Proud to be Cebuano

More than two years ago (on Nov. 27, 2005, to be exact), I wrote this article about the Opening Ceremony of the SEAG here in Cebu City…

If you were among the 20,000 who screamed and raised fists in the air last Friday night at the Cebu City Sports Center, you’ll shout this in unison with me, “I’m proud to be Filipino! I’m proud to be Cebuano!”

I’ve watched many shows in my life—from Gary V and Martin Nievera concerts to the Ati-atihan and Maskara festivals to The Phantom of the Opera in New York City’s Broadway. But believe me, nothing gave me more goose bumps, nothing made my blood pressure zoom past its limit and my heart pump three times faster than the opening bang of the 23rd SEA Games.

I expected a lot. The newspapers trumpeted its P3 million budget. The radio stations blasted the airwaves for all to go out and watch. The triumvirate of Jonathan Guardo, Cheryl Ouano and Boying Rodriguez promised me days before to watch. “It will be unlike anything you’ve seen before,” they each pledged.

I expected a lot—but saw much, much more. As comparison, it was like this year’s Sinulog—acknowledged the best ever in 25 years—but even better.

On stage stood 11 large screens showing nonstop video footages of Cebu, Mandaue and Danao. Intelligent lights swirled their heads towards the black sky. Flowers red and yellow and palm trees green enveloped the stage.

Manny Pacquiao, always the center of attention, for once was the spectator. The city’s first lady, Margot Osmena, danced and boogied atop the VIP section while Rep. Nerissa Soon-Ruiz snapped up pictures. For a moment, I thought I saw Tommy Osmena and Teddy Ouano holding hands.

The Peace Philharmonic Orchestra, maybe a hundred of them musicians dressed in white, serenaded live music. Students from 11 universities and colleges donned the elaborate national costumes of the 11 countries and paraded the track oval with the athletes. The last to take center stage, Team Philippines wore red and blue and waved flags as chef de mission Councilor Jack Jakosalem flashed the thumbs up.

Fast-paced, dazzling, world-caliber—these are but a few adjectives I can say to the creative group who handled the opening, led by Dolly Suzara, Ricky Ballesteros and Junjet Primor.

The best of Cebu’s best performed onstage but nothing elicited louder applause than Tribu Basakanon. This Sinulog’s free interpretation category champions, the 20,000-strong crowd erupted when their “star,” a little child, swayed his hips and climbed his fellow dancers’ shoulders while holding aloft the Sto. Nino.

In the end, it rained. It poured like storm. Water fell like a bucket full from the heavens. But no, wait, not before the entire event was finished by 7:30 p.m. Truly, there looked down a spectator from above who smiled and clapped as we revered the blessed Sto. Nino.

In the show’s finale, hundreds of athletes and dancers converged at the center as they filled the stage and track oval. I saw four Brunei athletes who danced the Sinulog as if trained by Val San Diego. Then, the fireworks exploded. For 10 minutes or so, the sky was a loud speaker of bangs as it transformed the black night into a rainbow of colors. The athletes partied and celebrated before games began and medals won. The Sportsmen (and Woman) of the Year—Jonathan Guardo, Boying Rodriguez, and Cheryl Ouano—locked arms, embraced, and danced to one beat.

One beat. One dance. One party. One city. One nation. One southeast Asia. One night no one will forget.

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