Christmas is finally over in Cebu
SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit S. Avila (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2019 - 12:00am

As the old folks used to say, now that the Sinulog Festival is finally over last Sunday, Christmas is also over in Cebu. Indeed due to yearly practice, we don’t bring down the ornaments of our Christmas tree, as they become ornaments offered to the Holy Child Jesus or the Senyor Sto. Niño. Actually I refrained from joining the Sinulog festivities after my kidney transplant two years ago because I’m supposed to avoid a huge crowd. The Sinulog festivities must have brought more than a million tourists from almost everywhere. With the population of Cebu Province reaching two million, not to mention that trucks on barges from Negros Oriental, San Carlos City and Escalante cross to Cebu daily… they bring a lot of tourists to Cebu, not to mention the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA).

Mind you, thanks to the Philippine National Police (PNP) that requested the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) we had two days of cellphone cellsite shutdown. Saturday was due to the Fluvial Parade in the morning and the procession in the afternoon reaching toward the evening, and on Sunday from morning to late in the afternoon there was no cellphone time for us Cebuanos. I did make a plea to the PNP and NTC to respect our freedom of communication, which is a human right, and limit the cellphone shutdown to the procession or parade route… but they didn’t care to listen.

The PNP gave more emphasis to the security issues that they are trying to impose. But they fail to consider that in Cebu there are only a few people with landline telephones. Most use cellphones and if there is any proBLEM like someone having a heart attack, how can you call the emergency services? What if there was fire? But that didn’t happen in Cebu. So last Sunday at the height of the Sinulog Festival, despite my having a press card for MyTV which had a full coverage on Channel 30, I drove to the mountains of Cebu to get away from the boisterous Sinulog Festival, that I have attended for more than 30 years without fail… except now. I only watch it on MyTV.

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It saddened me to hear that Henry Sy Sr., who earned the distinction of being the “richest man in the Philippines” died peacefully last Saturday. He was 94 years old. He passed away on the Feast of the Sto. Niño, therefore the Sto. Niño led him to the gates of heaven. I must have met Mr. Henry Sy a dozen times, mostly when he attended important functions in Cebu City. But in the early 60s, I would go to Carriedo and purchase some shoes in the SM Shoemart, as it was only a walk from the Avenue Hotel in Avenida where I usually stayed during my booking days for movies.

Henry Sy opened the first ShoeMart store in 1958 and transformed it from a shoe store to a department store in the 1970s. By 1972, his shops had branched out into selling all kinds of goods, prompting the name to be changed to SM Department Store. In 1985, SM City North EDSA, the first SM Supermall with 200,000 square meters rental area was constructed. The SM North EDSA mall included dozens of stores, numerous cinemas, restaurants, banks and other attractions that made it a one-stop shop for millions of Filipinos. This created the shopping mall culture in the Philippines because after all, we have very little public parks for people to congregate and a shopping mall is air-conditioned!

Then SM City Cebu opened in the mid-1990s and the age of shopping malls became a reality in the Philippines as it became apparent that shopping malls could also exist in smaller Philippine cities outside Manila. Sy’s holding company, SM Investments Corp., also opened its first mall in China in 2001 and has been expanding there ever since. By 2018, SM said it had 70 malls in the Philippines and seven in China as well as six hotels and eight office buildings. I would like to believe that SM Investments Corp. made Henry Sy one of the richest men in the world.

The 94-year-old had a net worth of $19 billion as of Friday, according to Forbes that also revealed Henry Sy was the 52nd richest person in the world last year, beating out famous name tycoons like Elon Musk, Rupert Murdoch and George Soros. This makes us proud of Henry Sy that despite not having a huge business empire in nations like the United States or Europe, his riches surpassed the supposedly great financially rich people.

But Henry Sy’s passing to life eternal last Saturday should be a reminder or a lesson to all that money could not prevent death; that a man can only bring with him his trust in our Lord Jesus Christ because he certainly can’t bring along anything as he enters another world – the spiritual world of God. So whether you are rich or powerful, in the end it is God who matters!

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