Pakil Wood Shavings

Pakil wood shavings

ARTSY LAGUNA. Neighboring lakeshore towns of Lumban, Paete and Pakil share an unparalleled and unique craftsmanship. If Lumban Embroidery is sought after by the fashionistas and Paete Woodcarvings excites art enthusiasts, Pakil’s delicate art of wood shavings is admired both locally and worldwide.

Distinct to the rustic and quiet town of Pakil is the centuries-old religious ritual of the Turumba and an inimitable and delicate version of woodcarving, the art of whittling wood.

Pakil art woodshavings

Pakil wood shaving peacocks

WHITTLER’S CRAFT. No one can clearly recall how the art of whittling wood started in Pakil. Some local folks claim that an old man introduced the craft of whittling during the turn of the century. The skill has been passed on from one generation to the next.

Today’s master carvers encourage apprenticeship of interested boys and girls to make sure that this craft distinct only in Pakil continues to thrive.

Pakil wood shaving tools

Pakil wood shaving Conchita

CONCHITA’S DEXTEROUS HANDS. Conchita Mirabella has been practicing her unique skill of whittling wood since 1977. She showed us knives of different thicknesses and lengths that she uses to create flowers, butterflies, birds, peacocks, swan and fans with intricate details. Delicate filigree is whittled from a young, solid branch of a freshly cut lanite, batikuling, amlang, or quetaña tree. These types of wood are preferred for their malleability and lightness in both weight and color.

Conchita confidently demonstrated her skill. Using a sharp-edged knife, she first smoothens out the wood’s surface by shaving off the rough outer layers. With extreme control, she then carved in the wood with her dexterous hands. Resting down her tools, Conchita spread out the shavings and right before us, a flower took shape and she did all these steps in a matter of minutes.

Pakil wood shaving flower

Pakil wood shaving art

EPILOGUE. Some wood shavings are dyed while other are left in their natural bleached shade. Conchita’s wood shavings have become popular as gift items, party favors, and even Christmas tree trimmings. Some were mounted and framed to become souvenir items.

Orders have come from different parts of the world. There were occasions Conchita was invited to demonstrate her skill in other countries. And this is another amazing local talent we must be proud of.

Published in: on October 8, 2015 at 1:56 am  Comments (1)  

Balara Filters Park

Balara Filters Park

INTO THE WOODS OF QUEZON CITY. Finding an alternative route in order to avoid the terrible traffic situation in Metro Manila led us into discovering a place, deep within the forested area at the edge of Quezon City hills.

While passing along the winding road of Old Balara, we noticed amidst the overgrowth  and towering trees are fountains with  sculpture of cherubs and nymphs and post-war houses of wood in different stages of deterioration. This place is called Balara Filters Park.

Balara Filters Park fountain

Balara Filters Park filtration

BALARA FILTERS PARK. The Balara Filters Park is an old recreational area in Quezon City. It became a popular day-trip destination in the 1950s for its swimming pools, shaded picnic areas, and outdoor performances. Within the 150-acre park is the Balara Filtration Plant that filters and treats waters from the Angat, Ipo, and La Mesa dams in order to supply clean tap water to Metro Manila residents.

The park was closed to the public during the Marcos years. It was neglected for decades. It was rehabilitated by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and was reopened to the public by the Quezon City government in 2003.

Balara Filters Park Cerro de Carriedo

Balara Filters Park old gate

CARRIEDO HILL. On a cloudy and drizzly Sunday afternoon, we explored the Balara Filters Park on foot, beginning at what looks like an ancient water tower with a sign that says Cerro de Carriedo. We entered the park behind it through an ornate wrought iron gate.

The park had the feel of a ghost town with structures that visitors sans a tour guide can only guess what they are for and the inspiration behind them.

Balara Filters Park kalabaws

Balara Filters Park Windmill

 WINDMILL PARK. Within the park is an allegorical statue of La Intrepida personified by a local heroine riding a karitela as her chariot being pulled by two carabaos. Past the La Intrepida is the original water tank built by the Metropolitan Water District for the Balara community. After the War, a bigger water tank was constructed. The original tank was dressed as windmill.

