Three shine in Sinulog Festival Queen 2019 pre-pageant event
Karla Rule (The Freeman) - January 18, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — No doubt, the spectacle of the Sinulog Festival lies on the grand parade that boasts a vibrant translation of the Cebuano faith to the Child Jesus – showcasing the Cebuano creativity and culture. At the helm of a sea of dancers is a Festival Queen who leads her tribe throughout the dance with every step, cradling the image of Santo Niño in her arms.


During Wednesday night’s presentation of candidates at SM Seaside City Cebu’s Mountain Wing, 16 beautiful faces were introduced to the public, all vying for the 16th Sinulog Festival Queen title. Essentially a search for the best lead dancer of a Sinulog dance contingent, the pageant is anchored on the historical account which speaks of Hara Humamay, later named Queen Juana, replacing the wooden anitos (religious idol) with the image of Sto. Niño as Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan presented the image to her husband Raja Humabon (christened Carlos). It said that the queen danced with the image in celebration of her and her people’s baptism into the Roman Catholic faith in 1521.

This year’s candidates are Mae Katya Taboada of Tribu La Catuarba 3, Chelsey Fuentes of Tribu Suba-anon, Sachi Bea Diez Leal of Buyawanong Placer, Ciairha Jenyne Monsanto of Tribu Malipayon, Lovely Ivy Handog of Lumad Basakanon, Phoebe Godinez of Talisay City Division, Samantha Rose Parel of Pundok sa Maampuong Cogonanon, Mary Angel Tuason of Banay Labangon, Chloe Boone of Tribu Higaonon sa San Nicolas Proper, Teresita Benita Roma of Pundok sa Nagkahiusang Day-asanun, Niña Blytheg Boniel of Tribu Mabolokon, Chery Mae Geraldez of Brgy. Inayawan Talent’s Guild Dance Troupe, Nicole Borromeo of the City of Carcar, Sapphire Garton of Tribu Kandaya, Mary Jae Felizarta of Mambaling Performing Arts, and Marie Kristine Agibal of Hugbong Kabatan-onan Mananayaw sa Sapangdaku.

In last night’s Parade of Festival Costumes and Runway Competition held at SM City Cebu Northwing, three ladies took the judges’ notice: Nicole Borromeo was named Best in Runway and Miss Philippine Airlines; Phoebe Godinez was Miss Magnolia Pambansang Manok and Best in Runway 1st runner-up; while Chloe Boone was awarded Miss SM Sinulog Queen 2019 and Best in Runway 2nd runner-up.

During their press presentation, the candidates talked about their preparations which include more exercise and practicing their routines from the evening to the early hours of the morning. They also shared their thoughts on the Sinulog festivities and their own definition of a Festival Queen.

Asked how they would explain the meaning of Sinulog to kids despite the allure of street parties and celebrity appearances, 19-year-old Phoebe Godinez channelled her being an older sister to her siblings.

“We should not underestimate them [youth], for they are very smart. I would explain to them that Sinulog is about thanksgiving. Not all of us have the time to go to church, or not all of us are as devoted. But once a year, there’s a huge celebration and that is a reminder to revel in the name of our beloved Sto. Niño,” Godinez said.

Ciairha Jenyne Monsanto, 22, suggested that parents should have a hand in teaching the real importance of the festival. For many of the candidates, being a Festival Queen goes beyond physical beauty. A Festival Queen, they said, is being a symbol of hope and devotion.

As 20-year-old Chery Mae Geraldez puts it, a Festival Queen is a Cebuana who fights, is religious and is true to herself.

“You will lead people with your devotion with the way you dance. You shouldn’t think about how people see you. You dance with your heart,” said 18-year-old Nicole Borromeo, adding that this heart should also translate in one’s daily life.

These ladies are not only expected to be seen in elaborate costumes and dancing with the image of Sto. Niño, they should also participate during the Grand Street Parade and Showdown on Sunday, Jan. 20, at the Cebu City Sports Center. If not, they will be disqualified from the competition.

Far from other beauty contests, Sinulog Festival Queen likewise looks for a dedicated and resilient woman who not only puts on a show on stage but is able to carry herself around the packed streets of the city despite the heat and the strain, who can translate the Cebuano faith into their dance. It’s a tough job that requires a sound mind, heart and body. So why bother?

“It’s true na kapoy jud,” 24-year-old Mae Katya Taboada began. “But always remember, nga kami Festival Queens, the more nga daghan ang nagtan-aw namo, the more na ganahan mi musayaw. Same ni Sto. Niño, the more devotees nga iyang makita sa Sugbo, Pilipinas, and the world, the more siya na malipayon kay kita nagsaulog sa iyang kapistahan.”

