Feature: Mang Olie, a shoemaker’s tale

One morning at dawn on a damp and cloudy Wednesday, I stared at the ceiling of my room thinking about whether I should go to work or sleep the day away in the comfort of my bed. Thoughts of how feeble the efforts of a single person can do something so significant to contribute to change in the society clouded my decision to get up and prepare for work.

After few minutes, my phone's alarm went off, ordering me to stop wasting away precious minutes which I can do later during traffic. Instinctively, I checked my phone for any new messages and news updates. I was pleasantly surprised to know that my field work was scheduled that day. At last, motivation to leave my bed.

I met with my colleague named Lucia BroAo (I call her Tita Lucy) at the office and together, we embarked on our field work. We were to meet Mr. Rolando Santos, the person who hand crafted the shoes of President Rodrigo Duterte which he wore during launch meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry.


Mang Rolando Santos' house in Marikina City

Unexpectedly, our trip led us to a shabby, crooked two-storey house made of scraps of wood and rusty metal. The old windows made of broken capiz shells with some of the frames missing show that the house belonged in the mid 1950's and has endured many typhoons and floods. I thought to myself, "Is this really the place?"

We knocked on the door and shouted, "Tao po Tao po!" Nobody answered. "Tao po" We started to think that it was a failed visit because nobody was answering. But just when we were about to leave, the door creaked open and the smell of old wood and worn-out leather immediately filled our lungs.

A plump woman carrying a baby welcomed us in. Her name is Rosemarie Santos, the daughter of Mr. Santos. She told us that her dad, who likes to be called "Mang Ollie," is at the Municipal Hall to receive an award of recognition from the local government. So, with nothing else to do, we just chatted with her to pass the time while waiting for him to come home.

Rosemary Santos, daughter of Mang Ollie, and the person who suggested the giving of shoes made by her father President Duterte.

Rosemarie told us that Mang Ollie had three wives and she was borne by the second. All in all there are eight of them, two from the first wife, four from the second, and two from the third.

She said it was her idea to reach out to the President and ask him to wear his father's shoes. She said she messaged different personalities close to the President such as Sara Duterte, Bong Go, and even Secretary Martin Andanar, among others.

She only hoped to see the President wearing them in one of his events and she was ecstatic for her father when she found out that the President wore them in no less than his meeting with the US State Secretary. She eagerly showed us the exact leather used for the shoes.

Hours seemed like minutes then finally Mang Ollie finally arrived. A small brown old man with slitlike eyes, gray hair and no teeth entered. He was a bit tired but we can still sense that he was inspired to share his story to the people.

Mang Ollie, sixty eight, was born in poverty. He was one of the eleven children of the Santos' family, one of the original shoe makers in Marikina. At the tender age of eleven, he stopped schooling and started making shoes to help his parents earn money for their daily upkeep. At fourteen, he can already make them on his own. Since then, he honed his skills in crafting shoes until he became the supplier of shoe patterns for different shoe manufacturers as their "platero." Some of his clients include Gibi, Rusty Lopez, and Bandolino, among others.

The Shoemaker

He also handcrafts shoes to the liking of his clients. When asked if he has made shoes for other personalities, he answered that he doesn't ask for the stature of his clients, as long as they seek for his assistance, he helps them no matter what.

He even showed us some of his works which ranges from Majoret boots to custom-made, handcrafted leather shoes.

Mang Ollie said he doesn't want to be rich and famous. His goal in life is simple: To provide for the needs of his family while he pursues his passion in shoe making. He doesn't even charge highly for his works. The price that he charges his clients today are the same prices that he charged 42 years ago since he started his profession.

Clearly, this low-profile man did not expect to receive so much attention when he gave the shoes as a gift to the President.

The President sent his message of thanks to Mang Ollie and told him that he really liked it. So much so that he even ordered for a second pair.

After President Duterte promoted the shoes and thanked the shoe maker from Marikina, thank you messages came pouring in from several shoe makers for lifting their spirits and even saving their businesses.

There was even a business owner who was about to close down his company received new orders from clients just because he's from Marikina and President Duterte trusts Marikina made shoes.

We chanced upon one of Mang Ollie's clients who said that he has been a long time business partner with him since he has "blessed hands and skills," which really set the bar of quality for their shoes.

Mang Ollie was so passionate in sharing stories that his real clients started to line up in front of his door.

That was our cue that we had to cut short our conversation to let him deal with his clients.

We shared a hug and a selfie, then we went on our way. That was the time when I realized, that yes, one man's passion really can make a difference in the society and contribute to change.

Source: Philippine Information Agency

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