Philippine arts

Ramon Icayan Cabello: The forgotten ‘maestro eskultor’ of Jasaan, Misamis Oriental

Mike Baños

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Ramon Icayan Cabello: The forgotten ‘maestro eskultor’ of Jasaan, Misamis Oriental
Despite his artistry, Tiyoy Ramon was reportedly paid only P5,000 for every statue, which he usually sculpted in the silong of his home

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Ramon Icayan Cabello was born on November 7, 1919, the third of five children. His parents were Simeon Ubalde Cabello, a maestro carpintero (master carpenter) and sometimes music composer, and Justa Emanel Icayan, a homemaker, both Lumad Jasaanons of Jasaan, Misamis (later Misamis Oriental).

After finishing his primary school in Jasaan, Ramon started as an apprentice carpenter to his father Simeon. Among the legacies of Tatay Guwang (as he was fondly called by his grandchildren) in Jasaan was the Imaculada Concepcion Church in Upper Jasaan. Aside from his carpentry, he was also adept at playing a variety of musical instruments, and composed the melody for the “Diana,” the tune traditionally played by a brass band to call village folk to prayer during the vísperas leading up to the Jasaan town fiesta.

“Our father showed his proficiency with concrete early when he successfully managed to transfer entire sections of many houses in Jasaan which were affected by road widening projects during the seventies,” recalls his daughter Eusebia Cabello Mendoza, assistant professor at Tagoloan Community College in Baluarte, Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental.  

But it was only a matter of time before he found his calling as a sculptor. His first sculpture was the Imaculada Concepcion image, which still stands today in the old community cemetery at Jasaan.

Plant, Vegetation, Herbal
CONCRETE. Imaculada Concepcion at the Jasaan Cemetary. Contributed photo

A self-taught sculptor, Tiyoy Ramon (as he was known in Jasaan) used cement as his medium. Because it is cheap, hard, tough, and durable, concrete is particularly suitable for large outdoor projects. With proper reinforcement it permits great freedom of design. And by using techniques similar to those of the building industry, sculptors are able to create works in concrete on a bigger scale.

However, Tiyoy Ramon was what many would call a do-it-yourself (DIY) sculptor, who developed his sculpting chops as he went along. He would first cast a whole cement block for the statue and then carve the image using unusual tools like ordinary cutlery (spoons, forks, and knives), a hatchet, as well as the hammer and chisels from his carpenter’s tools.

“He would usually start carving the face based on a photograph he used as reference,” said Mendoza. “For finishing he would sandpaper the entire statue. Then, he would use white cement to finish the entire statue after all the sculpting works were completed, like what he did with his masterpiece – a work depicting Misamis Governor Apolinar Velez y Ramos mounted on his horse, which graces the front yard of the Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGCHS).”

Plant, Potted Plant, Face
APOLINAR. Ramon Cabello with the sculpture of Misamis Gov Apolinar Velez y Ramos outside his house in Jasaan, Misamis Oriental. Contributed photo

Despite his artistry, Tiyoy Ramon was reportedly paid only P5,000 for every statue, which he usually sculpted in the silong of his home, the hollow space beneath the house used for keeping dogs and chickens.

Adult, Male, Man
HEROES. Jose Rizal with the busts of Presidents Manuel Quezon and Ramon Magsaysay at the Jasaan town plaza. Contributed photo

Nevertheless, he would go on to sculpt a collection of religious statues and monuments of famous Filipino heroes and statesmen like Jose Rizal, Lapu-Lapu, and Presidents Manuel Quezon and Ramon Magsaysay, which still dominate the Jasaan town plaza to this day.

Herbal, Herbs, Plant
HOLY. A Station of the Cross at Imaculada Concepcion Church. Contributed photo

Another ensemble work is his Stations of the Cross commissioned by local religious groups, which, however, remain unfinished, with the last two now overgrown with weeds at the back of the Imaculada Concepcion Church.

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In Cagayan de Oro, his most famous works are the statue of President Ramon Magsaysay at the Magsaysay Park in Plaza Divisoria (now undergoing renovation), the bust of Girl Scouts of the Philippines founder Josefa Llanes Escoda at the recently demolished former office of the GSP Local Council next to the Pelaez Sports Center, and the aforementioned monument of Misamis Governor Apolinar Velez y Ramos at the MOGCHS.

The Ramos piece was to be his last obra and he passed away on September 19, 1981.

Tiyoy Ramon was married to Lourdes Dael Absin, with whom he had seven children, four of whom survive to this day. 

When one considers how his sculptures dominate the Jasaan town and church landscapes, it is tragic how Ramon Icayan Cabello’s artistry and innovative sculpting techniques remain unrecognized by the Jasaan municipal government and its religious and historical groups 42 years after he had passed on. –

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