Let there be light: they saw it was truly good

AS early as 115 days or nearly three months to go before Christmas Day, portions of N. Bacalso Ave. in Barangays Mambaling and Basak San Nicolas, Cebu City were already filled with varying sizes of lanterns for sale.

Although these have become common sights in these areas for the past 15 years, did you know that these decors are not made by Cebuanos?

Arnold Calma and Ernesto Forcado, who both hail from Luzon, have been making lanterns for a living for several decades. While they may have been to other provinces, they always come back to Cebu to sell their lanterns.

Both said in separate interviews that it’s because of the warmth and appreciation Cebuanos give their work, and the thought of “lighting” up their yuletide holidays that keep them coming back.

“Iba kasi yung sinseridad at ngiti na natatanggap namin galing sa mga kustomer na Bisaya (There’s just something about the sincerity and smiles we receive from our Cebuano customers),” Arnold told SunStar Cebu.

The 34-year-old native of San Fernando, Pampanga has been to many places, surviving even the Typhoon Yolanda that hit Tacloban City on Nov. 8, 2013.

His stay in Cebu, though, has not been all sunshine as well.

“I was here when the 2012 and 2013 strong earthquakes hit Cebu. I know all these calamities would be enough reason to do business elsewhere, but Cebu is the only place where I’ve truly felt happy even to a point where I can feel at home,” Arnold said.

Making lanterns, however, is not his main source of livelihood. From January to the first few weeks of September, Arnold works as an all-around personnel for a private employer in his hometown.

With a daily pay of more than P500, Arnold said he could just work for the whole year in Pampanga where he earns better and can be closer to his family.
For making electric lanterns, Arnold is under a three-month contract and gets a salary of P40,000.

A lifelong interest

“I don’t really need to do this, leave home and go far to work. I’ve been passionate about making lanterns ever since I was a kid. As soon as I was of legal age, I immediately worked in a factory back home. Back then the lanterns were made of cellophane. That’s why I can’t just turn my back on this, and being in Cebu helps keep that passion alive,” he said in Tagalog.

Since putting on display their products two months ago, Arnold said he and his boss have already sold more than 100 lanterns in varying shapes and sizes. He said there were days when they had beaten their daily quota of 50 sales. A small LED (light emitting diode) lantern costs P1,500, while the larger ones are at around P2,000.

Arnold said that since putting up their stall in Mambaling, they have earned loyal patrons who order custom-made lanterns from them.

These customers include a well-known resort in Lapu-Lapu City, which ordered 200 pieces of handmade, native style LED lanterns.

In Basak San Nicolas, a group of fathers work not only to stand as pillars of their respective families, but also to give light in the homes of several Cebuanos, especially during the Christmas season.

Ernesto Forcado, 67, is the oldest member in the group of six workers.

With all his six children now professionals with their own families, Ernesto could easily retire and spend his days enjoying the fruits of his labor with his wife back in his home in Manila.

“More than earning money, I’m doing this because this is fulfilling for me. Seeing the happy faces of the people looking at our lanterns is enough ‘payment’ for my hard work,” he said in Tagalog.

Ernesto said he owes part of his children’s success to the thousands of lanterns he had made and sold for the past 34 years.

“The lantern is a symbol of joy, but in my family it’s a symbol of humility and love. I take pride in being a lantern-maker and I’m proud of my children for never feeling ashamed of our poor background despite their success today,” he said.

Despite his age, Ernesto can still keep up with his daily quota regardless of the project’s size. He added that because of their strong teamwork, he and his colleagues have already sold at least 200 lanterns since opening their stall last September. Their regular lanterns are sold at P600 to P2,500, while decors custom-ordered by commercial establishments cost P4,500. “When we go home on Dec. 22, we will all be happy to leave and look forward to next year. Why? Because of our kind customers, of course,” Ernesto said.
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