At the edge of the Windmill Park is a bust of philanthropist
Don Francisco Carriedo y Peredo overlooking the modern filtration facility below the hill.

Balara Filters Park Carriedo Monument

Balara Filters Park Carriedo epitaph

THE CARRIEDO LEGACY. Before the Americans started building dams and filtration plants, the rivers continued to be the chief source of water for the city. For drinking, river water was crudely filtered through cloth in a tapayan and then clarified with tawas. Manila didn’t get running water until 1878, when the municipal waterworks was established by Governor-General Domingo Moriones with money from a fund that by then known as the Carriedo Legacy.

One of the obras pias of Don Francisco Carriedo y Peredo that he left in his will was for the building of a potable water system for the city of Manila. Don Francisco did not live long enough to see his legacy since he died in 1743. The Fuente de Carriedo in Plaza Sta. Cruz was built in honor of his pious work. A replica of the fountain by National Artist Napoleon Abueva is installed in front of the MWSS head office in Katipunan Avenue.

Balara Filters Park old houses

Balara Filters Park old classical statues

FOR WATERWORKS EMPLOYEES ONLY. We left Windmill Park when a security guard accosted us from taking pictures. He informed me that only MWSS employees are allowed at the Windmill Park on weekends. Only then I realized that we sneaked into an exclusive public park. So off we went to whatever we can see from the main road.

Past the post-war chalets that served as rest house and residences for waterworks employees during the 1940s. Most of them are in the stage of neglect. As we walked deep into the park, we heard the non-stop chirping of birds and crickets, occasionally broken by revving up engines from motorists. But when everything fell quiet, the experience in the park is like being transported back to a time when Quezon City was still wilderness.

Balara Filters Park Grotto

Balara Filters Park monument of the unknown

WORKER’S MONUMENT. The Balara Filters has a grim history. Many lives where lost when it was being built. In an open field is the Worker’s Monument. It is as a memorial dedicated to the employees who died during the construction of the filters.

Some residents living near the area claim to witness ghostly apparitions and hear voices from the woods calling out for help. There are other stories that are best told on Halloween.

Balara Filters Park Anonas Amphitheater

Balara Filters Park Amphitheater

ANONAS AMPHITHEATER. Near the viewing deck of the Worker’s Monument are the entrances to the ancient Anonas Amphitheater. Named after Gregorio Anonas, the first Filipino director of the waterworks, this venue serves as a mute witness to live performances of National Artist for theater and music, Honorata “Atang” de la Rama.

We can only imagine from the iron gates with whimsical Art Deco design the Queen of Philippine Zarzuela,  Atang de la Rama performing, Nabasag ang Banga from the popular zarzuela Dalagang Bukid.  Just like the Metropolitan Theater, the Anonas Amphitheater must be restored as a sacred ground for the performing arts.

Balara Filters Park Carriedo Fountain

Balara Filters Park Lion's Head

LION’S HEAD. The Balara Filter’s Park is not the usual public park to visit on a weekend because of the paranoid security personnel who kept accosting us to stop from taking photos. Their reason was it is a Sunday and picture taking is only allowed from Monday to Friday.

At the time of Mayor Sonny Belmonte, 21 million pesos was spent to rehabilitate QC public parks. Public funds was spent for the rehabilitation of the Balara Filters Park. There is interesting history to see here. Sayang that people are discouraged from exploring it on a weekend. It’s my lion’s head that prevailed to take pictures of what we can anyway.

EPILOGUE. And as we walk our way out of the woods at the edge of Quezon City, we sing these lines from a famous Broadway musical:

The way is clear. The light is good.
I have no fear, nor no one should.
The woods are just trees, the trees as just woods.
No need be afraid there…

Into the woods without delay, but be careful not to lose the way.
Into the wood who knows what may be lurking on the journey?
Into the woods to get the thing that makes it worth the journeying.

Into the woods! Into the woods! Into the woods!
Then out of the woods and home before dark!

