THE BEST time to be in this town is after the revelers have gone.
Post-Sinulog, I realized this as I commuted around, examining the city of my birth like a homeowner who has been away for a long time and finds upon her return, the home altered beyond recognition.
A day after Sunday’s grand parade, the sons and I joined early morning commuters. The sight of the purged streets made me wonder about the rest of the city: still in bed, nursing a hangover?
My family’s experience confirmed the reports: traffic during the Sinulog weekend was also headache-inducing.
Uptown, a solitary roadblock was like a throwback, a remnant of the previous 24 hours when it served as a veneer of order and system. According to Sun.Star Cebu, parties took over the streets after the grand parade ended around 9 p.m. on Sunday, with some 90,000 revelers massing in the uptown area alone until dawn of Monday.
With immense respect, I viewed the few men and women still about, sweeping and bagging street waste.
The performances and spectacles hog the limelight during the festival. Yet, we owe a debt of gratitude to Cebu City Hall’s Department of Public Service and barangay environment officers, as well as to the informal clean-up crew—the scavengers collecting discarded water containers–for clearing the streets and making these operational and safe in a matter of hours after the street revelers quit at dawn and before the 8 .a.m. masses moved in.
Hercules himself would balk at the challenge. Every year, as the Sinulog grows in stature and fame, its trash record also piles up. In 2012, 100 tons were left by the estimated million joining the grand parade. This went up to 113 tons in 2013, then 170 tons in 2014. The 2.5 million drawn to Sinulog 2015 left the biggest whopper: 197 tons.
In 2016, the mound slid to 110 tons. Yet, we still need to clear this mountain before we can mention without embarrassment the zero-waste target we seem to set every Sinulog.
Clearing the trash required this year a workforce of 500 that started around 10 p.m. on Sunday and ended by 7 a.m. on Monday, reported Sun.Star Cebu. That’s not the only reason the environmental fallout of the Sinulog is hardly invisible: when the rains come and the gutters and canals overflow and choke the city in traffic for hours, we will know where the rest of the trash went.
Even more unpleasant than the crowd’s leftovers were miscreants in the mob. A day after Sinulog, office breaktime stories centered on personal anecdotes and social media posts about the drunken behavior of revelers and their assault on people and property.
Groping, bruising, verbal abuse and theft were often mentioned. In the 1980s, when I first and last joined the Sinulog due to a PE class requirement, the worst possible experience was walking for hours to get a ride, losing your wallet or getting your face smeared with canal waste by copycats of the Ati-Atihan face- and bodypainting.
It’s hardly reassuring that the official recommendation for future Sinulogs is to station more buses to temporarily hold drunks. The principle is apparently not to detain them but to allow drunks to sleep off their stupor in safety, with free coffee served, if possible.
Why does this proposal sound even more Mount Everest-like than a zero-waste Sinulog?
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s January 24, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” a Sunday editorial-page column