Despite not being into pageants 20-year-old Samantha Rose Parel pushed through with the competition because she was inspired by a member of the dance troupe she represents. A 15-year-old member had passed away, she said, and he so wanted to dance. Parel was thus inspired to do better and take on the role of Festival Queen.


After learning that her father has cancer, 18-year-old Chloe Boone shared that she joined the contest “hoping and praying for a miracle.”

Familiar faces in this batch include Miss Mandaue 2018 finalist Phoebe Godinez, Miss Mandaue 2018 first runner-up Nicole Borromeo, Miss Lapu-Lapu 2018 Chloe Boone and Binibining Cebu 2018 Top 25 placer Mary Jae Felizarta. This time, they take on a challenge different from the usual since the Festival Queen title demands the extra mile, figuratively and literally.

After backing out from Bb. Cebu 2017 and Miss World University, it’s all systems go for Godinez this time. The Born Again Christian said that she wanted to do something as a citizen instead of staying at home and playing with her phone like she usually does during his time of year.

Godinez explained she had to back out from Bb. Cebu to prioritize her studies and that she didn’t push through with Miss World University held in South Korea because she and the organization had not anticipated the expenses. She said the money that could have been spent for the trip abroad can be used for more useful projects.

When asked if she has one foot out the door since she’s turned down two pageants in the same year, Godinez replied with words of reassurance.

“I am feeling the burn,” she said. “I realized that I’m not doing this for myself but for my fans and family. It makes them happy and glad to see me on stage, and if I’m inspiring them and showing and sharing my values, then why not? It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my people.”

For many years, Borromeo has only seen the Sinulog festivities through the TV screen. This time, she dives right at the center of the crowd wishing that she might find her purpose.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the celebration. I used to wonder what it’s like to be up there, feeling that love and devotion. When I was asked to join, I was like ‘Yes!” said Borromeo.

Growing up in the US, MJ Felizarta didn’t know what Sinulog was about. As she makes Cebu her home, the Bb. Cebu semi-finalist who represented Bantayan mused that being part of the festivities is the best way to learn about the Queen City.

“I didn’t really have much exposure to Filipino culture. I figured that joining Sinulog Festival Queen is the best way to immerse myself in the culture and connect with my family. I think my promise to Sto. Nino is just to be more open-minded and forgiving. Sometimes,  I have the tendency to be close-minded on things or just not willing to listen to people whose opinions I might not agree with.”

For Boone, her Belgian father had fallen in love with Cebu as a tourist 20 years ago and decided to relocate the family here. Since leaving Pangasinan, the reigning Miss Lapu-Lapu celebrated her first Sinulog last year where she was introduced to the night parties and roamed the city with people she had just met, saying that everyone is family during Sinulog. This year, she dances for the Fiesta Senor asking for the healing of her father who has been diagnosed with cancer.

“This is also my dream. We all have our advantages and weaknesses. We all give effort and hard work, depende sa judges kung kaninong hard work ang nag-shine,” said Chloe says.

Presented by the Cebu City Government, Sinulog Foundation Inc., and Basilica Del Sto. Niño, Sinulog Festival Queen will award P100,000 to the winning lead dancer. The first, second, third, and fouth runner-up will be receiving P50, 000, P30,000, P20,000 and P10,000, respectively.

Whoever wins the title will also compete in Reyna ng Aliwan alongside other Festival Queens from all over the country. The Sinulog Festival Queen tilt, established in 2004, has produced memorable queens such as  Bb. Cebu 2017 Apriel Smith, Bb. Cebu 2018 Steffi Aberasturi, Miss Earth 2014 Jamie Herrell, Miss Eco International 2018 Cynthia Thomalla, Reyna ng Aliwan 2017 Marla Pino Alforque, and most recently, Miss Millennial Philippines 2018 Shaila Rebortera.

Production manager Marti Ybañez, Artistic Director Victor Hao Cuenco, Cebu City Tourism Officer Heart Rizzari and reigning Sinulog Festival Queen Shaila Mae Rebortera shared that perhaps one day, Sinulog Festival Queen might become a full-on pageant.

Rebortera, who also placed second runner-up in Reyna ng Aliwan 2018, wishes her successor a reign as memorable and wonderful as she had.

“It’s a bit sad for me that my reign is about to end but I’m also happy for someone else to be able to experience the same thing. I learned in my reign that you could either win or you could have lessons. I had ups and downs. My wish for the new Sinulog Festival Queen is for her to be able to enjoy her reign and fulfill her duties for Cebu,” she said.

Tonight, Rebortera will turn over her crown to the new Sinulog Festival Queen during the coronation at Cebu City Sports Center.

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