Pinoy Weekly » Photo Essays Philippine news, analysis, and investigative stories Tue, 12 May 2015 22:16:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 PHOTO STORY | Land and struggle in Maguindanao Thu, 19 Feb 2015 07:51:33 +0000
For peaceful prayer
Masjid Dimaukom or the pink mosque in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Pink, they say, stands for peace. KR Guda
Street life
Life is normal in the streets of Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.
Life after death
Despite the traumatic events of January 25, life continues in Brgy. Tukanalipao. KR Guda
Watching the hearings
In Brgy. Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town of Maguindanao province, a resident fixes her electric fan as she begins to watch the Senate hearings on the Mamasapano debacle. KR Guda
Busy with school
Students in Linantangan Elementary School are busy with school work even as more than half of their classmates are still yet to return to school after the attack in Mamasapano. KR Guda
'Math Park'
A mother and child in Linantangan Elementary School, after dismissal of classes. KR Guda
Signs of times
A child passes by the military camp of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao. The signs offer congratulations to the Philippine President for signing the agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. KR Guda
Residents put up pictures of women residents in a hut in Tukanalipao proper. KR Guda
Fellow cops
The People's Fact-Finding Mission members interview members of the local police station in Mamasapano, Maguindanao regarding the bloodbath that occured on January 25. KR Guda
Students gather outside their classrooms during a psycho-social intervention by the Children's Rehabilitation Center in Linantangan Elementary School. KR Guda
Where they died
Fallen and unharvested corn crops now remain where the bodies of fallen police commandos were found. KR Guda
A Tukanalipao resident shows a bullet, purportedly from an M-60 machine gun, that pierced through their houses after SAF members reportedly opened fire on their houses. KR Guda
Recounting the dead
A local police describes to the People's Fact Finding Mission members how the locals brought to them the bodies of the 44 SAF members after the bloody encounter. KR Guda
'As big as a fist'
A human rights worker points to the huge hole reportedly caused by indiscriminate firing of SAF commandos in the highway during the bloody encounter. A child looks on. KR Guda
Wooden witness
A farmer, with his bicycle, passes by the wooden bridge which was the site of the bloody clash between Moro fighters and police commandos. KR Guda
Survived but traumatized
Samra's child looks on as his mother tells the story of how her other child, the 8-year-old Sarah, was shot and killed during the police commandos' raid in Sitio Inugog in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Samra herself was grazed by a bullet in her right cheek. KR Guda
From one dynasty to another
The image of the Philippine President, Benigno Aquino III with the Mamasapano mayor, Tahirodin Benzar Ampatuan, inside the town hall. The Ampatuans were themselves implicated in a bloody massacre of 54 people, more than half of which were journalists, in 2009. The case remains unclosed until today. KR Guda
Bangsamoro state
A sign indicating that a different "government" is in operation as one enters Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. KR Guda
"You don't have to avoid showing my face," an MILF fighter says, standing guard inside a modern building where central committee members of the MILF hold meetings. "I don't have anything to hide." KR Guda
Real politics
Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF's vice-chairman for political affairs, discusses to visitors the situation in their ranks after the Mamasapano incident. KR Guda
Standing guard
An MILF fighter stands guard outside a modern building that is home to the central committee of the MILF in Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. KR Guda
Tanks perennially stationed in Army checkpoints. KR Guda
Red alert
Members of the local unit of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police have their own checkpoint near Cotabato City. KR Guda
Not business as usual
A sign announcing that an agreement between the Aquino administration and the MILF has to come soon--or there will be consequences--stands in front of a huge factory in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao. KR Guda
A quiet life in Liguasan
A simple house stands amid the sprawling beauty of Liguasan Marsh, which is reportedly home to a vast reserve of natural gas, which is coveted by many multinational corporations. KR Guda

The bloodbath in Mamasapano, Maguindanao once again brought to public attention the armed struggle being waged by various revolutionary, Bangsamoro groups for more than a century now.

Philippine senators, in their own inquiry, and riding on a wave of Islamophobia and anti-Moro sentiment, questioned the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)’s description of itself as a “revolutionary organization”. The senators thus betrayed an ignorance of the long history of Bangsamoro revolutionary struggle to determine their own future amid political and economic impositions from what they call “imperial Manila” and exploitation of their natural resources by foreign and local elite interests.

