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Here’s what LTO NCR chief Benjamin V. Santiago III does in his free time

Benjamin V. Santiago III, the Regional Director of LTO NCR – East, has a passion hobby very close to his line of work.

“Benjo” to his friends, Santiago has been building dioramas and customizing scale model diecast cars for many years now and is an active member of the Diecast Car Collectors of the Philippines (DCPH). While his daily routine is making sure that LTO NCR’s functions properly, he sets time aside for a very interesting hobby which is collecting and customizing diecast car scale models.

They are not necessarily expensive. There are quite a number of brands out there and Tomica, Matchbox and Hotwheels would be the more popular 1/64 scale models that cost a couple of hundred pesos or so each. The price range quickly goes up for bigger scales like the 1/18 ones. This affords collectors to amass hundreds, and some even thousands of pieces over a period of time.

Benjo Santiago with diorama artist Donz Geñosa

But recently, Santiago collaborated with art influencer Bigboy Cheng of Secret Fresh Art Gallery to produce a series of diorama sets depicting the popular vlogger-DJ-businessman-art patron’s iconic building peppered with cultural and artistic details for diecast and pop art collectors alike. The diorama includes two iconic diecast car models — a VW Beetle and a Jeepney, carefully and painstakingly repainted and customized. Santiago says he had to source out from several suppliers and breakup hundreds of sets from other models to include special details like the custom wheels and fat rubber tires in the first 50 sets of his artisan build. Two figurines are included — one depicting Bigboy Cheng wearing signature streetwear which he is popularly known for.

“I am very glad Bigboy Cheng collaborated with us and this project with Secret Fresh has elevated the craft of making dioramas into some kind of pop art form.” Santiago explains. He also intimated that his favorite diecast model is a 1960s Nova because his father had the actual one and he would like to cherish the memory of his father’s favorite car.

Santiago through his BenSan Customs artisan shop, organized several creative minds and talents to produce 50 sets of the first edition diorama which quickly sold out at P6,500 a set. The second edition is now being showcased at Secret Fresh Art Gallery but only 26 complete sets available and another 24 diorama sets with figures but minus the diecast car models as a limited run. Only another 100 more sets will be released as dioramas, minus the two diecast cars and figures which was included in the previous two editions.

This very detailed diorama even included an untitled metal sculpture that is installed along the building’s perimeter by artist and public art advocate Reg Yuson. The actual sculpture, finished in red aircraft paint and mandrel bended tubular metal pipes is hallow and has perforations from end-to-end so you can actually whisper on one end and the person on the other side can hear you. This art installation is similar in theme to the more massive “Hearsay” installation at BGC’s High Street created by the same artist.

We are excited to see what is in store for BenSan Customs as he shares that there are other projects in the pipeline including a collaboration with diorama artist Donz Geñosa who is considered as one of the best right now in the craft.

Aside from the 1/64 diecast figure of Cheng, which was customized by Middle East-based fellow artist Eldy Magsino Tendero, Santiago chose the ubiquitous “Dyip” or Jeepney and the VW Beetle or fondly called the “Kotseng Kuba” (hunchback car) as car models that truly represents pop art and local car culture.

BenSan Customs started in 2019 is a group of artists and collectors who have found a common ground in having passion in customizing diecast cars of different scales and sizes. The hobby is thought to have gained more momentum during the start of the pandemic when people stayed mostly at home, but sourcing of materials became a challenge as well.

Santiago said that aside from breaking up diecast car components, he used everyday items like office supplies and even wristwatch components to finish the project.  

“Again, its the Filipino ingenuity that’s being showcased.”

MAIN PHOTO: Santiago’s diorama series includes two iconic diecast car models, a Volkswagen Beetle and the Philippine Jeepney.

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