By Mike Baños
Descendants of local hero, civil servant and philanthropist Apolinar Velez y Ramos will render a long delayed recognition of the sculptor who made his statue which has graced the school he founded for the past 42 years.
On August 22, 2023, the monument restored through the efforts of the clan’s kin will be formally presented to the public at the Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGCHS) campus along Señor Cayong’s eponymously named main thoroughfare.
Among the highlights of the program will be the presentation of a plaque of recognition to the surviving kin of Ramon Icayan Cabello, the forgotten master sculptor from Jasaan, Misamis Oriental, who has all but faded into oblivion despite the continued presence of his sculptures in the public spaces of his hometown, as well as in Cagayan de Oro City.
Born on November 7, 1919, in Jasaan, Ramon was the third of five children of Simeon Ubalde Cabello, a maestro carpintero (master carpenter) and sometimes music composer, and Justa Emanel Icayan, a homemaker, both Lumad Jasaanons of Jasaan, Misamis (now Misamis Oriental).
Among the legacies of Tatay Guwang (as Simeon was fondly called by his grandchildren) in Jasaan was the Inmaculada 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.
After finishing his primary school in Jasaan, Ramon started as an apprentice carpenter to his father Simeon.
“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 III at the 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 Inmaculada Concepcion image which still stands today in the old community cemetery at Jasaan.
A self-taught sculptor, Tiyoy Ramon (as he was known in Jasaan) used cement as his medium. Remarkably, he was essentially a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) sculptor who developed his sculpting chops as he went along, and used ordinary construction cement as his medium, since he was most familiar with it as a maestro carpintero.
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 Mrs. Mendoza. “For finishing, he would sandpaper the entire statue. then use white cement to finish the entire statue after all the sculpting works were completed, like what he did with his masterpiece of Misamis Governor Apolinar Velez y Ramos mounted on his horse which graces the Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGHS) campus that he founded in 1909.”
Despite his artistry given his limited tools and resources, Tiyoy Ramon was reportedly only paid the princely sum of P5,000 for every statue he usually sculpted in the silong, or hollow space beneath their house usually used for keeping dogs and chickens.
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, Presidents Manuel Quezon and Ramon Magsaysay, which can still be seen in the Jasaan town plaza, and at the iconic Inmaculada Concepcion where his unfinished Stations of the Cross commissioned by local religious groups are now gathering weeds.
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 Misamis Oriental Council next to the Pelaez Sports Center, and the aforementioned monument of Misamis Governor Apolinar Velez y Ramos at the MOGCHS (commissioned by the school’s 1981 Alumni Association headed by President Virgilio V. Neri) unveiled during the 72nd Founding Anniversary & General Alumni Homecoming of the school on March 21, 1981.
It was to be his last obra as 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, its religious and historical groups, as well as in Cagayan de Oro, 42 years after he passed on. (RMB)