After the MILF’s signing of a comprehensive agreement with the Philippine government, progressive pundits were alarmed that the Bangsamoro struggle may have been compromised, especially after the United States government–which had expressed its desire to tap into the rich natural gas reserves in Liguasan Marsh–were adamantly supportive of the agreement. The MILF dismissed the warnings, saying that peace had to happen sometime, and that the agreement with the Aquino government, as well as the Bangsamoro Basic Law, was the closest thing to a principled peace that they could achieve.

That was before Mamasapano happened, of course. On January 25, the town of Mamasapano, which was clearly an MILF controlled territory, was subjected to a night-to-dawn police operation by dozens of police commandos ostensibly targetting two “known terrorists”. We all know what happened next.

Even in the bloodbath’s aftermath, the MILF affirmed its commitment to the peace process with the Aquino government. Meanwhile, other groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and factions of the old Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) now call for a continuation of the armed struggle. With what we now know of the Mamasapano operation, it is clear that the Manila-based government, and its patron US government, did not have the Bangasamoro people’s interests at heart.

The people of Maguindanao, as well as all of Moro Mindanao, will have to brace themselves of an even longer struggle for self-determination and peace.

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Larawan | Mamamayan ng Mindanao nangangalampag sa Maynila Fri, 28 Nov 2014 03:07:33 +0000
Nagsalubungan ang mga pambansang lider-progresibo tulad ni dating Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo at Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan at mga pinuno rin ng Manilakbayan ng Mindanao, na mahigit isang linggo nang bumibiyahe mula Mindanao. Macky Macaspac
Pagtatanghal ng mga batang Lumad para ipanawagan ang pagsagip sa kanilang mga eskuwelahan na kinahampuhan ng mga militar sa iba't ibang bahagi ng Mindanao. Macky Macaspac
'Tunay na kapayapaan'
Sa harap ng tanggapan ng malalaking kompanya ng mina, nanawagan ang mga batang kalahok sa Manilakbayan at Save Our Schools (SOS) Network ng "tunay na kapayapaan" sa Mindanao. Kontribusyon
Nagsagawa ng ritwal na pag-alay ng manok at babuy-ramo ang mga Lumad pagtapak sa Mendiola, Manila para anila'y itaboy ang "masasamang espiritu." Boy Bagwis
Kontra masasamang espiritu
Ritwal na pag-alay ng babuy-ramo para itaboy ang 'masasamang espiritu'. Macky Macaspac
Macky Macaspac
Dugo sa patalim
Ipinakita ng isang katutubong lider ang patalim niyang may dugo ng baboy na inialay sa ritwal. Boy Bagwis
Katutubong kababaihan
KR Guda
Laban sa karahasan sa kababaihan
Nakilahok ang ilang Lumad sa pagsayaw ng One Billion Rising sa Maynila bilang pahayag ng pagtutol sa karahasan sa kababaihan. KR Guda
Nagpiket din ang mga "Manilakbayani" sa Department of Justice para ihayag ang pagtutol sa pagsampa ng mga kaso laban sa progresibong mga lider tulad ni Genasque Enriquez. Karapatan photo/Contribution
Noong Nob. 26, nagpiket ang mga Lumad at mamamayan ng Mindanao sa harap ng General Headquarters ng Armed Forces of the Philippines para kondenahin umano ang pananakop at pang-aabuso ng mga yunit ng militar sa kanilang mga komunidad. Arkibong Bayan
Kalampag sa US embassy
Kabilang sa mga panawagan ng mga katutubo ang pag-alis ng mga tropang Amerikano, na umano'y sumasama sa mga operasyong militar ng AFP sa kanilang mga komunidad. Naggiit silang makalapit sa embahada ng Estados Unidos sa Roxas Blvd. Elijah Rosales
Lumad sa Maynila
Isang katutubong Lumad habang nagdadaan ang martsa sa Simbahan ng Quiapo sa Maynila. Elijah Rosales
Tutol ang mga Lumad sa pagmimina at iba pang proyektong nandarambong ng likas yaman sa kanilang katutubong lupain. Elijah Rosales

Pagkai’t kapayapaan.

Ito ang simpleng hiling ng mga mamamayan ng Mindanao na kinatawan ng mahigit 300 Lumad at iba pang kalahok sa Manilakbayan ng Mindanao. Naglakbay sila mula sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng Mindanao patungong Kamaynilaan para isapubliko ang kalagayan ng libu-libong mamamayan na napapasailalim sa teror ng iba’t ibang yunit ng militar. Target din ang kanilang mga lupain ng agresyon ng iba’t ibang malalaking kompanya ng mina at agricorporations.

