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Jerry Sibal tells the story behind the Christmas crystals of hope

Exposed to the sacrifices of Filipino health workers in NY, he wants his decor to lift your heart

Jerry Sibal before the crystal trees and reindeer at Dusit Thani Manila

Jona Caparas, a Filipino nurse in New York, held back tears of regret when she was interviewed by a local television station in 2021. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, she could not see her brother who was dying of COVID-19, because she was caught up with other COVID patients in the hospital. She had to continue working to provide for her family.

Caparas and 11 other Filipino healthcare practitioners were photographed by nurse and photojournalist Rosem Morton and their pictures put on exhibit at Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Organized by the non-profit organization Friends of the Philippines USA, the exhibit aimed to make the public aware of the contribution of the Filipino diaspora to the United States.

‘We care, we help and even die for others. This is the compassion and love that we want to show. Basically, we are all human and we help each other,” explained president Edwin Josue about the exhibit’s objectives in the TV interview. “We may not eliminate Asian hate, but we can minimize it,” said Jerry Sibal, vice president and secretary.

Sibal has evolved into a multi-hyphenate creative whose talents range from events styling and floral designing to directing and lately, advocating inclusion, diversity, and equality. He and his partner, Josue, formed Friends of the Philippines USA in 2017 to foster cultural understanding.

Before he migrated to the US 30 years ago, Sibal was artistic director of a Filipino-Chinese performing arts group, folk dance resource person, consultant to Bayanihan and the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, and an art teacher.

In New York in 1993, Josue’s friend was tipped off that celebrity events designer and “floral couturier” Preston Bailey was looking for someone to manage his namesake business, which had become famous for transforming spaces into grand theatrical productions.

At Bailey’s project in Connecticut, Sibal decorated the dance floor in a decoupage style, using cutouts and paint effects. Bailey was so impressed with his aesthetics and ability to solve challenges quickly that he asked Sibal to be his business partner. Though Sibal declined the offer, he worked with Bailey, sharing his knowledge of music and production design based on his theater experience.  Eventually, Sibal formed his own design company.

For a project in Connecticut, Sibal decorated the dance floor in a découpage style, using cutouts and paint effects

His projects include the launches for Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, the Virgin Atlantic’s business class from London to Chicago, the Al Thani Royal Family of Qatar, floral designs for Wynn Casinos in Macau, Celine Dion’s party, Citbank’s event at the Metropolitan Museum, and destination weddings.

 Sibal described his resplendent set-ups in a coffee-table book, An Event to Remember: Designing Spectacular Occasions (2009), which featured his virtuosic floral arrangements and theatrical style in events around the US.

He returned to the theater when Josue and Sibal’s company, J& S Productions, produced Noli Me Tangere: The Opera, which debuted at Resorts World in 2014. The libretto was by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino and scored by composer Felipe de Leon.  The opera was then shown at the Kaye Playhouse, Hunter College in New York, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Yet, Sibal was dissatisfied with the initial production. He ended up directing the opera when it was staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2017, followed by a rerun in 2019. Noli was a big hit with the student audience, so that there were plans for more reruns in 2020.

In February 2020, J& S Productions teamed up with the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) to organize the first Philippine International Flower Show. Seeing how other Asian countries drew tourists to floral shows, he believed it was about time the Philippines had its own event. Targeting local and foreign horticulturists and hobbyists, the flower show was set for October at PICC, but the pandemic happened.

“The pandemic was a time for reflection,” he said. While he and Josue were walking by the East River, they saw a photo exhibit about the many faces of the pandemic. Sibal thought of doing one for the Filipino healthcare workers. According to CNN Health, nearly a third of the nurses who died of COVID and its complications in the US in 2020 were Filipino.

This foundation also serves other people of color, Latinos, other Asians and the LGBTQ. Friends of the Philippines Society USA has been subsisting on the personal funds of Josue and Sibal. To raise money for its programs, it organizes fund-raising events such as a benefit cocktail party, with drag queen as hostess, during Pride Month in June 2021. “We are all Americans, and also professionals,” Sibal said.

Sibal and his partner’s organization Friends of the Philippines USA also serves people of color, Latinos, other Asians and the LGBTQ

The program also aims to educate children of intermarriages who want to know about their Filipino roots. It holds talks and seminars on cultural understanding. Its organizers were invited by the New York Department of Justice to discuss Asian hate crimes.

Rudolph the Reindeer is made of metallic paper and mirror panels on a metal and wood frame.

The Christmas decor at the Dusit Thani hotels is his first international project since the pandemic—a continuation of his ties to the hotel chain. He created the Golden Rudolph the Reindeer for Dusit Thani Manila in 2018, and conducted a floral design workshop in the hotel in 2019.

The Dusit Thani Mactan Christmas tree uses Cebu’s indigenous materials for that natural, organic feel.

At Dusit Thani Manila, he brought in crystal beads from New York. Unlike other Christmas trees that are fully decked, the minimalist twin Christmas trees make an impact for their glistening silhouettes. This year, Rudolph is made of metal and wood frame with Styrofoam, and is covered with mirror glass and metallic cardboard for shine. The glowing crystals and silvery finishes represent hope in 2023.

“The Makati hotel’s decor is sophisticated because its guests are very cosmopolitan. They requested crystals that light up people’s lives,” he said.

Red elephant augurs good luck at Dusit Thani Mactan resort.

In contrast to the city’s sparkling metallic design, Dusit Thani Mactan Cebu’s décor evokes a natural vibe using organic materials and nubby textures. “Cebu went through a lot, including typhoon Odette in 2021. We chose red as main color to drive away the bad spirits,” said Sibal. “We did something whimsical, like the elephant for the kids.”

 The elephant, Thailand’s national animal and symbol of good luck, is the piece de resistance. It was shaped from sheets of cyclone wire and stuffed with metallic foil and matte paper in each hole, blended with paper poinsettias. Metallic local lanterns loom over the red animal.

 Dusit Thani Mactan Cebu’s giant Christmas tree makes use of local materials such as anahaw leaves, sinamay flowers, and Capiz balls mixed with imported paper roses.

Sibal was inspired by “a personal connection with the Divine.” He said, “When I’m tense, people don’t take that vibration. If the energy is being challenged, it will show in my design. I have to be very aware and change. That will give me clarity. Then the audience will appreciate the design and feel that divine connection.”

About author


She is a veteran journalist who’s covered the gamut of lifestyle subjects. Since this pandemic she has been giving free raja yoga meditation online.

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