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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sinulog and Balloon Release

There are only two things I hate about the Sinulog period: the congested traffic of Cebu City and mass-balloon release.

As a kid, I had this book on dolphins and whales—a picture/activity/early reading book which I got from an aunt in Australia. It was one of my favorite books at that time—I believe—that is why it succumbed to its ill usage or overuse by me. From that book—I really can’t remember the title—I first read about the hazards posed by the released balloons to wildlife.

Although the sight of hundreds of balloons in the air is fascinating, we should take note that these balloons don’t just disappear—they end up as litter and marine debris. Natural rubber is biodegradable but it takes months or a year to decompose.  A fallen deflated balloon from balloon releases can be ingested by an animal or entangle an animal. The string or ribbon from the balloon can entangle birds—preventing movement and flight and starving the animal. Deflated balloons pose a greater threat to marine animals. Whales, dolphins and turtles may mistake them for prey—squid and jellyfish—and ingest them.

A bird with a tangled beak.
Photo courtesy of The Ocean Conservancy
Of course, there are other occasions where balloons are allowed to float into the sky but the Sinulog period is a ‘mass-release’ machinery. On a regular day, balloons are a ubiquity in the immediate vicinity of churches but during the Sinulog period balloons and balloon vendors can be found as far as the docks in Mandaue and in the routes of the Translacion and the Sinulog Grand Parade. Balloon release is a common activity during the 11-day Sinulog period. Devotees do them at least once in one or more days starting from the first day of the novena to the day of Sinulog Grand Parade. Devotees write their prayers in paper and attach them to the balloons which they then release in the air. In other times, a balloon is released—without the paper—as a sign of prayer, devotion or celebration. In the last three days of the Sinulog more and more balloons are released—during the Translacion, the parade at sea and on the feast day of the Santo Niño de Cebu. Sadly, a lot of these people who release balloons in the air are not aware of the balloon’s harmful effects. I’m not a spoilsport and I admire the Cebuano’s devotion but I think we can do away with the balloons. God is a know-it-all, right?

Balloons dot the sky.
Balloons get tangled in the power lines.

Balloon releases are illegal in several states in the US. In the United Kingdom, organizations like the Marine Conversation Society and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals oppose balloon releases. Sadly, in Cebu or in the Philippines there are no laws that regulate the release of balloons—if there is or if there will be such a law, the government would have to work hard to implement the policies since most of the laws here in the Philippines are not properly enforced.

Balloon flowers
Balloon rosary
Earlier today, I saw one of those overused more-fun-in-the-Philippines memes. The internet photo meme was an image of a balloon release in Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino and it read Balloons in the Air: More Fun in the Philippines. Yes, balloons-in-the-air is an impressive sight but, at the same time, it is a harbinger. Balloons kill.