Politics banned at Cebu's annual religious festival

Philipine mayor expresses anger at politicians trying to promote themselves at festivities to honor the Child Jesus
Politics banned at Cebu's annual religious festival

A dancer carries an image of the Child Jesus during the annual grand parade in Cebu City in 2018. (Photo by Victor Kintanar)

The mayor of Cebu has accused a scion of the Philippines' most notorious political family of trying to hijack the city's upcoming feast of the Child Jesus, or "Sinulog" festival.

On Jan. 18, authorities took down a huge poster of Imee Marcos, a candidate for senator in this year's mid-term elections, for supposedly "politicizing" the religious festival.

The city's mayor, Tomas Osmena, said the people of Cebu "do not appreciate the politicization" of the feast. 

"This won't be earning you any votes and is doing you more harm than good," he added.

Imee Marcos is the daughter of former president Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the country for more than two decades beginning in the mid-1960s, and former first lady Imelda Marcos, who faces a lengthy prison term for graft.

Other posters with Imee Marcos' name and face on it and the greeting "Viva, Pit Senyor!" have been seen and removed from several areas of Cebu. 

"Trust me when I tell you I am doing you a favor by taking this tarpaulin down," said the mayor in a social media post directed at Marcos. 

Osmena said all "political tarpaulins" found hanging around the city during the festivities will be taken down.

"General rule: If you don't come every year, don't come during an election year," said the mayor, adding that the removal of the posters was "nothing personal."

Celebrated every third Sunday of January, the "Sinulog" festival, one of the country's most popular religious celebrations, honors the Child Jesus.

On Jan. 18, a religious procession called the "Walk with Mary" attracted thousands of devotees, many of whom walked barefoot.

The event, which started about 3:30 in the morning, was part of activities leading to the procession of the image of the Santo Nino the next day that will incorporate the "Sinulog," a dance ritual in honor of the Child Jesus.

The celebration, which lasts nine days, will culminate with the Sinulog Grand Parade on Jan. 20.

The day before the parade, a fluvial procession is held at dawn with the statue of the Santo Nino carried on a boat decked with flowers and candles. 

The procession ends at the cathedral where a re-enactment of the baptism of early Cebu residents by Spanish missionaries is held.

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In the afternoon, a more solemn procession takes place along the major streets of the city, lasting for hours due to large crowds participating in the event.

The word "Sinulog" comes from the Cebuano word "sulog," which roughly means "current." 

It describes the forward-backward movement of the Sinulog dance, which consists of two steps forward and one step backwards, done to the beat of drums. 

Unlike the feast of the Black Nazarene in Manila, where millions of people go for its religious significance, the "Sinulog" is a weeklong religious festival and Mardi Gras.

Non-religious activities have been going on for a week even as thousands of people fall in line at the Santo Nino shrine to pray to the Child Jesus.

The image of the Santo Nino in Cebu is a gift of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan gave to the queen of the island following her baptism as a Catholic, which brought Christianity for the first time to Philippine shores in 1521.

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