Tinatayang may 55 combat battalions na nakapakat ang Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) sa Mindanao. Ibig sabihin, halos 60 porsiyento ng mga puwersa nito ay nakatutok sa mga lugar sa isla na ayon dito’y may malakas na presensiya ng paglaban ng New People’s Army. Pero ayon sa maraming grupong pangkarapatang pantao at katutubo, ang nabibiktima ng mga operasyong militar ay kalimitang ordinaryong mga mamamayan–sibilyang mga komunidad na lumalaban sa agresyon, pananakop at panunupil.

Sa taong 2014 lang, may 12 nang insidente ng paglikas ng mga komunidad ng Lumad sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng Mindanao. Dahil ito sa pananakop ng militar sa kanilang mga komunidad. Nakaapekto ito sa 1,112 pamilya o 4,736 katao. Naging pang-araw-araw na pangyayari na ang mga pagbomba, shelling at pamamaril sa mga bahay at bukid na nagdulot ng paglikas o, mas masahol, pagkamatay ng maraming inosenteng sibilyan.

Kasabay nito, laganap ang pagsampa ng “gaw-gawang mga kaso” laban sa progresibong mga lider sa Mindanao. Kasama na rito ang lider-Manobo mula sa Surigao del Sur na si Genasque Enriquez, na nanguna sa Manilakbayan noong 2012.

Nasa Maynila sila, ayon sa mga lider ng Manilakbayan ngayon, para malaman ng mas maraming bilang ng mga mamamayan ng bansa ang nangyayari ngayon sa Mindanao.

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Audio Slideshow | People’s SONA 2014 Tue, 29 Jul 2014 04:30:02 +0000

Images of the people’s true State of the Nation Address. Taken on July 28, 2014 by JL Burgos.

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PHOTO ESSAY | ‘We will defend our land and culture, even with our primitive weapons’ Thu, 29 May 2014 10:48:37 +0000 Photojournalist Boy Bagwis, on May 13 to 15, joined the national fact-finding and humanitarian mission to investigate the displacement of more than a thousand Manobos in Talaingod, Davao del Norte due to heavy military presence and intimidation. The Talaingod Manobos, according to anthropologists, are one of the least accessible (to lowlanders) indigenous groups in Mindanao, and have been among the most vigilant and organized in preserving their indigenous culture and defending their ancestral domain from foreign intrusion and exploitation. During the mid-90s, Talaingod Manobos successfully drove away one of the biggest logging companies in Mindanao that threatened Talaingod and Pantaron Range, one of the few remaining virgin rainforests in the country. This indigenous community, with some help from indigenous rights advocates and people’s organizations, has developed its own local economy, maintaining communal farms and mechanized milling, among others. The mission was conducted a week after more than a thousand Manobos returned to Talaingod after the military agreed to withdraw from their communities.

An an elder Manobo, Ubunay Botod Manlaon, shows off her tribal tattoos that symbolized her esteemed status in their tribe. On March 7 this year, aUbunay was forced to act as the soldiers' guide in the jungle for a week. She was manhandled and subjected to sexual assault, before being able to escape. <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

An an elder Manobo, Ubunay Botod Manlaon, shows off her tribal tattoos that symbolized her esteemed status in their tribe. On March 7 this year, aUbunay was forced to act as the soldiers’ guide in the jungle for a week. She was manhandled and subjected to sexual assault, before being able to escape. Ubunay’s abduction compelled many Manobos to evacuate from their communities. Boy Bagwis

A Manobo evacuee returns to her home and harvests root crops in Sitio Lasakan, Talaingod, after a month of seeking sanctuary in Davao City. <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

A Manobo evacuee returns to her home and harvests root crops in Sitio Lasakan, Talaingod, after a month of seeking sanctuary in Davao City. Boy Bagwis

Thousands of Manobo Lumads fled from heavily militarization in 11 villages in Talaingod, Davao del Norte after a series of aerial bombings and harassment by soldiers. <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

Thousands of Manobo Lumads fled from heavy militarization in 11 villages in Talaingod, Davao del Norte after a series of aerial bombings and harassment by soldiers. Boy Bagwis

