Pandesal for Frontliners: Artists Coke Bolipata, Elmer and Plet Borlongan Bake Bread

IMAGE Courtesy of Elmer Borlongan

Casa San Miguel in San Antonio, Zambales, has long been known as a haven for artists. The ancestral home of the Bolipata family, it is a creative space for artists who come in from all over the country to join various programs and workshops.

But over the last three days, Casa San Miguel has been filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread, made by artists Coke Bolipata, his sister Plet Bolipata Borlongan, and her husband, Elmer Borlongan, for the frontliners stationed at the different outposts in the barangay.

The pugon, a wood-burning oven, or what the family calls 'the dragon.' 

Photo by Courtesy of Elmer Borlongan.

“My brother-in-law Coke instigated the idea of making pandesal for the frontliners because he felt a strong need to do something doing this crisis,” said Elmer Borlongan. “Plet and I quickly volunteered because we, too, felt helpless during this lockdown as we’re not medically trained. We felt being part of contributing sustenance to our town’s everyday heroes was the least we could do.”


Elmer Borlongan.

Photo by Plet Borlongan.

The team has baked 200 pieces of the soft bread each day, bagged and delivered to the outposts.

Freshly baked bread straight from the oven.

Photo by Courtesy of Elmer Borlongan.

Photo by Courtesy of Elmer Borlongan.
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“Coke went through the motions of teaching us how to knead bread, which we found was quite exhausting,” said Borlongan, who said they got up at 3 a.m. on the first day to make the bread. “I got weak in the knees. It’s like falling in love! Plet and I were debilitated for the rest of the day after production. We had to take the day off from our creative activities.”

Siblings Coke Bolipata and Plet Bolipata Borlongan.

Photo by Courtesy of Elmer Borlongan.

Photo by Courtesy of Elmer Borlongan.

Borlongan said his brother-in-law tweaked his original recipe to meet the production demand without scrimping on ingredients. They also eventually learned how to sustain the heat of “the dragon,” what they call their pugon, or wood-fired oven.

“This morning, our third day, was a breeze. Our learning curve was at its best, and our production, streamlined. We knew how to move about the workplace and some of Coke’s violin students joined in helping make bread,” said Borlongan. “Our funds were supplied by my sisters-in-law in Manila, so this has been a family affair of sorts. We walked into our studio with a sense of accomplishment and happiness, knowing in our little way, we have helped our nation during this trying time.”

Two weeks ago, Borlongan was commissioned by Dr. Joven Cuanang of Pinto Art Museum to do a work “to honor the brave and tireless healthworkers in the frontline.”

"Frontliner" by Elmer Borlongan commissioned by Dr. Joven Cuanang, based on a photo by Dr. Sue Locnen.

Photo by Courtesy of Elmer Borlongan.

“Look at the eyes, the forward thrust and the hands ready to move in any challenge. And we know we will win,” said Cuanang, a well-known neurologist.

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Yvette Fernandez
Yvette Fernandez has written over a dozen books. Previously, she was editor in chief of Esquire Philippines and Town&Country Philippines.
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