Away from the limelight, the unsung heroes behind the success of any craftsman or artist are the makers of the tools he or she uses unless, of course, those have already been mechanically manufactured.
In the town of Paete in Laguna, known for its woodcarving industry and artisans, there is only one remaining blacksmith who, to this day, still uses the traditional method of making chisels.
That man is Romeo Madrigal, commonly known as Mang Iyog or Iyog, who lives with his extended family of 13 in his humble abode located on the slope of the Sierra Madre mountain range in the town’s village of Bagumbayan.
Mang Iyog started making chisels in 1982 when he was 18 years old, learning the skill by observing his father Hilario. He said it was when his father passed away that he decided to be a blacksmith himself.
Being a high-school undergraduate also pushed him to venture into the age-old craft for which his forebears are known for. Furthermore, he did not want the tools his father used to just lay to waste.
He said he normally makes chisels upon order but would also peddle on the streets of Paete if need arises.
For Mang Iyog, making a chisel by hand, using at least five tools, can take from less than an hour to more than five hours, depending on the type of chisel.
There are seven types of chisels of different sizes that Mang Iyog makes — pait, hiwas, landay pait, landay lukob, lukob, tres pico and panumbra.
“It is my choice to be a blacksmith and once I would no longer be capable of doing it, Paete would again lose a blacksmith,” he said in his Paete Tagalog twang.
No other member of his family is interested for now in his craft but he is not bothered at all since, he said, it is always a tradition in his town that a new blacksmith emerges when the current one retires or passes on.
“Kasi ‘di mananatili ang kadiliman; mananalo ang liwanag (Because darkness won’t prevail, light always wins),” he said with a chuckle, alluding to the character of National Artist for film Fernando Poe Jr. in his Panday movies.
Life is hard for Mang Iyog but like other Paeteños, he is jolly and would always crack jokes in conversations.
He said he does not seek help from the government “kasi kaya pa pero kung halimbawa, 110 taong gulang na ako, iyon baka puwede na (because I can still manage, but, say I am 110 years old, maybe then I will ask for help).”
Mang Iyog maintains a positive disposition in life. A jack of all trades, he juggles blacksmithing with construction work, fishing in the Laguna de Bay and clearing unwanted growths in mountain farms.
His dreams for his family are simple — to have good health and enough money for their needs.
He said he does not aspire to be rich and that he just wants to be a good provider, stressing the importance of stability and soundness that define a family.
“‘Di bale nang mahirap, basta manatiling matatag (It doesn’t matter if we’re poor, as long as we are strong),” he said.