Aerieal Patnongon gives one-of-a-kind gift to boyfriend June Mar Fajardo as homecoming present
June Mar Fajardo and beau Aerial Patnongon displays the project-custom dolls portraying themselves specially made by Rowel Panizares. Photos courtesy of Rowel Panizares

FORMER Ateneo volleyball player Aerieal Patnongon wanted to surprise her boyfriend June Mar Fajardo with something special before Gilas Pilipinas starts its campaign in the upcoming Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila a week from now.

For her welcoming gift to her man-mountain, who just arrived with the national team from a three-week training camp in Europe, Aerieal contacted last week Rowel Panizares, a well-known name in the toy and hobby community to commission him for a project-custom dolls portarying "The Kraken" in a San Miguel Beermen uniform and Patnongon in her Ateneo varsity kit.

“Hindi ko nga siya kilala nung una. Akala ko nga guy yung ka-chat ko sa Facebook at hindi din ako familiar sa volleyball. Mabilisan kasi surprise daw,” learned in an interview with Panizares, whose day job at an advertising agency also gives way to customizing vinyl dolls and action figures.

The affable Panizares, who has been creating customized figures for the past 10 years as a hobby, explained that it takes around two weeks to create one such piece from scratch, from sculpting, painting and making close to authentic packaging. Aerieal asked if he could do two figures in time for Fajardo’s return from Europe where the Philippine national men’s team played a series of tune-up games as part of its preparation for the July 5-10 qualifier.  

Working with images from Google, the 42-year old art director dropped all other customizing projects (mostly from local and overseas collectors) and went to work to beat the deadline.

“Libangan lang,” said Panizares whose work covers an extensive subject matter that ranges from a variety of NBA players, superheroes and characters from pop culture. His most recent creation is President Rodrigo Duterte. A custom doll goes for around P4,000 each.

The selected format was the popular Funko Pop vinyl figures. To create the best possible likeness, Panizares resorted to emphasize “porma and style” from the small details on the uniforms down to placement of the kneepads, arm sleeves and hairstyle.

“Naisip ko gawin na colored hair or Mohawk ni June Mar kaya lang ang sabi ni Aerieal, ‘Gusto ko cleancut ang BF ko!’” said Panizares who described making Fajardo’s figure as “madugo” due to the number of details whereas Patnongon’s doll was easier due to the Ateneo uniform’s simpler design.

Panizares said the reveal was supposed to have been made at Fajardo’s residence in Pasig City but heavy traffic led him to a barber shop at the Shangri-La Mall in Mandaluyong City where Aerieal surprised her beau with the one-of-a-kind figures.


He said the two-time Philippine Basketball Association Most Valuable Player was not only surprised but was amazed with the unique gift.

“Nagulat si June Mar. Tinanong niya ako tungkol doon sa San Miguel uniform: ‘Paano mo nagawa yan? Kuhang kuha mo yung SMB! Ang galing sobrang liit!’”

As a token, the happy couple autographed a framed drawing of the figures which Panizares used in designing. He said June Mar requested for a larger sketch that he would display in his home alongside the custom dolls.

A fine arts graduate from the Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (EARIST) school in Sta. Mesa, Manila, Panizares said he never considered that his hobby would allow him to meet celebrities.

“Binalikan ko lang ulit (yung hobby). Masaya ako kasi hindi ko in-expect na may kilalang mga tao na magpapagawa sa akin,” the avid Kobe Bryant and Purefoods fan told

“Sabi nga ni June Mar papakita niya (yung custom dolls) kay Marc Pingris at sa ibang players. Siya daw ang bahala sa ibang teammates niya!” laughed Panizares. 

Follow the writer on Twitter: @rhoelfernandez