Pangilinan: The Giant Lantern Makers of Santa Lucia

DURING the Giant Lantern Festival, I could not help but hear some comments that the competing lanterns are made in only one barangay. There is a partial truth to this because not all barangays who join the competition have their resident lantern makers and have to outsource part of the construction of their lantern entries.

Among all barangays in the City of San Fernando, the one with the highest concentration of giant lantern makers is Barangay Santa Lucia, one of the leading barangays in this age-old tradition. This barangay also has the strongest claim on lantern making history by virtue of preserved oral accounts that have been passed on through generations.

The most prominent lantern maker in the barangay is Ernesto David Quiwa, a great grandson of pioneer lantern maker Francisco Estanislao. Tatang Erning has passed on the family tradition to his four sons: Eric, Arvin, Omar and Francis, who help him produce giant lanterns for the yearly competition and the family claims about twelve championships to their credit. The grandchildren of Tatang Erning who are still in grade school and high school are already starting to learn the ropes of lantern making to continue their family legacy.

On one hand, Tatang Erning is making the lantern entry for Barangay Santo Nino, but the design of which is subject to approval from that barangay’s officials and residents. On the other hand, his son Eric is working on the entry of Barangay Santa Lucia while Arvin is concentrating on his entry for Barangay Calulut. Barangay San Pedro is not fielding an entry this year but the last time that San Pedro won in the festival, a second place in 2006, the lantern was made by Tatang Erning’s first cousin Robert David who is the son of famous third generation lantern maker Rodolfo David.

A few meters from the Quiwas are the Bondocs, with their patriarch the late Alberto Bondoc, Jr., who married to a sister of Tatang Erning Quiwa. The Bondocs may not be the winningest family in the lantern festival but they surely keep the tradition alive in the family.

Toto Bondoc has four sons whom he has raised in the lantern making tradition: Alberto Jr., Byron, Leslie and Engelbert. Toto who passed away in 2012 was tasked to make the giant lantern for barangay San Juan yearly, a tradition which has now passed on to his son Byron. The Bondoc brothers had an early exposure to the industry as their first assisted their dad in giant lantern preparations when they were in their teens.

Toto Bondoc also trained one of his first cousins to be a great lantern maker. Now that cousin, Arnel Flores, is a six-time Giant Lantern Festival champion whose latest win was for Barangay Telabastagan in 2013. Arnel is in his late thirties now and is very thankful of his humble start as assistant to his kuya Toto who helped him get a break in lantern making, after his early start as a pandesal seller.

Nowadays Arnel runs a fairly successful lantern enterprise that enables him to pursue his passion for designing giant lanterns. He begins his lantern studies as early as April or May and comes up with several designs, which he then presents to the barangay that commissions him. Right now, he has set his sight upon training the youth in Telabastagan in lantern making so that the time will come when the barangay will have its resident lantern maker. His only son Mark Nino is following the footsteps of his father, becoming one of the youngest lantern makers in recorded history when at 18 years old he crafted the entry of Barangay Calulut in 2013.

Father against son. Brother versus brother. Cousin versus cousin. It will be a battle between families on December 13 at Robinsons Starmills, but all in the spirit of friendly giant lantern competition.

At the end of the day, the Quiwas, the Bondocs and the Flores family are bound together and driven by their singular passion to preserve the giant lantern making tradition, which brings life and unity to their community in Barangay Santa Lucia.


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