Tatay Oly: Shoemaker’s Son is Now President Duterte’s Chum
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Rolando Santos, fondly called Tatay Oly, has been making shoes for nearly two decades in his small shop on Agricultores St., in Brgy. Sto. Nino in Marikina. Before he met his most famous and powerful client, his customers were mostly office workers, students and other ordinary citizens like himself.
Little did he know that he would one day be making shoes for the President of the Philippines, who would treat him like a dear old friend. Tatay Oly was even received at the President’s official residence in Malacanang and allowed to be inside his office on that historic meeting that still left the 70-year old shoemaker bewildered until now.
“Hindi ako makapag-salita ng nasa harapan ko na si Presidente. Nagsasalita lang ako pag kinakausap nya ako,” says Tatay Oly. (I was speechless in front of the President. I only talked when he spoke to me.)
A replica of the pair of shoes that he gave President Duterte is displayed at Marikina's Shoe Museum, cementing his status as one of the city's most prominent shoemakers.
Tatay Oly started helping his father -- a shoemaker whose small shop was located right inside their house in Marikina -- at the age of 10. At 14, he became known as a skilled designer and pattern maker that the owner of one of the shoe factories in the city, Randal Shoes, dropped by his father’s shop and offered the teen-age shoemaker a job at his company.
That was how he formally entered the shoe industry. In the next 30 years, he worked for several shoe factories in Marikina. At 51, tired of working in a factory, he decided to put up his own made-to-order business just like his father before him. He rented a small shop in Sto. Nino, the same shop where where he now makes custom-made shoes.
Because he did not have enough money for capital, he started from scratch. He did not own a sewing machine. He made shoes using his bare hands. If something needed to be stitched using a sewing machine, he had to have it done in another shoemaker’s shop and pay for it.
“Walang puhunan. Unti-unti kong ipinundar mga kagamitan ko. Noong una nakikitahi. Halos lahat ng makina ko, inutang ko muna. Binabayaran ko ng hulugan,” he says. ( I did not have any machine for making shoes because I did not have money. I used to have my shoes sewn in another shop. I was able to acquire a sewing machine through credit. I paid for it by installment.)
The Shoemaker and the President
Luck smiled at Tatay Oly after his April 2017 meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, who was sworn into office on June 30, 2016.
Tatay Oly was a big fan of then presidential candidate Duterte -- whose man-on-the-street demeanor, simple way of dressing, use of colorful language, pro-poor policies and a promise of a big change in the government -- captured the shoemaker’s attention. After seeing on TV the then presidential candidate wearing a worn out pair of shoes with the sole already sticking out, he dreamed of giving him a new pair of shoes that he himself has made.
The problem is, he did not know Duterte, nor anyone close to him. But he is resourceful and full of ideas. When he read in the newspaper that Davao-based designer Bonie Adaza would be making Duterte's barong tagalog for his inauguration, Tatay Oly immediately contacted Adaza through facebook.
Luckily, Adaza warmed up to the idea of having the newly-elected president wear Tatay Oly's shoes during his oath taking.
Tatay Oly lost no time in making the shoes. Even if he did not know Duterte’s shoe size. He only estimated the president’s shoe size from watching Duterte on TV.
Unfortunately, Duterte was not able to wear the shoes since its color -- brown -- did not match his black pants, says Tatay Oly.
The incident did not deter the shoemaker. He continued to communicate with Adaza and even mentioned to him in one of their phone conversations that he wished to meet President Duterte on his birthday -- April 28. That was in 2017.
His wish was granted.
On April 26, two days before his birthday, Tatay Oly and his entire family -- more than 20 of them -- were shuttled to Malacanang to finally meet President Duterte, who was then busy attending the ASEAN Summit being held in Manila because he was that year’s chairman. That was also the reason why instead of meeting Duterte on Tatay Oly's birthday, Malacanang decided to set the date two days earlier since the president would be attending the ASEAN Leaders Forum on the 28th.
Reversal of Roles
Until now, Tatay Oly could not believe that it was the president who first approached him and hugged him right after seeing him in Malacanang Palace. Tatay Oly says Duterte even thanked him for agreeing to meet with him in his office.
“Sabi ko baliktad yata. Imbis na ako ang magpasalamat sa kanya eh sya pa ang nagpapasalamat sa akin,” says Tatay Oly. (I said to myself, this is not right. I should be the one thanking him for agreeing to meet up with us. Not him.”
During the meeting, President Duterte offered some help to Tatay Oly. Duterte also tried a pair of shoes (boots) that Tatay Oly brought the president as a gift. Duterte also promised him a birthday gift to be delivered in December; a P150,000 loan from the Department of Trade and Industry for his shoe business; and, a vacation for his entire family in Davao City, where Duterte hails and where he used to be the mayor before he was elected as president.
With the loan from DTI, Tatay Oly opened a small shop along JP Rizal in Marikina where he sold his shoes bearing the brand “Oly.”
After his meeting with Duterte, published in newspapers and broadcast in television news programs, Tatay Oly became a celebrity. He was featured in newspapers and on TV shows. His clients grew and now includes high-ranking government officials such as the PNP chief, senators, congressmen, governors and mayors.
Barely a month after the meeting, his entire family -- all nearly 30 of them -- went to Davao for a three-day vacation courtesy of the president. All expenses paid. They stayed at a hotel near President Duterte's home and visited tourist spots such as the Samal Island and the Crocodile Farm.
Despite his overnight success, he remains humble. He also did not take advantage of the publicity to jack up the prices of his shoes.
In December of last year, as Duterte had promised, Tatay Oly and his family received a new two-storey house and a lot in one of the middle-class subdivisions in Marikina, the Shoe Capital of the Philippines.
Tatay Oly says he would forever be grateful to Marikina. After all, this is where he learned and honed his craft as a shoemaker that paved the way to his historic meeting with the President, who now considers him a friend.
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