Friday, October 14, 2005

The lantern industry of San Fernando: Pampanga's model for "One Town, One Product"

PIA Press Release

San Fernando, Pampanga (16 September) -- See a parol or Christmas lantern, think of Pampanga! This has been the case for sometime now but the lantern makers of San Fernando and the city government want bigger things for the lantern industry.

Seeing its big potential waiting to be tapped, the lantern industry of San Fernando had been identified as the model for Pampanga's One Town, One Product (OTOP) program, a significant part of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's ten-point agenda.

Indeed the parol industry has come a long way but it can go a longer and better way towards fueling economic activity, not just in Pampanga, but in the whole of Central Luzon.

Best lantern makers
Roland Quiambao wears several hats - chair of the City Arts and Culture Council; chair of the recently formed Lantern Makers Association of San Fernando. He is also a major awardee twice over - Most Outstanding Fernandino in the field of arts and culture in 2004; Kabuhayan awardee in 1998 presented to him by then President Fidel V. Ramos in Malacañang.

He had done a variety of jobs before he concentrated on his true love - lantern making. He worked as an OFW for three years in Dubai; he came home and became a jeepney driver, In between, he was a "musikero" - playing the trumpet in cultural shows. His musical experience started at the University of the Assumption in San Fernando where he enjoyed a scholarship by virtue of his being a member of the school rondalla. He graduated with a degree in Commerce which he finds useful in his prosperous lantern making business.

Much farther back, Roland started at lantern making at age 10, assisting and learning from one he considers the master, the late Mario Datu, the sole record holder of winning the annual parol contest for nine consecutive years, a record unbroken to this day.

Roland and several others learned the ropes from Mang Mario. They apparently learned very well since he and his peers eventually became winners of the annual lantern contest, alternately winning over one another, to this day.

Big break from lahar
Roland started his lantern business in 1986 but his big break came in late 1995. In October that year, a big lahar flow hit San Fernando suddenly and hard. A month later, just before a Christmas which would be understandably bleak, then San Fernando Mayor Reynaldo B. Aquino asked Roland if he could decorate the city streets with Christmas lanterns as an attempt to brighten up the place and buoy up the sagging spirits of the residents.

"Tinanggap ko ang challenge, kahit hindi ko tiyak kung kaya ko," Roland admitted.

But he rose to the challenge, beyond anyone's expectations! The sight of his lanterns adorning the streets and major spots in the city certainly gave the weary residents a reason to smile and find new hope in the future. This opened up doors of bigger opportunities for Roland, opportunities which he enjoys and nourishes to this day.

In 2003, he was a recipient of a Php200,000 loan under President Arroyo's One Barangay, One Product program. This was a "no collateral, no interest" loan amounting to one million pesos and given to a group of five entrepreneurs, each getting Php200,000. It was given through the city government under the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) assistance program of the President. Roland started paying this loan every month without fail in 2004 and shall have been paid in full in October 2006.

He has also formed a tie up with television stations who have their backdrops and other set décor done by Roland. His continuous innovation and attempts to revolutionalize lantern making has paid off. Even during the off -Christmas season, he gets orders for various lantern-like décor such as the ones found in his workshop cum residence in Barangay San Felipe- butterflies, plants, flowers, fruits.

"One should not limit himself to the traditional but instead, continue to explore new ideas, improve their products," Roland advises new entrepreneurs not just in the lantern industry but in any field.

He has also been joining the annual Likha ng Central Luzon (LCL) held every October at SM Mega Mall, even providing for free the main décor of the event. In return, he gets free space or a stall where he displays and sells his products. Through the LCL, he has also attracted the interest of foreign clients who have become his regular customers.

He has come a long way from the time when he would offer his services/products to would be clients, they now come to him and he could hardly cope with all the orders that pour in. He has 30 regular workers and sub-contracts to 60 others in San Felipe and neighboring barangays.

LGU factor
Apart from implementing the loan assistance program to SMEs, with the assistance of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the local government of San Fernando has been a big help, writing to other LGUs and corporations, offering the lantern makers' services to decorate their municipalities.

