April 12, 2017
Robert A. Vergara Jr.
Cover art Erka Capili Inciong with Paolo Lacambra Lopez
In a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines, religious artifacts depicting images of saints and the Holy Trinity are considered symbols of faith.
With more than 80 million Filipinos—or roughly 82% of the country’s population—following Catholicism, religious articles have become more than just an ornament.
Faced with a dwindling church attendance, an increasing variety of other religions, and even a critical political milieu, the business of retailing these crafts remains strong.
Video Paolo Lacambra Lopez
In Tayuman, a few meters away from the LRT station, stand a number of these religious craft stores, aged with dust and pollution. Standing guard at the thresholds are Mama Mary and Jesus Christ—in multiples—staring out their plastic covering with their round glass eyes.
Among the first shops established here is Our Mother of Perpetual Help Religious Store, known for its religious figurines made of wood and fiberglass, that come with a price tag of between ₱150 and ₱22,000.
Its current manager Jingle Morante, hails from the family that started the business 40 years ago.
“I think everything is pretty much the same as before,” she said, somewhat distracted by the customers that come in and out the door, picking up a saint or two. It’s another business day for her.
The store has retained its regular buyers throughout the years: religious groups, priests, nuns and the Catholic faithful from Metro Manila and far provinces. According to her, there is no remarkable disparity between the number of patrons then and now. Nothing is affected by the winds of change in Philippine catholicism.
“There may have been new religions,” she said, “but what people are used to will never change.”
Meanwhile, Salvador Digol, who owns JefStar Trading that sells the same line of products for 12 years now in the area, boasts of his continuously growing network of customers. Like Ms. Morante, he believes that there is only one thing that keeps the industry alive—tradition.
Started in 2005 with a small stall and a capital of ₱20,000, JefStar has become a go‑to shop for buyers in the area with its array of religious merchandise.
Mr. Digol said Filipino traditions such as religious processions during lent season double—and even triple—the demand for the products that he sells.
“People really like these kinds of products because they believe that these perform miracles,” he said.
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