Sto. Niño de Cebu: El Capitan General
Quennie S. Bronce (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2013 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Have you noticed that before the Sto. Niño leaves the Basilica for the Solemn Procession, another Sto. Niño image goes inside the church?

This tradition has long been practiced, albeit quietly, that a lot of people do not really understand why or know why such is practiced. This year, it will be different, according to Fr. Tito D. Soquiño, Executive Director of the Santo Niño de Cebu Augustinian Social Development Foundation, Inc.

“The Sto. Niño from the Basilica, which goes around the city during the procession is the El Capitan General. The Sto. Niño that goes inside the Basilica is the El Teniente dela Guardia, which comes from San Nicolas Parish,” said Fr. Tito.

“Remember we were under Spanish rule at the time when the Sto. Niño was introduced to Cebu. He was given the rank of El Capitan General or Captain General, the highest rank in the military. From the very beginning, the Sto. Niño is a military Sto. Niño,” he added.

This is the reason why the Sto. Niño, Fr. Tito said, is wearing a red cape, red being the color that symbolizes a general.  If you look closely at the image of the Holy Child, he added, you will notice that He is wearing military boots and the sash on the image from the Basilica indicates that He is Captain General.

When the General leaves the Basilica for the procession, the Teniente dela Guardia takes over to “guard the Fort.”

“Just like in any other military camp, the general cannot leave the camp in a leadership vacuum. There must be someone in command, usually the second in rank. This is why when El Capitan General leaves the Basilica for the procession to go around his Kingdom, the Teniente dela Guardia takes over,” explained Fr. Tito.

Why does El Teniente dela Guardia come from San Nicolas Parish?

Monsignor Trinidad Silva, parish priest of the San Nicolas Parish said the Basilica and San Nicolas have a long standing relationship. “San Nicolas Parish is the first parish in Cebu. In fact, it is considered as the Pueblo Antigua. The Sto. Niño that we have here has long been considered as the second in command to the Sto. Niño in the Basilica. This tradition has long been practiced but not highlighted in the celebration of the feast of the Sto. Niño,” he said.

When in the past the “turnover” of the command of the “Fort” was done quietly, this year, Fr. Tito said, there will be a real military turnover conducted by real soldiers.

“We are reviving a tradition which is in fact older than the Fluvial Procession and the Traslacion,” he said, adding that so much research was done before it was decided that the practice will be highlighted. Fr. Tito said he got in touch with Dr. Astrid Boza, an anthropologist who has done extensive research on the Sto. Niño, as well as the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc.

The Basilica del Sto. Niño administration also partnered with the Philippine Navy, who, according to Fr. Tito, acknowledges  the Sto. Niño as the Lord Admiral of the Sea.

“The Navy looks up to the Sto. Niño as the protector of the seas. In fact, when the Sto. Niño goes onboard a Navy ship, the Navy flag is lowered and the Sto. Niño’s flag, which features His coat of arms, the double-headed eagle, is flown higher, making him the boss in that ship,” said Fr. Tito.

El Teniente dela Guardia, escorted by Navy officers, will leave the San Nicolas Parish on Saturday in a procession composed  of parishioners and “live” Sto. Niños – children wearing costumes depicting the Sto. Niño from different cultures, said Monsignor Silva.

Before El Capitan General leaves the Basilica, there will be a short turnover of command to El Teniente dela Guardia, which according to Fr. Tito, will take about 10 minutes.

“This year, devotees will now understand what is happening. There will be meaning to the practice,” said Fr. Tito. (FREEMAN)

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