Lighting up the Cultural Center of the Philippines

by Nickie Wang

Adorning the iconic façade of Cultural Center of the Philippines with white Christmas lanterns has been an annual tradition since 2001. People passing by the busy Roxas Boulevard have been enthralled by the meteor-like decors that seem to shower the lawn of the complex.

For the first time in 10 years, the CCP turned to the world-renowned lantern makers of Pampanga to usher the festive season at the country’s cultural Mecca. A total of 50 giant lanterns, each of 8 feet in diameter and uses 64 light bulbs, lit up the CCP façade on Nov. 3. The program was highlighted by performances of Pampanga’s pride, Magsilbi Tamu Band 919 and the San Fernando Choir. The lanterns that employ intricate circuitry will embellish the 40-year-old building until Jan. 8.

We travelled all the way to San Fernando, Pampanga to visit the shop where giant lanterns are made. In a lantern-filled workplace we met Ernesto “Erning” Quiwa, a predecessor of a century old giant lantern-making tradition in the city of San Fernando. In 2010, Mang Erning’s entry to the annual Giant Lantern Festival bested five other entries making him more excited to craft a much better design that will awe expectators come next festival night.

The city’s tradition is to hold the grand festival on a Saturday before Christmas, this year it falls on Dec. 17. And although it takes almost a million pesos to craft such gigantic light bursting giant, the prize money is just 104,000 pesos or equivalent to the number of years the industry has been celebrating its presence in San Fernando (multiplied by 1,000 pesos).

“It’s not about the prize money, it’s the honor of being called the best, the bragging rights, I mean,” says the giant lantern-making master.

To create that kaleidoscope play of light, which the giant lanterns are known for, is not an easy task. According to Mang Erning, a giant lantern that measures 20 feet and illuminated by about 3,500 to 5,000 light bulbs, takes more or less two months to complete. From framework, to wiring, to papering, one massive parol needs at least 50 people to create such gigantic masterpiece.

The family of Mang Erning has been part of the evolution of parol-making in San Fernando. From the time when bamboo sticks and fruit pigments were used to create these beautiful lanterns and using candles to illuminate them, to using elaborate circuitry and fiberglass instead of crepe papers, Mang Erning’s family has a say on how creativity, passion, and a significant amount of labor helped the industry grow in San Fernando.

Similarly, Mang Erning feels honored to be asked to make the giant lanterns that now illuminate the CCP façade. Unlike the giant versions, it only took two days for his men to finish one parol designed by Eric Cruz, chief of the CCP’s production design division.

“For several years, we have been decorating the [CCP] façade, we started with a five-pointed star…all white. This time we decided to come up with a multi-pointed star, a star-burst, that will compliment CCP’s flat architecture,” said Cruz, who added that the previous lanterns used to decorate the CCP came from Las Piñas.

The CCP official furthered that it is a challenge to decorate the façade of the iconic building, which is dominated by a two-storey travertine block suspended 12 meters high by deep concave cantilevers on three sides. The architecture is visibly flat and there is no room for the lanterns to be just suspended anywhere on the concrete surface of the front wall of the structure. Also, while most of the lanterns made in San Fernando are exploding with colors, only white lanterns can suit the face of the CCP.

“We have learned our lesson that is why we’r e sure this new design can last long as wind can pass through,” Cruz ended.

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