A Manobo mother stands in front of her infant daughter's casket while her husband sits in grief. The infant reportedly died of measles. Having just arrived in their community from evacution, many had no food and medicine, resulting in the deaths of several children. <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

A Manobo mother stands in front of her infant daughter’s casket while her husband sits in grief. The infant reportedly died of measles. Having just arrived in their community from evacution, many had no food and medicine, resulting in the deaths of several children. Boy Bagwis

Manobo children compose the majority of the population of tribal communities in Talaingod. <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

Manobo children compose the majority of the population of tribal communities in Talaingod. Boy Bagwis

A Manobo family in Sitio Bayabs, Talaingod says that they lost belongings after military elements occupied their house. In front of them is a pot, where they say soldiers even defecated. <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

A Manobo family in Sitio Bayabas, Talaingod says that they lost belongings after military elements occupied their house. In front of them is a pot, where they say soldiers even defecated. Boy Bagwis

"The military accuses us of being New People's Army supporters. But the truth is we are only fighting for our rights." <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

“The military accuses us of being New People’s Army supporters. But the truth is we are only fighting for our rights.” Boy Bagwis

Some of the Talaingod indigenous women with their tribal garb. <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

Some of the Talaingod indigenous women with their tribal garb. Boy Bagwis

Manobo women were part of the pangayaw, or tribal war, declared against the logging company Alcantara and Sons during the 90s. <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

Manobo women were part of the pangayaw, or tribal war, declared against the logging company Alcantara and Sons during the 90s. Boy Bagwis

Manobo tribal leaders led by Datu Guibang Apoga declare that they want peace. But if corporations and the government take away their land, the tribal leaders said they will fight with their native weapons. From left: Datu Tungig, Guibang, Doluman and Sunpa. Datu Guibang Apoga was the foremost Talaingod Manobo leader who led the pangayaw during the 90s. The military declared him an outlaw. But Apoga said he was merely protecting their ancestral domain. <strong>Boy Bagwis</strong>

Manobo tribal leaders led by Datu Guibang Apoga declare that they want peace. But if corporations and the government take away their land, the tribal leaders say they will fight with their native weapons. From left: Datu Tungig, Guibang, Doluman and Sunpa. Datu Guibang Apoga was the foremost Talaingod Manobo leader who led the pangayaw during the 90s. The military declared him an outlaw. But Apoga says he was merely protecting their ancestral domain. Boy Bagwis


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Dispatches from Leyte: From Ruin to Resilience Fri, 14 Feb 2014 02:54:02 +0000 Survivors trying to rebuild homes in Leyte, three months after the storm. CJ Chanco

Survivors trying to rebuild homes in Palo, Leyte, three months after the storm. CJ Chanco

Everything seems frozen in place. Every tree, branch, every root sticking out from the ground, stretches out toward an unseen horizon as though reaching for a sun that will never come, or shine as bright as it once did.  The trees are twisted out of true, like the bodies in the bags that used to occupy nearly every intersection of Tacloban City, the ones the disaster’s first responders would have seen as they passed along the way here (and would have seen, in their half-decomposed state, weeks after the storm).

Rows of coconut trees stand eerily in place, their graceful swaying brought to an abrupt halt by gale-force winds that have forced their fronds to face permanently East – or is it West? It’s impossible to say. The wind had come from every possible direction, shifting as it did with the walls of saltwater that came with broken logs and torn roofs of corrugated iron that brought low the homes of some five million families, and tore Eastern Visayas away, for seven days that felt like eternity, from the reckoning of the world and the local energy grid: leaving two provinces in total darkness, as the days turned into weeks that turned into months.

Tacloban itself is a frozen photograph, a silent sentinel on the edge of Nightmare. Or a portent of things to come.  The city has changed beyond recognition, at least physically, yet something beneath its surface-façade seems unchanged, almost permanent. Its economic life, the social conditions of its people, the rigid divisions of class and geography that determine who lives and who dies – none of this has been altered in any profound sense.

Not even by the strongest typhoon to make land-fall in recorded history.

I’d come on this journey with Balsa, an alliance of people’s organisations, churches, and individual volunteers from across the country. This was its third or fourth major deployment in Eastern Visayas, a caravan bringing aid and relief to communities worst affected by supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) that tore Tacloban apart last November.

