Pampangueños have an unmistakable pride of place, which becomes apparent once you talk to them and learn about their lives and work. They feel proud about their achievements, heritage and culture.
Well, who wouldn’t, especially if one of their clients happens to be the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton?
“We are really like that, we want to go over and beyond what people expect,” said parol maker Rolando Quiambao of RolRen’s Lanterns and General Merchandise.
For decades now, his giant parol designs in Pampanga have been winning competitions. These meticulously designed lanterns with multicolored lights inspire awe for their sheer size. That they are manually controlled by young men who are trained to work in synchrony makes the feat even more impressive.
“Everything is done by hand, but with technology, there is that option to just turn on a switch and let the lights blink on and off,” Quiambao said in the vernacular.
While he could take the easy route, he has wisely chosen not to, because he prefers the “human touch.”
“Without it, they’re just machines,” he said. The giant lanterns and special projects he, his wife and adult children design are just the decorative segment of the family business. The retail segment, which covers the capiz lanterns, lamps and wedding souvenirs, sustains the business throughout the year.
RolRen’s is one of the many lantern makers in Pampanga, perhaps the most sought after. While he has been offered a space in the malls along MacArthur Highway, he has never seriously considered it. “If there are buyers or potential clients who are really interested in what we can do, they should make the effort to locate us and visit our factory,” Quiambao said.
His gambit seems to be working. Instead of being put off, clients continue to beat a path year-round to RolRen’s Lanterns in San Fernando, Pampanga.
Quiambao continues to create Christmas lanterns that decorate homes and windows come December. To get into the holiday spirit, he plays Christmas carols as early as April, when Filipinos are observing Holy Week.
One of his newer lantern designs is a bahay kubo (thatched hut) made of white or colored capiz. Dangling underneath the hut are matching circular capiz discs.
It is his star-shaped or radial motif lanterns that continue to be bestsellers. “When you look at the lanterns of San Fernando, you more or less get an idea what kind of people we are. Magarbo kami (we’re showy) and larger than life. They say we’re boastful (mayabang) but only because we want to create something new, and go beyond what’s expected,” Quiambao said.
Meanwhile, JB Woodcraft Inc. has been winning over clients with designs that are striking and well-made. It was founded by Jose Bituin in 1972 as a trading post of regional souvenirs catering mainly to American servicemen.
“My father initially sold souvenir items from Baguio, Bulacan and Laguna,” said daughter Leslie Bituin Mendiola. “Soon, people wanted to buy furniture so he began buying from Pampanga makers and selling them from the store.
“Those who bought from him reported that once they were back in the United States, the furniture would twist and crack because they hadn’t been properly treated. That’s when he decided to learn how to make furniture that was sturdy enough to be exported,” she said.
The 1980s were the heyday of local exporters because of the numerous government-backed missions and expositions that allowed them to showcase their wares overseas.
“My parents were able to sell to foreign clients, 50 percent of whom we have been able to maintain and continue to sell to,” Mendiola said.
Now, JB Woodcraft has a client base consisting mainly of foreign buyers in the Middle East, Europe and China. Some of their more famous clients include singer Boy George and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, who purchased an elegant caned (solihiya) bed.
Mendiola recently outfitted palaces in Marrakech and Qatar with everything from 36-seat tables, chairs to heavy consoles and beds with intricately carved headboards.
“We are also known for our mirrors with carved frames depicting birds, flowers and leaves,” Mendiola said.
They work only with clients who are ready to pay top dollar. As her mother, Myrna Bituin, said, “That’s the only way we can compete, by being the best and by commanding top prices.”
RolRen’s Lanterns and General Merchandise, 1142, 11th Ave., Unisite Subd. Brgy. Del Pilar, San Fernando, Pampanga
JB Woodcraft, Inc., Dalan Betis, Guagua, Pampanga