Former governor to lead the Sandiego dancers in next Sunday’s Sinulog grand parade

By: Ador Vincent S. Mayol January 11,2015 - 12:39 PM



Gwen Garcia in January  20, 2013, during her ninth and last Sinulog dance as Cebu governor. (CDN FILE PHOTO)

Gwen Garcia in January 20, 2013, during her ninth and last Sinulog dance as Cebu governor. (CDN FILE PHOTO)

Cebu’s 3rd district Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia is set to stage a comeback in the Sinulog festival.

The former Cebu governor agreed to be the lead dancer of the Sandiego Dance Company in the Sinulog grand parade on Sunday, Jan. 18, said the group’s leader.

“For the past few days, I was trying to reflect on who is the right person to ask to lead the dancers left in Cebu,” choreographer  Val Sandiego told Cebu Daily News.

“The first person that came to  mind was really Gwen considering her devotion to the Sto. Niño expressed through dance.”

Sandiego, who heads the family-run dance company, said he got Garcia’s confirmation accepting the invitation to dance in a phone conversation at noon yesterday.

She starts rehearsing tomorrow, he said.

The last time Garcia danced in the Sinulog Festival was in January 20, 2013, her ninth turn on stage at the Cebu City Sports Center.

Her ten-minute surprise appearance in a white Cary Santiago-designed gown, followed weeks of speculation. It was her 33rd day of a stay-in protest after refusing to vacate the Governor’s Office in the Capitol in defiance of a six-month preventive suspension by Malacañang for grave abuse of authority.

She was able to return to the Capitol without any hitch, but was locked out a few weeks later, and finished her term in June.

Sandiego, his wife Ofelia, and their children will not be joining the Sinulog grand parade in Cebu as they will be in Manila to perform the prayer dance with company dancers  during the papal Mass in Rizal Park celebrated by  Pope Francis.

The Sandiego Dance Company, a Hall of Fame winner in Cebu’s signature Sinulog festival,  was invited by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to represent the Archdiocese of Cebu in performing the sinulog before the Pope.

Jan. 18, the day of the Sinulog grand parade is also the annual feast day of the  Sto. Niño, which symbolizes the birth of  Christianity in Asia’s biggest Catholic nation.

Sandiego in an earlier interview said he was eyeing a “prominent Cebuana” to take their place in the Cebu  festival.

Garcia’s role this year would mark her coming full circle.  It was with the Sandiego Dance Company that she performed her first sinulog dance in public in 2005, seven months after she was elected the first woman governor of Cebu.

“She actually danced with us twice. I’m  very grateful to her in many ways especially in supporting  heritage, culture, and arts in the province, particularly in my hometown of  Carcar as well as in Tabuelan town,” Sandiego said.

He clarified that politics was not a factor in choosing Garcia, a three-term governor of the province.

“There’s absolutely no political color in choosing her. I’m also close to Gov. (Hilario) Davide. But how can I make him dance? It’s quite odd to have a man as the lead dancer in the Sinulog,” Sandiego said.

Sandiego said the congresswoman  told him yesterday that she really wanted to be part of the Sinulog festival as an expression of thanksgiving to the Holy Child Jesus.

“It’s always been her devotion. She told me that I don’t have to thank her for accepting the request to be part of the dance,” he said.

Sandiego said he still has to confer with Garcia on what she would wear in the Sinulog as there would be two groups of dancers.

“In both groups we will use  recycled costumes, especially since this year has been dedicated by the Catholic Church for the poor. Maybe, I’ll convince her not to wear an expensive costume,” he said.

Over the years, Garcia’s choice of Sinulog attire has been  designer gowns made by Cebu’s top coutouriers, following a different theme each festival.

She was a  Maranao princess with the Haladaya Festival of Daanbantayan town in 2006, an Egyptian queen in 2007, a sea goddess with the Palawod Festival of Bantayan in 2008.  She led the Tostado Festival of Santander in 2009, the Ani-anihan Festival of Tabuelan in 2010, the Bonga Festival contingent of southern Sibonga town, in 2011, and the La Torta Festival of Argao in 2012.

Her last Sinulog dance in 2013 was with the Rosquillos Festival dancers of Liloan town.

She surprised the crowd when she appeared at the Cebu City Sports Center, at the height of her standoff with Malacañang and  the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which was tasked to serve a 60-day preventive suspension.


Fifty members of  the Sandiego Dance Company will  participate in the  papal Mass in Manila.   A bigger group will  stay behind in Cebu for the Sinulog grand parade.

“We’re having two groups. We could not just simply skip the Sinulog because that’s our way of honoring the Sto. Niño. Close to a hundred dancers will perform in the Sinulog grand parade in Cebu while 50 will go to Manila for the papal visit,” he said.

Tinago Barangay Captain Joel Garganera, a close friend, will supervise members of the group left in Cebu.

“This will be the first time in 35 years that I could not personally take part in the Sinulog grand parade. But I’m very happy that captain Garganera agreed to adopt the remaining members of our group,” he said.

Before flying to Manila, Val and  the entire company will dance during the fluvial procession and the reenactment of the First Mass at the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño on Jan. 17.

He said dancing in both religious events  “is the highlight for the Sandiego Dance Company.”

“ For several years now, we’ve been present during these twin events. It’s been a privilege for us,” he said.

Right after the activity, they have to rush to catch a flight.

“We have to be in Manila by 4 p.m. on Saturday (Jan. 17),” he said.


2002 FIRE

The date brings up painful  memories for the Sandiego family who lost their house and several previous belongings in a fire on Jan. 18, 2002.

“God really has a plan. On January 18, it will be the 13th year since our house was burned down,” he said.

The 2002 fire that razed the Sandiego ancestral house in barangay Capitol Site in Cebu City destroyed the troupe’s costumes and a collection of almost 100 Santo Niño icons.

It happened three days before the feast of the Sto. Niño. But according to Val, the fire did not destroy their God-given talents.

The dancers went on to perform during the fluvial procession and reenactment as well as the Sinulog grand parade the following day. They wore  white T-shirts and denim pants hastily donated by a benefactor.



Sandiego, a Sto. Niño devotee, could not help but feel emotional  recounting the 2002 event ahd today’s privilege of having been chosen to present the sinulog during the papal Mass next week.

“It’s not  about the recognitions that we reaped throughout the years. It’s about our being a family. We don’t belong to a barangay or a school. We’re a family. And the family that dances the sinulog together, stays together,” he said.

To show that Filipino family ties are strong, Val, his wife Ofelia, and their children Angelica Luz, 26, Andrea Lauren, 25, Andre Lester, 19, and Anna Louisa, 18, will dance for the pope in Manila.

It will be the dance company’s second time to perform the sinulog for a pope.

On Feb. 19, 1981,  they performed at the old Lahug airport for St. John Paul II’s visit to Cebu City. At the time,  the dance company was still led by Sandiego’s mother, Luz Mancao Sandiego, who founded the group in Carcar in 1947.

For their performance in Manila next week, Val said they decided not to spend much and to re-use the costumes they had last year.

“Actually, we’re preparing for something special. I already had some sketches for our costumes which cost P5,000 each. But Pope Francis will not be very happy if we use expensive costumes just to impress him. I’ve been following him and what the Holy Father wants is simplicity,” he said.

The Archdiocese of Cebu is paying for the airfare of the group to and from Manila.


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TAGS: Basilica del Sto. Niño, Cebu, Cebu province, devotion, Gwendolyn Garcia, Sinulog Festival

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