*An excerpt from the Prologue of Into the Woods
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Published in: on October 1, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments (4)  

Queens of Lumban Embroidery

*This article was first featured in Issue 8 of Cake & Whiskey Magazine. Words by Glenn Martinez and photos by Jamie Barredo-Paruginog.

Lumban Embroidery

HISTORY OF EMBROIDERY. Morning sunshine generously streams through a narrow door inside the home of 61-year-old Lolita Lakbay-Rosales providing natural lighting while she moves in silent concentration over her labor. Her deft hands diligently shift the needle along the beginnings of a meticulously-embroidered piña fabric. In her living room, she is joined by other women from the neighborhood doing the same fine handiwork. They are all related by blood and by profession. They are the women embroiderers of Lumban.

Embroidery has thrived as a lively cottage industry in Lumban. Ask any of the women embroiderers how this needle craft was introduced to this lakeshore town of fishermen and farmers and nobody can give a definite history. Their answers would echo Lolita’s. I’ve learned embroidery from my mother when I was 13. My mother learned it from my grandmother. I taught my daughters and my husband to do embroidery.

Lumban embroidery pina fabric

Lumban Embroiderers family

EMBROIDERY IS KING. Lolita’s husband, Apolinario Rosales, shares the daily labor by stretching gossamer cloth over a rectangular bamboo frame locally called a bastidor. The delicate fabric is cleaned with soap and water and whitened with starch before it is placed under the sun to dry. Like most family men in Lumban, Apolinario casts his net in the nearby lake for that first catch at dawn. In the afternoon, his coarsened fisherman hands balance a tambor, the round wooden stretcher where the piña fabric is stretched out as tight as a drum, while he intricately embroiders rosettes and floral patterns.

Apolinario claims he learned embroidery by simply watching his wife Lolita. However, embroidery remains the turf of Lolita in the Rosales household. She is the only one who gives approval to Apolinario’s embroidery and provides directions on how to improve his style. As Lolita explains in jest every man of the house in Lumban accepts this kind of set-up because in our town embroidery is king and we women are the queens.

Lumban embroiderers

Lumban embroidery tambor

LOLITA’S DREAM. Before lunch, the women embroiderers leave Lolita’s living room to attend to their own families. We will reconvene in the afternoon, Lolita guarantees. In her kitchen, Lolita prepares guinataang hipon, a local delicacy of fresh shrimp, from Apolinario’s early catch, cooked in coconut milk.

Lolita proudly share that Lumban embroidery is equally sought after like the French and Belgian lace for its intricate and delicate design patterns. She reveals that it takes two weeks for her to embroider the size of a medium tambor. On one occassion she gathered the help of eight women embroiderers to work on a 20-yard fabric for a wedding gown. She earned 250,000 pesos ($5,000) for that project, which allowed her to send one her children to college. Lolita emphasizes, I wanted my children to earn a college degree so that they get regular-paying jobs in the city, because commissioned projects don’t come regularly.

Lumban Lolita Lakbay Rosales

STARS ARE UP. There are days when Lolita leaves Lumban two hours before sunrise to peddle her embroidered fabrics, including the works of her sisters and children, in the city. Their products end up in high-end stores as well as in people’s market like Divisoria and Quiapo.

She usually prefers to be paid in cash instantly because she needs the money to buy the raw materials like the yards of piña fabric and cotton threads in Divisoria. I leave Lumban in the morning when the starts are still up in the sky and when I return home after that long day, the same stars greet me later in the evening, shares Lolita over lunch.

Lumban Joy Rosales-Lobreda

A SHOW OF LUMBAN TALENT. Sheltered from the scorching afternoon sun, Lolita and the women embroiderers reassemble after lunch in front of a rural convenient store. On this day, they are joined by one of Lolita’s children, Joy Rosales-Leobrera. Lolita shares that when Joy was still in high school, she helped me complete my embroidery projects before she went to school. Joy is now married and with child, but still helps her mother with embroidery, as she did in high school.

Observing these women push the needle then pull the thread back through the shiny fabric is like watching a talent show. But these women are not competing for who makes the best decorative motif. Their goal is simply to produce the fine embroidery that Lumban is famous for.

