A pair of shoes brings a simple sapatero close to the President
All it took was a pair of hand-crafted shoes to win a president’s admiration.
For humble shoemaker Rolando de Guzman Santos from Marikina, it was not a walk in the park to get up close and personal with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, so he thought of a plan to win his attention by doing something he does best – that is, by crafting a pair of brown cow-leather boots that the popular leader would wear on his inauguration. He sent the shoe to Malacañang, hoping the new president would wear them.
Well, the President wore something else instead. Nevertheless, he did not forget; he met then US Secretary of State John Kerry wearing Santos’ gift, proudly acknowledging he got it from one admirer. After that, President Duterte asked him to make more – and paid for it.
Such was the colorful journey of Tatay Oly, as his neighbors in Sto. Niño would call him. Now 68 years old, he is still holed up in his workshop making shoes. But this time, they referred to him as the “Presidential Shoemaker.”
Tatay Oly recalled that in April 17 last year, his neighborhood was practically a ghost town, as all of them trooped to the venue where the then-Davao City mayor held a campaign rally.
“Lahat kami nagpunta sa rally niya (We all went to his rally),” he said. “Manghang-mangha kami sa kaniya. Halos abot-kamay namin siya (We were all amazed by him. He was almost an arm’s reach).”
He voted (and his entire family, too) for Duterte on election day. When the latter won, he was so elated. “Parang kami ang nanalo (Like we were the winners)!” he exclaimed heartily.
In his joy, he went to his workshop, got the best leather and fashioned it into an elegant pair of brogue-style boots that he wanted to personally give the President. However, as Duterte’s victory became more pronounced, with throngs of people lining up at his house in Davao shown in the evening news, he had already accepted that he would not be able to get that close to his idol again.
So imagine his elation when the President strutted around Malacañang wearing Tatay Oly’s brown boots, showing the pair to members of his Cabinet. The photo went viral on the Internet. Eventually, Duterte asked his team to order a few more pairs. An arrangement for them to meet was made and finally pushed through last April, one year after Tatay Oly saw him in Marikina.
“Pagdating namin sa Malacañang at nagkita kami, niyakap niya ako. Sabi niya, ‘Puntahan mo ako sa Davao, ha?’ Isama mo ang pamilya mo.’ Eh ang dami kong anak (When we came to Malacañang and saw him face to face, he hugged me. He said, ‘Visit me in Davao, ha? Bring your family.’ But I had so many children.),” he narrated with a laugh.
The trip materialized; the President sent for roundtrip tickets and they met at his home in Davao City.
Tatay Oly, who has been making shoes for half a century already, started as early as six years old. He belonged to a family of sapateros in a town known for being the country’s Shoe Capital. Because of his skills, he lived in many places where his artistry was prized. But when he witnessed the fall of the shoe industry in Marikina, he decided to come back to his hometown and made shoes for a living.
He said the President’s interest in his work was not pakitang-tao (for a show). Duterte even instructed Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez to attend to him, gave him seed money to finance his craft, and promised to follow up. Tatay Oly was moved to tears by the President’s gesture.
Now, politicians and celebrities come to him to have customized shoes made.
“Nakatulong sa amin sa Marikina ang ginawa ni Presidente. Ngayon, nanunumbalik na ang sigla ng pagsasapatos sa bayan namin (What the President did helped a lot here in Marikina. Now, the shoemaking industry is making a comeback),” he said.
His shoe shop in Santo Niño has people coming in and out, and his children now help in delivering made-to-order shoes which bear his nickname as a brand. He also has a store in Marikina.
Tatay Oly may not be going around too often as he practically spends the entire day making shoes. But his creations have travelled around the country and most probably the world, all thanks to a grateful recipient from Davao City, who now prominently wears them.
For orders and inquiries, contact
Perla Santos (0942-4323145), Jonjon Santos (0907-0186475) or Paul Oliver Santos (0926-2446821).
Visit the shop at 14 Agricultores St., Brgy. Sto. Nino, Marikina City.