The Philippines has little local puppet tradition to draw on. During the late 19th century, there were shadow play performances called carrillo which means “small cart.” Carrillo is also known as potei, kikimut and titire in Pampanga (a province in Central Luzon).
The higante (giant), which is similar to the mascots or big puppets, lead the procession during the Higantes Festival, also known as the Feast of San Clemente, celebrated every November 23 in Angono, Rizal. San Clemente is the patron saint of fishermen. Leading the procession are three higantes—father, mother and child—with the body made from bamboo, the head from papier mache. The costumes are bright and colourful, and the hands are always on the waist. Each higante is controlled by one person who is inside the body of the higante.
In the late 1930s, film actor-director Manuel Conde introduced ventriloquism through his puppet Kiko. At present, Kiko is owned by Jun Urbano, also a ventriloquist, an actor and a film director.
Puppetry became popular with the introduction of Jim Henson’s “Sesame Street” in the 1970s.
Groups inspired by the muppets were the Alsa Balutan Puppet Group Inc. (founded by Tessie Ordoña, 1976), National Media Production Center (headed by Lolit Aquino, 1978) which later became the Black Theater of Manila and now known as the PIA (Philippine Information Agency) Puppet Theater, Roppets Edutainment Production Inc. (founded by Danny Liwanag, 1987) and the Quezon City Public Library Puppeteers.
The Anino Shadowplay Collective (founded in 1992 by students of the Philippine High School for the Arts) specializes in shadow puppetry while Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas (founded by Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, 1977) ventures into rod and shadow puppetry and the bunraku technique.
Another group that practices the art of bunraku is the University of the Philippines Center for International Studies (UPCIS) Bunraku Ensemble led by Dr. Jina Umali. Members of the ensemble are given the opportunity to undergo intensive training with the women puppeteers of the Naoshima Onna Bunraku in Naoshima, Japan.
Ventriloquism, or the art of ‘throwing one’s voice’ was made popular by ventriloquists Ony Carcamo and Wanlu. They perform with their puppet or known as a ‘dummy’. Ony and Wanlu are founding members of the International Ventriloquist Society IVS Philippines, an association which aims to professionalize the art of ventriloquism in the country.