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San Juan’s young lantern maker wins GLF 2022

A brighter future awaits Mark Niño Flores as his entry for barangay San Juan reigned at the Giant Lantern Festival (GLF) 2022 of city of San Fernando, Pampanga.

The 27-year-old lantern maker showcased a dazzling kaleidoscopic craft which highlighted the chronicles of Fernandinos in their COVID-19 recovery made more enticing with the messages for the Christmas season.

Flores underscored that he has combined all his past ideas to come up with his lantern design with more than 9,000 multi-colored light bulbs which made the spectators in awe in the whole duration of its performance during the festival’s competition night on December 17 at Robinsons Starmills, Pampanga.

“All of us, lantern makers, are eyeing to win this competition… We want our lanterns to be beautiful so that people will be happy when they witness the [giant lantern] festival,” he said.

This year’s win also brought the first championship trophy for Flores, the same lantern maker who enabled the said village to be the grand winner of the Lucky Viewers’ and Shoppers’ choice award in 2020, and second place in the same award in 2021.

Winning the second place in the GLF 2022 is none other than Flores’ father, Arnel Flores of Telabastagan, whose craft circled on the messages of faith, nationalism, gratitude, and cultural preservation.

Hailed as the third placer is the entry of the village of Sta. Lucia with lantern maker Byron Bondoc, a second-generation lantern maker, who showcased an entry bearing the messages of peace and love.

Twenty-seven-year-old Mark Niño Flores is all smiles for his first championship trophy for the village of San Juan during the Giant Lantern Festival 2022. (Paul John Lopez/PIA 3)

The City Government’s Support to the GLF 

City Mayor Vilma Caluag underscored that the GLF is one of the most celebrated events in the city as it parades gigantic lanterns symbolizing how Filipinos celebrate the holiday season.

“The giant lantern festival is also a major platform that showcases the Fernandino artistry and craftsmanship not only among the Kapampangans, but also to the citizens of the world,” she said.

She added that through the years, City of San Fernando’s lanterns are able to travel to various parts of the globe serving as a living testament that Fernandinos have world-class talents and crafts.

With this, Caluag recognized the esteemed lantern craftsmen who not only bring honor and recognition, but also contribute to the economy and tourism of the city.

“Our lantern makers also play a vital role in the preservation of our culture and heritage by passing them on to the next generation of Fernandinos and the next generation of lantern makers,” she added.

As we preserve our brand of being the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines,” the city government will continuously support our lantern makers and the whole country.

The local chief executive pledged that the city government will continuously support the lantern makers as it preserves its brand of being the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.

The city government has doubled the festival’s cash prizes for the winning lanterns. The champion received 300,000 pesos; the second placer with 200,000 pesos; and the third placer with 100,000 pesos.
It has also allotted 300,000 pesos worth of subsidy to each participating barangay prior to the festival.

The city government of San Fernando, led by Mayor Vilma Caluag, vows to continuously support the lantern makers as it continuously preserves its brand of being the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. (CSFP CIO)

The Giant Lanterns Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

It can be recalled that the festival, dubbed by Kapampangans as Ligligan Parul, conquered the digital hive in 2020 to ensure public health amid the peak of the health crisis.

It was also the first time that the festival had set aside the competition by staging an exhibition of the crafts of seven villages including Bulaon, Calulut, San Juan, San Nicolas, Sta. Lucia, Santo Niño, and Telabastagan.

City Tourism Officer Ma. Lourdes Carmella Jade Pangilinan emphasized that GLF 2020 served as a beacon of hope despite the pandemic with the display of the prevailing lantern tradition and culture of Fernandinos.

“What’s good is that even though there is a pandemic, similar to what we experienced during the Mount Pinatubo eruption and when we were suffering from lahar flows from 1991 to 1995, the folks of San Fernando did not stop the performance of Ligligan Parul,” she said.

She added that with no funds then, the GLF Foundation and GLF’s official venue partner, Robinsons Starmills Pampanga, has stepped up to provide subsidy to the barangays.

The festival also hailed another milestone as purely Kapampangan songs written and sung by local artists were played in the three rounds of the exhibition.

Meanwhile in 2021, the festival was done in a blended format with the launch of the digital edition on the opening night, and the drive-in during the series of nightly exhibitions.

It was again a friendly performance from the same seven villages which participated in 2020.

Pangilinan highlighted that that GLF’s edition was a symbol of unity, and proof that the pandemic is not a hindrance to a Kapampangan tradition that stood through decades.

