Mercado's "Watawat" exhibit at SM Puerto Princesa City Mall. | Photo from Rommel Mercado, Jr.

Sometimes, life requires us to set aside our dreams so we can serve the greater good. That has never been truer for Rommel Mercado Jr., a quarantine nurse in the frontlines of Puerto Princesa’s battle with COVID-19.

Mercado, 23, always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer at a young age. Even then, he would participate in design contests and regularly create new outlines and sketches.

Mercado in personal protective equipment (PPE) while on duty as a quarantine nurse employed by the Puerto Princesa City government. | Photo by Rommel Mercado, Jr.

“Simula noong high school ako, alam ko sa sarili ko na gusto kong maging fashion designer. Nagsimula ako sa pag-drawing ng mga gowns sa likod ng aking mga notebook. Naimbitahan at naka-participate na rin ako sa mga fashion show sa Valenzuela at sa Quezon City,” he told Palawan News on Saturday.

Now, even when he is busy tending to COVID-19 patients, his dream of becoming a full-time designer is slowly becoming a reality. Mercado was given the chance to exhibit some of his works at SM Puerto Princesa City’s Independence Day festivities. His exhibit, called “Watawat”, will run from June 12 to 15 at the lower ground floor.

But, that doesn’t mean dreams set aside can’t be worked on. Despite the long hours at the Incident Management Team’s (IMT) Branch 2, Mercado finds time to sketch new pieces while off duty.

“During my off, I’ll make sure I’ll make at least 1 creation pa rin. Minsan, after work, nagse-sketch na rin ako para if may time ako, I’ll make it na lang. After this pandemic, I’ll go as a full time designer na. As of now people need our service kaya focus muna sa profession,” he added.

Mercado’s pieces at the “Watawat” exhibit are four dresses in the colors of red, white, blue and yellow. His red piece is inspired by the Jota de Paragua, a folk dance with origins of Spanish influence mixed with Cuyunon culture. The blue dress was designed with Palawan’s oceans in mind, while the yellow dress is inspired by the indigenous peoples of Palawan. The last piece, a white gown, is inspired by Maria Clara but in the modern age.

As an artist, Mercado is no stranger to the detours of the journey to do an art practice full time. At only 23, he is both pursuing his love for passion and serving the people. He encouraged other artists not to give up on their dreams because their time will come.

“Sa mga kapwa ko artist, nawa’y hindi tayo mawalan ng pag-asa, magdalawang-isip, o huminto sa ating mga pangarap. Maligayang 123 na Araw ng Kalayaan,” he said.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.