Balsa has been doing so for close to a decade now, responding to nearly every major natural disaster to hit the country with a unique combination of grassroots mobilisation and long-term, community-led rehabilitation efforts.  Despite its limited resources, Balsa has banked on the power of collective action to match or even exceed in scope the well-funded projects of some of the best aid agencies in the world. Encouraging the full participation of people directly affected by tragedy has ensured its efforts are deeply rooted with their needs on the ground.

In Leyte, Balsa came not with an elite corps of engineers or disaster experts bearing blueprints from on high, but with community organisers, religious missionaries, teachers,  volunteer scientists and medics – “people’s doctors” – even farmers from Luzon and Mindanao who’d saved seeds all year for just this purpose: to donate to fellow farmers in Visayas who’ve lost their crops. These were people with little to share individually but much to share at a collective level.

It was with them that I saw clearest the difference between passive charity and an active, community-driven response to tragedy;  the gap between what governments promise and what they deliver,  and the need for action from ‘below’ amid damning neglect from above.  It was a glimpse into human vulnerability that persists in the face of persistent poverty. It was also a portrait of human resilience and will to life that will come to define Tacloban (and the rest of the country) as the place where a people, leveled by countless storms, rose again.

Balsa People's Relief Caravan at the Port of Matnog, Sorsogon. CJ Chanco

Balsa People’s Relief Caravan at the Port of Matnog, Sorsogon. CJ Chanco

Day 1 – January 24 – Matnog

… Or rather, Day 2.  It’s taken us seven to eight hours by bus to reach Sorsogon from Manila. It would take us another eight hours or so, more than half a day, to get past the port of Matnog, the main entry point to Leyte.

So after hours on the road, my legs are killing me. My friends and I get off for breakfast and a brisk walk.  At the port, vendors sell us hot pandesal, fried buns, sauteed veggies and tiny red native bananas that we eat with relish, before settling for a meal of tomatoes and fish roasted over an open charcoal fire.

There’s little else to do but gorge ourselves, after all, and talk, as we wait for our turn at the barge.  The early morning sun beats down on lush rice fields by the coast. At a bamboo stall next to our bus, a woman shelling mussels eyes us with sympathy, as she spots the truck behind our bus bearing relief goods for Tacloban. It would be a long wait, she says. An endless line of buses and trucks, some stamped in bold-faced letters, “Relief”, crawls its way past us.

In Matnog, a separate route was opened up for relief caravans in an attempt to cut traffic, but this actually slowed things down. Many of the trucks weren’t carrying relief at all but commercial freight, scrambling for a quick opening to drop off goods to sell in Visayas.

After a few more hours, our boat, the Peñafrancia, finally arrives. Boys as young as four climb twelve feet above the deck, diving gracefully into the cerulean blue sea to catch coins tossed by tourists with uncanny accuracy.

We get on the barge and set sail for the Port of Allen. From there, we’d take another bus ride to Tacloban City, arriving there by midnight.

Crossing the narrow channel between Samar and Leyte, San Juanico Bridge is cloaked in darkness, with only the lights from our bus guiding our way.  Even in Tacloban city proper, rotating black-outs are a fact of life and dozens of public hospitals, schools and thousands of homes still depend on diesel generators for electricity at night, months after Yolanda.

Despite this, government reports insist electricity has been restored in at least 60% of affected areas.

An eight-year old storm survivor. CJ Chanco

An eight-year old storm survivor. CJ Chanco

Day 2 – People’s Surge

A boy, around 8, shifts his gaze from the aid trucks outside to the camera I have in my hands.  We’re by the window of the school gym at Eastern Visayas State University, where I strain to find a scene, any scene, to latch on as I adjust my lens to just the right shutter speed.  The early morning sky filters through the gym awning as we peer over the balcony at the courtyard.

I soon find my scene.

Below us, the first few hundred people gather for what would quickly grow into one of the largest demonstrations I’ve ever been a part of: a “People’s Surge”, including at least 12,000 marchers – young and old, farmers and fisher folk families from at least two dozen towns and rural barrios from across Samar and Leyte. They’d come for aid and relief, but above all for solidarity and a collective sharing of grievances, in protest against the government’s scant relief efforts post-Yolanda.

For two days in this school auditorium with a portion of the roof still missing, there had been singing and story-telling and shared meals of canned sardines and rice wrapped in palm leaves, puson-style.

This is what the boy’s family had come here for, assuming he still had one. The boy’s otherwise stoic face contrasts deeply with his eyes, which have perhaps seen too much, far more than his youth deserved.

