How Mang Banjo saves soles in the time of COVID

Chito de la Vega

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How Mang Banjo saves soles in the time of COVID

SHOE REPAIR. Mang Banjo in action.

Chito de la Vega/Rappler

Renato Jonson, or Mang Banjo to his customers, comes to the rescue of students, faculty, and guests at Ateneo's commencement exercises

MANILA, Philippines – At the now typical pandemic graduation ceremonies at the Ateneo de Manila University-Loyola Schools (ADMU-LS) in late August, there were repeated reminders to maintain physical distance, the designated pathways to use, giant industrial fans blustering all over, bottles of alcohol spread out with hygiene notes, and the ubiquitous masks on everyone’s faces.

But there was something out of the ordinary during those four in-person events held at the Ateneo Gym that long weekend. Amid the usual pomp that went with these commencement ceremonies was the presence of a shoemaker’s table, or as they say in Filipino, “ang puwesto ni manong sapatero.” 

As most survivors of the pandemic know, manong sapatero has a crucial role in a world trying to return to normal. If there were many stories of heartbreaks throughout the lockdown ordeal, in the road to normalcy, there were plenty of tales of broken shoes.

And Renato Jonson, the sapatero (shoemaker) tapped by Ateneo to do on-the-spot shoe repair in all four events at the junior high school gym had an explanation for these broken heels and damaged soles.

“‘Pag matagal na naka-stock ang sapatos, nasisira. ‘Yung hindi nagamit, hindi nasusuot na sapatos, madaling masira. Nagiging magato, o kaya marupok,” said Jonson, whom his customers call Mang Banjo.

(Shoes unused for long periods easily break down. If these shoes are not worn for a long time, they get brittle.)

This was actually Jonson’s second “tour of duty” in an Ateneo graduation. He debuted as shoemaker-on-duty during the 2019 graduation ceremonies in the same venue.

He vividly recalled the standout graduates that year. “Sila Ravena at anak ni Senator (Sonny) Trillanes ang graduate noon. (It was the year Thirdy Ravena and a child of Senator Trillanes graduated.”

To break its series of online graduations ceremonies forced by the pandemic lockdowns, ADMU-LS lined up four commencement rites on the three-day long weekend this year. The first of the four events was for half of the graduating Class of 2022. Sunday had recognition rites for Batch 2021 in the morning, and 2020 in the afternoon. The other half of the Class of 2022 had their turn on Monday, the Araw ng Kagitingan holiday.

Almost each of all four events had some 2,000 graduates, with their family members in attendance.

Mang Banjo recalled that during the 2019 event, he serviced only five pairs of shoes. “Pero isang araw lang ang graduation noon (There was only one graduation ceremony that year),” he said. The 2019 graduation commencement exercises were the last held before the coronavirus lockdowns forced the school events to be held exclusively online.

This year, halfway through the series of ceremonies, Mang Banjo had already repaired 10 pairs of shoes. As of this interview, he still had two events on tap.

Marie Joy Salita, chair of the Ateneo graduation committee said: “The arrangement to have a shoe repair station during the graduation ceremonies started during the 2019 LS Graduation. This was recommended and implemented to address incidents of graduates needing their damaged shoes immediately fixed.”

In a post-event email to the ADMU-LS community, Maria Luz Vilches, vice president for the Loyola Schools, also mentioned the sapatero corner, saying the students “hurried to their lines, some distraught from suddenly discovering having lost the sole or heels of their shoes (but, alas, the shoe repair booth in the covered courts came to the rescue!).”

For the anxious graduate, the excited parent, and the proud faculty member wearing their best outfits or even full academic regalia, a broken heel or a damaged sole could be hell. In fact, this scary situation has happened once too many in the post-lockdown era.

But in the series of in-person pandemic graduation ceremonies at Ateneo, there was nothing to fear. Mang Banjo was there to save their soles and heels. –

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Chito de la Vega

Chito joined Rappler as senior editor in 2017. Prior to that he had a 32-year stint with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, where he started as a sportswriter.