They are currently working on major support activities for the lantern makers and other entrepreneurs. One is the Christmas lantern strip which the Lantern makers Association is putting up from October 15 to December 31 this year. The venue is a 5000 sq m.vacant lot owned by businessman Eddie Chua who offered it for free use of the project. It is strategically located along the Gapan-San Fernando-Olongapo (GSO) Road, very near the Paskuhan Village.

The city government shall put up the stalls which the association members could pay back once or twice later. Or, better still, if the corporate sponsors that the LGU has approached agree to shoulder expenses for the stalls, much better for the lantern makers! They would just have to pay for their electric bills but even this would be negotiated with the San Fernando Electric and Power Company; if discounted rates could be given,! No let up in the city government's support for the lantern makers.

It will also try to work out the possible transfer of the Paskuhan Village's management to the city government. According to Fer Santos of the City Tourism Office, they could do much for the huge yet, largely unused Paskuhan Village, also along the theme of San Fernando being the country's Christmas capital.

But whatever the outcome of these plans, the city government is serious about maintaining, even upping, the quality of San Fernando products, lanterns or otherwise. They plan to come up with the quality seal on all local products to ensure that indeed, "Gawang Fernandino, Gawang Filipino" is world class!

Gearing up for Ligligan Parul
The Lantern Makers Association of San Fernando has only 17 members presently. The city government is encouraging other makers to join the association knowing that there is strength in an organized act.

Roland Quiambao can attest to this, and so does Daisy Flores, secretary of the association. Organized only in May this year, the members have felt the vibrancy of being in an association. They are very much into the thick of the preparations for the planned Christmas fiesta strip starting in mid-October.

Within their ranks, there is also specialization. There are production people doing the creatives - designing and execution of the lanterns, like Roland Quiambao. There are members who focus on the commercial side, the marketing of their products, like Daisy Flores. This way, there is specialization and focus, according to Roland.

But Daisy has started producing her own lanterns and she finds a new excitement in it. In fact, she is challenged by the fact that she and her workers shall decorate the streets of Angeles City and Mabalacat this Christmas.

Roland's Christmas décor, as in the past years, shall be seen in Parañaque, Quezon City, and the Ortigas area. Their production usually starts in March, during the off season, to make it in good time for their regular orders.

Roland is busy with San Felipe's entry to this year's giant lantern festival which they call "Ligligan Parul" in Kapampangan. While his entry remains a secret, he gave away enough clues for one to conclude that it is going to give other entries a run for their money. His concept is timely, relevant and universal - proof that Roland is committed to revolutionizing the lantern making industry in San Fernando.

What sets San Fernando lantern craftsmen from those in other places is the cultural depth that lantern making has reached in their consciousness. They have a history of the origins of parol making, culled from the stories from the folks of old; when the candle was used to light the path of a procession during the nine consecutive novena nights before Christmas. How the intricate designs and technically simple, straightforward parol of yore evolved into the less ornate designs yet highly technical features of the modern Christmas lantern.

A giant lantern has an average of about 2,500 to 3,000 light bulbs and costs anywhere from Php300, 000 to Php500, 000. The high cost of producing an entry to the contest is partly subsidized by the city government and assisted by other sponsors. The play of color, lights and music and artistry during lantern festival night makes a spectacle of the grand scale.

A trophy and prestige are the stakes in the annual lantern festival. Roland is a candidate for the grand slam win this year so that he would get the revolving trophy coveted by all the barangays entered in the contest.

An added incentive is the possibility, nay probability, of having the winning entries displayed at the United Nations Headquarters and other lanterns hanging at New York's 5th street, again through the efforts of the city government of San Fernando in coordination with the officials of the Philippine consulate in New York.

Continuing partnership
Even with the current energy crisis and the call of the government for conservation measures, the lantern makers have more job orders than they could handle. Christmas has such a magical pull among Filipinos that they would not pass up an opportunity to light up their homes and streets, whatever the state of the world's energy supply.

The continuing partnership among the lantern makers, the city government of San Fernando, the DTI and other support groups augur well for the future of the lantern making industry in San Fernando.

Fer Santos of the city tourism council summed it up beautifully when he said "as long as may Pasko, may parol". Since Christmas is forever, it is safe to say that San Fernando's parols will remain in demand and that the talent and craftsmanship of Roland and other lantern makers shall live on in their heirs from family and friends and neighbors. (PIA-MMIO