidence.

The experience of Cebu during Sinulog had a peculiar way of becoming memorable to me. It didn't leave me with an inspiring sense of awe and amazement at its natural or man-made wonders. It didn't strike me with its rich history of colonizers and their battles with bolo-bearing natives. It didn't even leave a feeling of nostalgia for a way of life which they say is much simpler and much more meaningful. Maybe that's just me. It did, however, leave me with a great story to tell, and a crazy set of memories. I will definitely come back for another Sinulog Festival, with an extra set of clothes the next time around.


How to Get There:

Cebu is less than an hour's flight from Manila. Several local airline carriers offer direct flights from Manila to Cebu City. Click here for more details on how to get to Cebu.

What To Do:

In the weeks leading up to the Sinulog Festival, hotel and airplane rates tend to become more expensive, so it's wise to book a flight at least two months before. While Cebu hosts many five-star hotels for international travelers, affordable traveler's inns and hotels are also available, provided you make a reservation in advance. For those who want to skip trudging through the throngs of people in the many street parades, tickets are also available from the Sinulog Foundation or the Cebu Tourism Board that will give you a great seat in front of all the action.

After The Parade:

When you're tired of all the walking, take a pit stop in one of the many local pubs that cater to expats like The Urban Cellar located in Talamban, or The Joker's Arms in Mandaue City. They have a wide selection of foreign and local brews and you may also get to chat with a few interesting characters. And for those looking for a beat to dance to or a cocktail to sip, Cebu's club scene is starting to gain notoriety as well. Vudu, located in the Crossroads Complex, in Banilad regularly flies in foreign Djs, while The Penthouse at the I.T. Park also features an international line-up of artists and is the usual watering hole for local celebrities and Cebu's partying elite.