He looks straight into the lens of my camera, and not without some guilt, I snap a shot. He doesn’t smile.  Pity or shame tugs at me: was I taking advantage of these people?  These “victims” of what is surely the worst natural calamity the country has faced in a century?  What if the boy had lost a sibling in the storm? A cousin? A parent? His whole family?

A volunteer sounds the call for breakfast and the boy rushes past me. I exit the classroom we were in, and make my way through the crowded corridors – dark, dank, and in some places filled up to the ceiling with balikbayan boxes, long since been emptied of used clothes, canned goods and medical supplies.

In the next building is the gym we’d slept in the night before, and here too hundreds of people lay crammed on the upper benches or shuffle to and fro the courtyard below.  Elderly couples sip coffee, their grandchildren play basketball; one mother nurses her daughter, only days-old. A nun thumbs the beads of her rosary.

All are waiting for their cue for the march to begin.

By the university entrance is a blue tent, put up there by the doctors I arrived here with, from Samahang Operasyong Sagip and Health Alliance for Democracy. For a couple of days now they’ve giving free check-ups and medicines to a long line of people that now stretches past the gate to the next block, probably more than half a kilometre away.

Many of the patients – one man crippled from the waist down, one woman blinded by cataracts– are joining the march.

Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan sounds the call. The march begins.

My camera ranges overhead.

The sun approaches noon and beats down hard on groups of protesters that converge in an intersection just past the university gate. It’s stifling.

Dust from thousands of marching feet form a cloud that rises above us and descends on the city, adding to the surreal scene.   I knew there’d be a lot of people, but not this many.  How many were we? A thousand? 8,000? 12,000?

This was a surge. A surge of humanity on the edge of despair; a surge of relief in a desert flooded by a supertyphoon, a wave of well-meaning if short-lived aid, and months of government neglect. Each one in turn.

I stand on tip-toe. There seems no end to the march. I take my first few, tentative shots.

More than 12,000 storm survivors from different parts of Leyte and Samar march in protest of government's negligence around Tacloban City. CJ Chanco

More than 12,000 storm survivors from different parts of Leyte and Samar march in protest of government’s negligence around Tacloban City. CJ Chanco

Many think I’m from the media, and break into hasty, shy smiles. Others doubt my motives. Soldiers, government officials or policemen in civilian clothes have been known to take photos of the scattered protests which have been taking place here with increasing regularity.

The distrust was understandable: Eastern Visayas had long been the playground of Jovito Palparan, a general held responsible for commanding the torture and arrest of hundreds of activists, and for a suite of other human rights violations, in the early years of the former Arroyo administration.  It was during this period that sections of the military turned into a de facto mercenary defence force for hacienda owners, commercial plantations, and large-scale mines that were pit against communist rebels.

When hundreds of soldiers arrived in Leyte in the weeks following Yolanda – in fact, they arrived before government relief, to ensure security by cracking down on “looters” – they arrived, bringing back memories of fear, dispossession and landlessness that have made their mark on a region that is one of the poorest in the country.


In the crowd something catches my eye. Among the marchers is a woman, in front of me, ambling slowly under the noon-day sun. She’s clutching her son’s arm.  A small towel, stained with the sweat and grime of work on the fields, is the only protection the two have from the glare of the sun.

The woman, Teresa, is well into her eighties and has lost sight in both eyes. She was the same woman we’d given a medical check-up this morning.  Her middle-aged son is a fisherman, like many of the marchers. Mother and son inch forward.

Eventually I lose sight of them, with people cramming the road from end to end. We turn a corner and spot Gaisano grocery store, the main target of ‘looting’ binges in the days after the storm. Few of the looters, of course, were the ‘professional criminals’ commonly portrayed by the cops. The victims of the Manila-based media’s smear campaign were in reality families just scrambling to survive (among their ranks: the wife of the mayor, who managed to snag a pair of jeans from a looted department store).

We cross a few more blocs and reach a small clearing by the coast. A small stage in the middle of the road – built with a few crates and an old pick-up truck – rises above a few market stalls.

The first thing that catches my attention are the streamers, banners and placards. They’re everywhere.

Ipadayonan Relief tubtob kina hanglan sa mga Biktima! Speed up relief efforts – aid to the victims!

