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The scene seldom fails to light up the faces of motorists and commuters passing through the kilometer-long stretch of the national highway in Barangay Tabuating, San Leonardo. The roadsides burst with colors from the makeshift workshops that churn out hundreds of Christmas lanterns.

The lantern-making frenzy in Tabuating -- already famous for its more mundane and odorous product, the tinapa -- was started by the Melosantos siblings a few years ago. A daughter, it is said, once brought home a small lantern from Pampanga, the more famous source of such product. A family member, out of curiosity, took the lantern apart to discover how it was made and realized the business opportunities it offered. Today, Billy Melosantos and a brother operate the pioneer lantern workshop in Tabuating.

A few houses across the highway, sister Precy Melosantos-Coronel
has put up her own...

... and a stone's throw away, brother Ogie runs another one.
The siblings have even opened a branch in Cagayan
and another in Isabela. Their products are also being sold by
a dealer in Metro Manila and one in Bulacan.

Each lantern workshop provides employment to a dozen 
or so kabarangays...

... formerly idle housewives and unemployed husbands...

...and out-of-school youths, who labor as early as July to 
produce the Tabuating lanterns.

The lantern skeletons are made of thick wire --
welded together and more durable than those
of the Pampanga lanterns which are merely tied together,
the workers are quick to point out.

Encased inside each lantern are lightbulbs screwed into
proper sockets rather than merely soldered directly 
to the electrical cords, and thus are easily replaceable.

Colored plastic sheets sourced from Divisoria suppliers
are carefuly trimmed and attached to the sides of the lantern...

... no matter how fancilly shaped...

... using rugby for durability.

What makes the Melosantos lanterns stand out
from those produced in Bulacan and Pampanga
is the smooth and taut attachment of the plastic panels.

The lanterns come in various styles and colors --
traditional Christimas icons like the star...

... wreath...

... poinsettias and bells...

... and stuffed stockings.

One can bring home a cute lantern for PhP100...

... or a huge Santa Claus lantern for PhP3,500.
A Nativity tableau, camels included, 
costs over PhP11,000.

Other shapes include flowers, from simple ones...

to fancy ones...

...and fruits, a favorite decor among restaurants and turo-turos...

The lantern-makers will even oblige to
produce a custom design. During the lantern parade
of a Cabanatuan City university the other year,
criminology students stunned everyone by 
displaying a Tabuating lantern shaped like -- what else?
-- a saluting cop. Tacky, but nonetheless crowd-drawing.

The lanterns attract passersby to make unscheduled
stop-overs to inquire, buy or simply gawk.

The lanterns may be a bit more expensive, but because
they can be repaired and repanelled when necessary 
in succeeding years, they make a wise Christmas investment.

That the lantern business has been good to the Melosantos family has not gone unnoticed by other striving enterpreneurs in Tabuating. About five other lantern workshops -- some owned by former workers of the Melosantoses -- have opened this year. More will likely follow this year or the next, assuring Barangay Tabuating of more employment opportunities, and the title of "Parol Village" of Nueva Ecija. ###

Digital photos and text by Ramon R. Valmonte
October 2003