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PHOTO ESSAY: The palaspas makers of Cavinti

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2021 01:11 PM | Updated as of Mar 29 2021 08:27 AM

Palaspas makers Dennis and Jennifer Blasco have always relied on the extra money they earn during the Holy Week making palm fronds or "palaspas".

As a crop farmer, Dennis barely makes enough to tide the family throughout the year, more so during the COVID-19 pandemic which saw their province affected by as many as 20,000 cases last year. 

The extra money they could have earned from selling palm fronds could have helped defray expenses that have piled up since their regular livelihood of selling fruits and vegetables was also affected by the quarantine last year. 

They are not alone in Cavinti, Laguna. The town used to boast of a cottage industry among neighbors that gets its orders for palaspas from different churches all over Luzon. Palmahan (palm frond making), in this sense, is a seasonal activity which the whole community had relied upon to help make ends meet.

The Blancos used to make even as high as P20,000 during the season, but last year, with the hard lockdown, there was zero additional income for them and the whole community. This year, with all hopes up that parishioners would be back in the church under the "new normal," a few have started bringing back the industry, among them the Blancos.

All hopes were dashed when COVID-19 cases started to rise slowly at the start of March and shot up exponentially last week, with new record cases topping the previous day's tally.

The result was a return to a lockdown similar to last year for Metro Manila, and surrounding provinces that has been dubbed the "NCR Plus Bubble". Laguna was severely affected by the restrictions as the economic activity with its neighbors slowed down.

But the final nail on the coffin was the decision by the IATF to ban all masses and church activities except for certain services involving no more than 10 people. That meant a ban on all activities related to the weeklong celebration of Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday.

The Blancos however persisted and still got a small number of orders. They expect to earn just a tenth of their usual profits.

Palaspas makers in Bgy. Labayo in Cavinti, Laguna were earning extra income during the Holy Week supplying churches in Metro Manila and around Luzon with the palm fronds used on Palm Sunday. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Palmahan, or palm frond making, has been a cottage industry for this small town, owing to the expertise that have been handed down to generations. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Jennifer Blasco finishes work on a set of palm fronds, hoping to sell them despite the ban on church activities on Holy Week, including Palm Sunday. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Jennifer laments the lost opportunity for extra income when the restrictions were lowered in the early part of the year, giving hope that church activities will return for the Holy Week. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Jennifer does this together with her husband Dennis Blasco. With the family income from farming reduced because of quarantine restrictions last year, Jennifer and Dennis were hoping palm frond making would augment their income. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Jennifer finishes work on around 300 pieces of palm fronds, a small order compared to previous years. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

During better times, the amount they earned during the Holy Week went to savings they used to improve their house or to add to their son's educational fund. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus' triumphant entry to Jerusalem to fulfill his destiny, ushers in the Holy Week and has been a traditional feast for most Filipino Catholics. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The palm leaves are woven into intricate patterns that the families have passed on for generations. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Jennifer prepares the materials for the palm fronds while Dennis packs a sack of unhusked rice after drying that they harvested from a small farm. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Jennifer is helped by son Dexter who has also taken on the family tradition and is an expert in executing the intricate patterns. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Dexter shows some of his skills learned also from his parents. The family was hoping to buy a cellphone from their earnings this year which Dexter will use for online class, but the meager income won't be enough for that this year. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

At around 8 pesos per piece, Jennifer says the profit from the order they have, would not be enough to save or to buy something they need but only to add to their next meals. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A few passersby buy palm fronds from the Blasco's place in Cavinti, Laguna. The small orders and a few walk-in clients will help them recoup some of their investments and earn a little. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The Blascos are praying that just like Easter, next year would become better times if we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic by then. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News