Lumban Women Embroiderers

Lumban embroidery home-made

QUEENS OF LUMBAN EMBOIDERY. The sun begins to set in Lumban, casting the remaining light of day in front of the rural convenience store where Lolita and the women embroiderers insert the last decorative stitches into that meticulously-embroidered piña fabric.

As a day of embroidery work ends, these women attend to their husbands and children as grandmothers, mothers, sisters, cousins and daughters. In the morning, they will pick up their needles and cloth and begin once again as queens of Lumban embroidery.

EPILOGUE. The day I took a leave from work with my former boss, Jamie, we had no idea who to look for, which house to go for the interview and shoot. Our day in Lumban is all serendipity.

Thank you Cake & Whisky for giving me this assignment because I met the nicest people I know. We were treated in Lumban like extended family. All the warmth and kindness we experienced are felt on how this piece has turned out because it’s all from the heart and I dedicate this to the kindest people of Lumban.


Contact Lolita Lakbay-Rosales for her embroidery at +63.0920-648.24.40 or visit her at 018 Rizal St. Barangay Maracta, Lumban, Laguna Province, Philippines.

Published in: on September 22, 2015 at 3:21 am  Leave a Comment  



PAKIL FIESTA. The quiet town of Pakil in Laguna is home to a centuries-old healing ritual known as the Turumba. This street-dancing procession is held twice a year. First, during Pakil’s town fiesta on May 12 and second, on the feast day of the Our Lady of Sorrows every September 15.

A reenactment of the first Turumba is repeated every 15th of September to commemorate the founding of the town’s most important religious icon, the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores.

Turumba story

Turumba Marianga

TURUMBA LEGEND. It was 1788 when some men went fishing on Laguna de Bay at the end of an unusual September storm. While rowing their bancas, the fishermen spotted an object bobbing against the tide. A group of fishermen were able to catch it with their net. Upon retrieving the object, they made several attempts to bring it to the church of Paete but the tide is drifting them away from the shore.

The object was settled on a wide flat rock in the lake shore of Pakil. As the curious town’s people gathered around the object, they found it to be a painting of the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores framed on a nine by eleven inch beaten silver. Some men folk tried to bring it to the church but was too heavy to lift not even the big woman named Marian-ga could move it off the rock.

Turumba Padre Soriano

Turumba image

HINDI MABUHAT! SUMAYAW NA LANG TAYO. The news about the wondrous icon reached the parish priest. That day being a Sunday, Padre Miguel Soriano instructed the altar boys, the choir, and those who came to hear the mass to assemble at the shore.

As the priest touched the painting, the people started jumping and clapping as an expression of joy. Padre Soriano found that the previously heavy painting has become light to carry as the towns people danced around the image. They continued dancing as they bring the painting to the church.

Turumba procession Pakil

Turumba procession

TURUMBA STREET DANCING. The original painting is kept in a chapel at the adjoining convent of San Pedro de Alacantara Church. During the annual procession, a statue of the Our Lady of Sorrows is taken down from the high altar of church and is brought to the narrow streets of Pakil on a silver anda carried by male devotees.

Stomping their feet and waving their arm in pointing gesture while chanting Turumba sa Birhen, the whole town participates in the dramatization of the first Turumba.

Turumba healing procession

Turumba healing dance

A HEALING DANCE. After the first Turumba, the dancing tradition continued as religious a parade for the sick. In a book by French surgeon Paul P. de la Gironier, he described the early  Turumba as a procession celebrated yearly in the town of Pakil where all the sick and invalid take part in by dancing. In this manner, they believe, that they will get cured of their sufferings. Coming from places as far as 20 miles, the lame and sick who still have a little bit of strength plod themselves along to Pakil to participate in the fiesta. During the entire duration of the procession these unhappy ones dance assisted by helpers and shout Toromba la Virgen, la Virgen Toromba! It is a strange spectacle to see all these poor devils make superhuman efforts and incredible contortions until the Blessed Virgin is returned to the church. These unfortunate one at the end of their strength throw themselves to the ground gasping and rest motionless for hours. Those who are seriously ill often die of exhaustion, while others regain their health or get worst.