She added that though it was not a competition, the lantern makers still made their entries awesome and amazing, while reflecting Fernandinos’ experiences while going through the pandemic together.

For the 2022’s edition of the GLF, apart from the competition being back, the gigantic lanterns are exhibited in different venues.

The villages’ crafts will perform at Robinsons Starmills, Pampanga on December 18-23; Barangay Sto. Rosario, City of San Fernando, Pampanga – December 24; Robinsons Starmills, Pampanga on December 25-30; Marquee Mall, Angeles City – December 29-30; and their last day at Robinsons Starmills, Pampanga on January 1, 2023.

“The chance to get to the lanterns as close as possible is during the exhibition nights. You will be able to get good photos, plus you will get to meet the lantern makers. That actually makes for a more meaningful GLF experience,” Pangilinan pressed.

Filipinos may also watch the performances of the giant lanterns at the comfort of their homes through the festival’s official media partner, CLTV36.

The winning entry of Barangay San Juan in this year's Giant Lantern Festival. (Paul John Lopez/PIA 3)

The Lantern Makers and the Lantern Industry

What makes the City of San Fernando’s giant lanterns unique is that the tradition is part of its intangible cultural heritage.

Pangilinan stated that the way the city’s lantern craftsmen make their lanterns is something that is deeply rooted in their culture and has been passed on through generations. 

She added that some of the families have been making giant lanterns for the past 100 years.

Also part of the culture that has been preserved is the use of rotor technology for the lanterns which gives the humane element to the giant lantern tradition.

For GLF 2022, apart from the three winning lanterns, seven other villages showcased their entries with unique designs and messages.

The village of Bulaon’s lantern maker Florante Parilla highlighted a craft that illuminates hope to the community despite any natural hazards or catastrophe.

Calulut’s entry, now under the hands of Hall-of-Famer giant lantern maker Teddy Aguilar who designed the winning crafts from GLF 2014 to 2017, showcased peace, faith, and pandemic recovery.

The oldest among all lantern makers, Efren Tiodin of barangay Del Pilar, had an entry that depicted the messages of peace and hope to mark their comeback to the festival after two years.

Meanwhile, the village of Dolores and its lantern maker Marcelino Ambrocio, prepared a giant lantern that brought to light the Fernandino culture and inclusivity.

Most of the city’s lantern makers are proof that blood runs thick when it comes to lantern making, and that there is no word as ‘dying’ in its giant lantern making tradition.

Lantern maker Edmar David of San Nicolas started as an apprentice to his father. With 22 years in the industry, he showcased a lantern parading the message of Filipino patriotism.

Another Bondoc brother, the younger Engelbert, presented a lantern with the best combination of colors among all his past creations. This man is not just a maker of lanterns – he is also a producer of lantern makers.  

His son, Eiron Charles, is the crafter of this year’s entry of the village of Pandaras. The youngest Bondoc, who is also this year’s youngest lantern maker, defied the odds as his entry shouted for equality and empowerment.

GLF 2022 is not just a competition, but a battle between families and a reunion of third or second generation lantern makers – things that lift up the city as the true Home of the Giant Lanterns.

Apart from the sparkling giants, City of San Fernando’s lantern makers are also famed with their lantern businesses that are enduring through time.

Pangilinan underscored that the city’s lantern industry has been phenomenal during the past two to three years despite the pandemic.

“We were thinking before that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a bad effect on the livelihood of our lantern makers. But the numbers have been good so far. In fact, the pandemic has opened new opportunities for them to explore,” she added.

The officer detailed that apart from physical stores, lantern craftsmen are now marketing their parols or lanterns in various e-commerce platforms.

Pangilinan cited that the makers are also incorporating innovations in their products including the introduction of fabric or eco-friendly lanterns.

“These weren’t explored before but I am glad that the younger generation of lantern makers are more open to ideas,” she said.

The city is also frequently visited by various local government units and even clients abroad to buy lantern decorations – proof that Fernandino-made lanterns are world-class. (MJSC/JLDC-PIA 3)

(From left) The villages of San Juan, Sto Niño, San Nicolas, and Calulut also showcased their lanterns with kaleidoscopic hues during the festival competition night of the Giant Lantern Festival 2022. (Paul John Lopez/PIA 3)

About the Author

Carlo Lorenzo Datu

Assistant Regional Head

Region 3

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