MANILA, Philippines – Suspended Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia stepped out of her office at the capitol for the first time in a month and danced all her heart out Sunday night at the 33rd Sinulog Festival at the Cebu Sports Center.
Clad in a white gown and a silver crown and holding the Sto. Niño, Garcia blazed on the stage after she and her contingent were introduced by the emcee as the next performers.
Among those dancing with the governor were her daughter Cristina Garcia who was wearing a red long dress and son-in-law Mayor Duke Frasco of Liloan.
Her seven-minute presentation was applauded seven times as the crowd shouted in delight.
Guests inside the VIP area of the Cebu City Sports Center gave her a standing ovation.
But some observers said Garcia’s performance drew a few claps and some people even booed the embattled governor.
Garcia has been holed up at her office at the capitol since Dec. 19 when she decided to defy the six-month preventive suspension issued against her by Malacañang for grave abuse of authority.
But on Saturday, Garcia’s camp told Sinulog organizers that she would be dancing with the Rosquillos Festival contingent of Liloan town, which won the Pasigarbo festival competition of the province last year.
Rumors were rife that the suspended governor might be barred from returning to her office after the festivities.
But acting Cebu Gov. Agnes Magpale told a television cable Sunday that there was no plan to block Garcia on her way back to the Capitol after the festival.
“I will watch her dance from my TV set,” Magpale added.
Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of revelers braved the heat of the sun to witness Cebu’s grandest and biggest celebration.
The police estimated the crowd in the city streets to reach 1.2 million, many of whom used umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun.
A total of 142 contingents, from dancers, puppeteers, to floats and higantes (giant figures), paraded around the major city streets in a six-kilometer carousel route that started and ended at the Cebu City Sports Center.
“As far as I’m concerned, this will be a day to prove once again my devotion and commitment to the Sto. Niño. The risks would always be there. What is important is to fulfill a promise,” Garcia earlier told reporters.
Sunday’s 33rd Sinulog Grand Parade started with an 8 a.m. Mass held at the grandstand, which was officiated by Bishop Emilio Bataclan.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama declared this year’s Sinulog festival open at 9:16 a.m. on Sunday, which signaled the start of the parade. Forty dancing contingents (18 Sinulog-based and 22 free-interpretation), 46 floats, 28 higantes and 28 puppeteers took part in the parade.
Garcia left the capitol at 4:30 p.m. and proceeded to the Cebu City sports center using its exit gate on P. Del Rosario Street, Cebu City.
She was escorted by her brother, Byron Garcia, son Paulo, daughter Cristina and son-in-law, Duke.
The group proceeded to an air-conditioned tent at the back of the grandstand where the performers were to perform for final judging.
This was the ninth time that Garcia danced in the Sinulog Grand Parade. The first was in 2004 when she was first elected governor.
But during those years, she represented the contigent from the province of Cebu. This year, the province didn’t send any contingent to the Sinulog Grand Parade, apparently as an offshoot to Garcia’s suspension.
Instead, Garcia danced with the Rosquillos Festival dancer of Liloan.
Interviewed inside the tent prior to her performance, Garcia admitted having mixed feelings, saying she was both happy and scared.
“I would stand up for what I believe is right. Well, I’m here. As I said, my devotion supercedes everything else. I’m here for the Cebuanos. I’m ready to face the dangers and risks,” she said.
“Never have I danced in a manner brought with so much difficulty. This is a supreme sacrifice,” she added.
Garcia admitted that she didn’t have time to rehearse but she decided to dance as a petition to the Sto. Niño to bring Cebu back to how it was before.
“These are not normal times. I pray that justice and truth will prevail,” she said. With a report from Cris Evert Lato and Charisse Ursal, Inquirer Visayas