Warm Sinulog welcome at airport for balikbayans
A grueling 21-hour flight from California to Cebu didn’t dampen the spirits of elderly couple Emilio and Rita Legaspi who had to be seated in wheelchairs as they left the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) yesterday.
They and other balikbayans were welcomed by the familiar beat of the Sinulog sung by a rondalla ensemble that greeted them upon arrival.
Welcome leis made of beads and a “Cebu” pendant were also placed around the couple’s necks.
“We have been going home for Sinulog every year since 2002. We were only not able to go home last year because I had surgery and also nine years ago when my husband also had surgery,” said 80-year old Rita Legaspi, a native of Barili town in southwest Cebu.
“Of course, the reason why we go home is really Señor Sto. Niño. But we also take time to visit our relatives,” she said.
The couple will stay with their cousin in Barangay Banawa in Cebu City for the next three weeks.
Legaspi said they will just wait after this weekend’s Sinulog festival before heading to the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño to visit the image of the Holy Infant.
Legaspi’s right knee underwent an operation last year and now she finds it hard to walk for long periods.
Her 86-year old husband Emilio also had a quadruple bypass surgery nine years ago.
The couple migrated to the US in 1964 where Emilio worked at the supplies section of the US Navy while Rita worked in a library. He retired in 1980 while she retired in 2002.
Rita said she keeps herself busy now with her community groups and church in California and that they even hold fiestas for their own image of Sto. Niño there.
This is why, she said they always made sure they can go home during Sinulog.
“My husband said, dapat gyud ta makauli karon kay tingali last na ni nato. Pero ingon ko ayaw lang sad last oi (we should go home because this could be our last visit. But I said, let this not be the last),” Rita said in jest.
Balikbayans, tourists and devotees were treated to a glimpse of the Sinulog celebration as they deplaned from their connecting flights at the MCIA yesterday morning.
Core group members and volunteers of the Balik Cebu program, as well as officials of the MCIA and its private operator GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC) personally welcomed the guests and danced to the beat of the Sinulog.
While most of those who arrived are returning to Cebu for several times already, there were also those who have yet to experience what the Sinulog Festival has to offer.
A group of six friends, with four Filipinos, an American, and an Indian, were also part of the guests welcomed yesterday.
Jean Vergara said she is excited to personally experience Sinulog, having attended a number of festivals around the world.
Although born in Manila and frequently going home, Vergara said it was her first time to be in Cebu.
“I’m Catholic … the Sinulog Festival is really on my bucket list,” said Vergara who owns her own “study-abroad” company.
Vergara said her Cebuana best friend, who also works in California, has been egging her to visit the Sinulog Festival.
“I’ve heard it’s colorful. It’s crazy. And there’s a lot of people and visitors. It’s something uniquely Philippines. All my friends who have been here said this is something I really must try,” she said.
With Vergara was 30-year old Punam Bhakta, a US citizen of Indian descent.
“(The welcome) was surprising. I have not been greeted like that before and I’ve been to other countries. I love the music. This is my first festival,” she said.
Bhakta had to be wheeled out as she was suffering from a ruptured tendon in her ankle.
But she vowed to get well in time for next Sunday’s Sinulog Festival.
One other arrival was 11-year old Mavrick Espinosa whose family is living in Canada since he was three years old but his mother is from Cebu.
“We’re here to see our family. But I’m also excited for the festival, it looks pretty good. We’re gonna go to the festival. I want to experience it,” he said.
Other arrivals were Sen. Nancy Binay who is in Cebu for a yearly gift giving activity at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) which she times during the Sinulog.
“As chairman of the tourism committee in the Senate, we want to make sure that in the next budget, there will be a bigger allocation for tourism and this new program,” she told reporters in an ambush interview.
The Balik Cebu activity for balikbayans has been going on for 15 years now.
Tetta Baad, chairperson of the volunteer group Balik Cebu, said they are happy to see more balikbayans becoming aware of their program especially through Facebook.
The group also hosted a welcome dinner yesterday evening for 300 balikbayans at the Sinulog Hall of the City Sports Club.
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