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Sinulog: A story of unwavering faith & devotion to the Sto. Niño
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Rachel Castro-Barawid
Date: 2003-01-16
CEBU CITY — A year after a ferocious fire burned down their ancestral house and dance studio including some R6 million worth of antique collections of Sto. Niño images, porcelain and furniture, Val Sandiego and his family show not a single of trace of regret in their faces.

Val is not just a staunch devotee of the Sto. Niño but a popular figure in Cebu for his great skills as choreographer of the award winning Sandiego dance troupe and a well-loved friend of all the people whose lives he has touched through the Sto. Niño.

Sinulog is one of the most popular religious festivals in the country and is celebrated every third Sunday of January. Held in honor of the

nfant Jesus or Señor Sto. Niño, Sinulog is a one-week celebration composed of religious processions, novenas, masses, parades, and a mardi gras or streetdancing competition. This year’s festivities kicked off last Jan. 10 and will end on Jan. 20, Monday with the proclamation of the mardi gras competition winners.

It has been a family tradition of the Sandiegos to participate in the Sinulog fes

tival ever since its inception. In fact, it was Val’s mother Luz Mancao Sandiego and former Cebu City Mayor Florentino S. Solon who introduced or incorporated the festival aspect into the Sinulog religious celebration which have long been observed by Cebuanos since way back.

A ballet instructor and dean of the P.E. Department of San Carlos University, Luz was then commissioned by Mayor Solon

to do a research on Sinulog for a festival. Luz borrowed the basic dance steps from fellow Cebuana, Estelleta Diola. Val explained that the Sinulog basic dance — one step forward and two steps backward — imitates the waves of the sea. Years later, it became a dance ritual of candle vendors in the Basilica of the Sto. Niño. To this day, they dance the steps before the Sto. Niño image as they pray for the petitions of the church-goers who bought the candle from them.

According to historian Tonette Pañares, the Sinulog basic dance steps originated from a male slave named Nuog. He was in a famine-stricken island and was praying to the Sto. Niño when Queen Juana, his master saw his odd body movements. Nuog got carried away with his prayer that he unconsciously moved back and forth like the waves of the sea. It can be recalled that Ferdinand Magellan gave a Sto. Niño to Queen Juana, wife of King Humabon (the inhabitants of the island of Cebu at that time) as a gift in exchange for his conquest of the island. The veneration of the image eventually paved the way for the spread of Christianity throughout Cebu and the country.

So in 1978, Luz’s students first performed the Sinulog dance in the first Sinulog festival and every year from then on. It has been her panata (religious pledge or vow) to the Sto. Niño to make it more grand and festive every year in exchange for the total healing of her husband Rafael who was suffering from brain cancer. He was later on cured. The Sto. Niño de Cebu is known to have miraculous healing powers.

When the Sandiegos migrated to the States in the 80’s, Val and his wife Ophelia were left to take over the management of the family dance studio business, and to continue the Sinulog festival tradition.

Since then it was Val, his family and his dancers who were mostly students of the Sandiegos since their childhood years who perform yearly for the Sinulog mardi gras competition. Their stellar performances and creative costumes made from indigenous materials have earned them both the grand prize and best in costume in the mardi gras contest for three consecutive years from 1995-1997. After that, they were elevated to the Hall of Fame and became a special guest performer at both the religious fluvial procession and at the mardi gras competition up to this day.

But no matter how popular the Sandiego Dance Troupe have become even in Cebu’s sister cities in the U.S. where they regularly perform, Val insisted the fame is not important at all to them. “We are dancing not to show off our skills and expertise but to express our devotion to the Sto. Niño”, he stressed.

Val’s dancers are mostly professionals, teachers, businessmen, dentists and doctors who find time in between their hectic schedules to practice for the Sinulog. If too busy, their sons and daughters replace them. Most of the dancers have a petition — to cure them or their loved ones of life-threatening illnesses, to have a successful business or to pass an exam. Most of these petitions were fulfilled in just a few years of dancing at the Sinulog while others, right away, depending on their faith to the Sto. Niño. Val accepts anyone, even those who cannot dance and strangers who have exhausted all efforts to find the cure for cancer and other illnesses. Almost all thanked him later on for the miracles and overflowing blessings they have received from the Sto. Niño.

Val himself had the biggest miracle in his life last year. His faith was tested twice during the death of his father and 40 days after, when his house and dance studio were burned one lazy afternoon. Caused by faulty wiring, the fire started at the back of the studio, then it engulfed the whole studio where the costumes for the Sinulog were placed and the house and several other adjacent structures. Val recalled how he rushed to save his mother, deliberately ignoring over a hundred collection of Sto. Niño images. Together with her sister, wife and children, they ran to the Cebu Doctors Hospital where they sought temporary refuge. Miraculously, no one in the family was injured.

“I felt like we were experiencing a Sodom and Gomorrha... that we cannot look back (at the house). It was too painful,” Val said.

An avid antique collector, Val had been collecting antiques for the past 20 years. If he has a new antique piece, he gets really excited, he finds it hard to sleep for a week or a month. He even planned to place his collection in a museum.

Thirty-eight-year-old Val who hears Mass everyday with his family did not even dare question why the tragedy happened. “I realized that everything is temporal. We have to detach from material things. My more precious collection, turned out to be my friends who were there for me at a time I needed them most,” he said.

The very next day after the fire, Val’s family and his dancers clad only with white T-shirts and plain pants danced with all their heart at the Sinulog, as if lack of shelter and clothes did not matter to them. The audience who didn’t expect they would still show up despite what happened cried with them. All were amazed at their quick recovery and unwavering faith and devotion to the Sto. Niño.

But aside from the Lord, Val said they would not have made it if not for the rich collection of friends who’ve readily extended whatever help or assistance they needed. Smart Communications supplied the white t-shirts the group used in their performances; a sister-in-law offered her house; Arlene Woolbright, a family friend and dancer supplied the food; and another friend sponsored the fare of the dancers.

Tomorrow and on Sunday, all eyes will lay on the Sandiego Dance Troupe as they perform at the Sinulog fluvial parade and mardi gras. Once again, they will witness how the family’s enduring faith and devotion to the Sto. Niño has made a difference in their lives rocked by great trials.


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