While the Turumba we see today is far from Gironier’s description, it retains its old two-step beat when healthy devotees act like sick men and women. National Artist Alejandro Roces explains that the turumba could be a blend of the words turo, to point and umbay, a hymn of grief. The act of pointing at the image and then patting another person are part of the Turumba ritual of transferring the healing powers of the religious icon to a person who needs healing.

Turumba sa Birhen

EPILOGUE. The frenzied dancing and chanting continued until the silver anda bearing the antique image of  the Virgin of Sorrow is carried back to the church.

This concludes the dramatization of the finding of the Virgin of Sorrow painting that made the people of Pakil dance for joy.

 15 September 2015
Feast day of the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores.

Published in: on September 15, 2015 at 12:44 am  Comments (1)  

Lydia Velasco

Lydia Velasco

NEAR ART. There is a church, a hospital, grocery and wet market, a resort famous for its nine-waves pool, a mall called SM City San Mateo in our neighborhood but there are no art gallery or art museum. The nearest we could go to see artworks is at Vargas Museum in UP or Pinto Gallery in hilly Antipolo. So whenever I feel the craving to see art in its traditional and timeless beauty, I run to the home studio of the modernist master Lydia Velasco in Marikina.

When going to Tita Lydia, we cross the bridge that connects our barangay to her’s. Below the bridge is the historic Nangka River where a bloody battle between Andres Bonifacio’s men and the Spanish forces took place in August 31, 1896.

Lydia Velasco statue

Lydia Velasco grotto

HOME OF THE ART ICON. Religious, serene, motherly that’s the vibe when entering the home studio of the art icon.
Surrounding Tita Lydia’s unfinished artworks is a lush floral and fruit garden with several grottoes where the modernist master spends time praying and painting, and entertaining her followers, family, and friends.

Filipiniana is all-over the house. Vintage stained-glass, filigreed transoms, and colorful machuca tiles were used at the main entrance. The stairs leading to second floor studio and living quarters were made of salvaged wood and capiz window panels from an ancestral house.

Lydia Velasco studio

Lydia Velasco modern paintings

THE WOMEN OF LYDIA VELASCO. In the several occasions we visited Tita Lydia, we always find her working on several commissioned pieces. She is known in the art circle for her women figures. Slender, serpentine, sophisticated women forms is how art critics describe Tita Lydia’s art.

Tita Lydia adds texture to her canvas by pasting fabric with interesting design patterns to her female forms and blending her collage with yellow, green and red tones.

Lydia Velasco old works

AMBASSADOR CHAIRS. A tour of Tita Lydia’s home studio begins in the garden then to the second floor studio where there is a display of the artist’s old works bearing the signature Lydia Cruz or Lydia Velasco-Cruz. While seated on a pair of ambassador chairs from her ancestor’s home in Navotas, Tita Lydia told us stories of her life as a young girl selling fish in Navotas market where the old trading tradition known as bulong-bulungan system is still being practiced to this day.

She majored at advertising in UST and worked for various advertising agencies before becoming a full time artist. It was one of her artistic directors, Mauro Malang Santos, who suggested to drop her married name Cruz when signing her paintings for the purpose of easy recall. Tita Lydia signs her coveted canvases today with Velasco.

Lydia Velasco paintings

Lydia Velasco painting Candle Vendor

CANDLE VENDOR. When I Googled paintings by Tita Lydia, I found one of her early works called Candle vendor. This painting interests me because it recalls the ritual of burning or melting of candles as offerings in exchange for heaven’s blessings or divine intervention for someone’s desires. In our recent visit, Tita Lydia puts her signature on an updated version of the Candle vendor.

EPILOGUE. I am thankful today because whenever someone ask me Oh! Who are the people in your neighborhood? I can sing about the artist Lydia Velasco.

-8 September 2015 | Nativity of the Virgin Mary

Published in: on September 8, 2015 at 5:15 am  Comments (1)  

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