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‘Ka-buhay yan’: An engraver's life and legacy in the art of Lapida-Making

Every person’s quest for survival starts with a simple dream of having a modest job to bring food on the table. Every hardworking, but less-fortunate Filipino would always find ways to earn, hoping that the government can intervene and provide help to improve one’s life.

In the quiet, serene village of Barangay Disud, Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte, Renier B. Mag-abo has transformed the timeless art of lapida-making into a thriving business that breathes life into memories of the departed. The journey of this 41-year-old artisan is a testament to the resilience and innovation that defines success in the most unexpected corners of our world.

The story begins with Renier's father, Margarito "Gally" O. Mag-abo, who initially worked as a sepulturero in a local Catholic cemetery. It was a simple life until a chance encounter with a visiting engineer from a neighboring municipality planted the seed of a new livelihood. In 1991, Gally Mag-abo ventured into lapida-making, carving epitaphs that would forever commemorate the lives of the deceased.

Young Renier grew up observing his parents at work, watching his mother mix cement while his father meticulously engraved lapidas with a chisel and hammer. At the tender age of 16, Renier began assisting his father by adding the finishing touch, painting the lapida. His interest in the craft grew, leading to an ambitious pursuit of perfection. Renier started experimenting with new techniques, using a drill bit and hammer to strike and carve intricate letters and objects into the stone.

A twist of fate

In 2000, tragedy struck as Renier's father fell ill and could no longer fulfill orders. Renier stepped up, determined to continue his father's legacy. Sadly, a year later, Gally Mag-abo passed away, leaving Renier as the youngest sibling and the sole provider for his widowed mother.

Renier's finish products using his improved tools
Renier uses 'dukduk' method before he acquired modern tools

Renier not only sustained his father's business but also sought to elevate it. He named his venture 'Nong Gally Engraving and Lapida Making' as a tribute to his father's memory. Through the income generated, Renier managed to achieve his educational dreams, graduating with a Bachelor of Elementary Education degree from Saint Joseph College of Sindangan, Inc. (SJCSI).

In 2007, Renier married Lea J. Tamayo, and together they made lapida making their primary source of income. Lea, inspired by her husband's artistry, gradually learned the trade and joined him in their creative endeavor. They were a formidable team, but their productivity was limited by the traditional methods they employed. They could only produce a maximum of two lapidas per week.

The game-changer with Kabuhayan intervention

In 2019, a game-changing moment arrived when Renier discovered by chance through the social media the equipment that he needed to innovate his craft. He purchased the necessary tools, improvised a blasting box, and invested in a second-hand computer set and plotter cutter. This technological leap allowed him to transition from "dukdok" or "silsil" (strike) to a more efficient and precise engraving method.

Renier's innovation did not go unnoticed. His wife, Lea, attended a ceremony hosted by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that introduced the Kabuhayan Starter Kits (KSK) program. Intrigued by the initiative, she inquired further and learned about the program's potential benefits. Encouraged by her, Renier applied for the program, supported by SJCSI's Job Placement Officer, Edralin Deleña.

Thanks to DOLE's assistance, Renier acquired a plotter cutter in May 2021, revolutionizing their lapida-making process. This cutting-edge technology streamlined their workflow, making it more efficient and precise. Today, Nong Gally Engraving and Lapida Making offers lapida-making services in marble slabs, granite slabs, granite tiles, and customized engraving services, producing up to four slabs per day with superior quality.

Renier's creations are in high demand, with large lapidas selling for P3,600, providing a substantial income for his family. He has also been commissioned for various prestigious projects, including engraving historical markers for the Local Government Unit of Sindangan.

As an entrepreneur, Renier has not only supported his family but also created job opportunities for others. Four family members work part-time in his production process, while six lapida agents from different municipalities generate income by referring orders. Renier's mission to carry forward his father's legacy continues to thrive, offering a path for others to find life and livelihood in the art of commemorating the departed.

In the words of Renier Mag-abo himself, "Hanap patay para mabuhay" - a poetic twist on the art of lapida-making, a business that has breathed new life into his family and community.

No doubt that the story of Renier is a story of hard work, dedication, and passion to fulfill his dream. But coupled with government support through the Kabuhayan Program of the labor department, he has further propelled his business to improve the quality of his life and his workers. (EDT/RVC/PIA9 with reports and photos from Joni Sarina Mejico/DOLE9-LIO-ZDN)

About the Author

Rene Carbayas

Assistant Regional Head

Region 9

Media practitioner, a teacher by profession, an advocate for youth, peace and environment, culture and the arts, playwright and theater artist; earned his Masters Degree in Theater at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, and pursued studies in public administration at Western Mindanao State University. Some 19 years in public service and today as Assistant Regional Head of the Philippine Information Agency Region IX.

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