Ipakigbisog an Pagkaon, Pabalay, Pakabuhi ngan Serbisyo Sosyal! Fight for the Right to Food, Housing, Jobs and Social Services!

40K Subsidiyo, ihatag ha kada Pamilya! Php 40K Subsidy for every family! (the estimated amount needed by a family hit by Yolanda to survive for two months)

NO-BUILD ZONE: Kontra-mamamayan, Land-grabbing! The government has prevented thousands of   displaced families from rebuilding on lands they were originally on, claiming they’re far too dangerous for residential occupation. The catch: despite the alleged risks, many of these neighbourhoods are on public land bought up by private real-estate developers a few years ago. The survivors will have to be relocated to temporary bunkhouses built out of flimsy plywood and corrugated iron, long since criticised by Architect Felinio Palafox and the United Nations for failing to meet international standards for basic safety.


Residents along the shoreline are opposed to dislocation by the government's 'No-Build Zone' policy.  CJ Chanco

Residents along the shoreline are opposed to dislocation by the government’s ‘No-Build Zone’ policy. CJ Chanco

Then I hear the voices. Each one – from farmers, community organisers, a student who lost her father in the storm – builds up to a poignant crescendo. Each one speaks of promised aid from the government that simply would not arrive in time, if it would arrive at all.

Each one speaks of death, destruction and loss, but also of hope, resilience and rebuilding, stressing clearly the difference between victim and survivor.

Days 3-4 – Beyond Tacloban

We spend another night at the University of the Philippines-Tacloban, before making our way through the coastal suburbs of Tacloban to the municipality of Alangalang, further inland.

Our rented jeepney drives us through endless fields of rice: many only now throwing up the first tentative shoots of new life after months of. Nearly all the coconut trees that pass us by face East, as though bowing, prostrate, before a distant Mecca.

After a brief stop-over at Palo, our caravan reaches Sitio Bigaa, a small cluster of homes on the outskirts of Barangay Langit, Alang-alang.  We manage to hand over relief goods – clothes, food, medicines, cooking utensils, construction materials – to some two hundred families from Bigaa and neighbouring barangays, but on the way out, our aid truck gets stuck in a mud pit.

Jerry, a local kagawad overseeing local relief operations, rushes to my side. We watch helplessly as more than a dozen villagers push the truck, unloading and reloading goods to lighten the load. The engine shifts to high gear to no avail. It takes us another two hours of heaving and hauling to shake it free.

Jerry considers himself lucky. He and most of his relatives escaped the storm relatively unscathed, apart from a few scratches here and there – and a home completely destroyed. While his family huddled in their tiny bathroom, a single, strong gust of wind tore off their roof and sent it flying to the next barangay. They waited for days before the first signs of contact arrived from Tacloban city. They ate wet palay, inedible under most circumstances, picking through the remains of their crops to survive.

Then the days stretched into weeks, and relief goods came pouring in from people in Manila and around the world eager to reach out… but today  aid  has slowed down to a trickle, even in the city proper.

In Sitio Bigaa, Alangalang, Leyte, the destruction of coconut trees spell hunger for farmers. CJ Chanco

In Sitio Bigaa, Alangalang, Leyte, the destruction of coconut trees spell hunger for farmers. CJ Chanco

A group of survivors awaiting relief goods by people's organisations led by Balsa. CJ Chanco

A group of survivors awaiting relief goods by people’s organisations led by Balsa. CJ Chanco

In Bigaa, the World Food Programme still distributes about a sack of rice per family each week (around two kilos or more for every child) – and a handful of charities still visit them on occasion – but aid from the government itself has been sorely lacking.  A few weeks ago, representatives from the Department of Social Welfare and Development arrived here, asking hundreds of families to move to temporary bunkhouses that are as distant from their livelihoods as they are unsafe.

The plywood shacks on offer have sagging floors and flood after barely half an hour of rain. And rain has been pouring down constantly since Yolanda, like aftershocks from a big quake.

Jerry and his family, among hundreds of others, rejected the offer. People would rather build their own homes near lands they have cultivated for decades.  Give them the resources needed to rebuild, he says, and communities will recover. What people need here more than ever is long-term support, and above all cash, jobs and tools for reconstruction.


Bigaa suffered fewer casualties, he tells me, than those in communities along the coast.  Yolanda’s impact on local agriculture, however, has been devastating, wiping out vast tracts of coconut groves and rice fields literally overnight. This has been especially difficult for the majority of small farmers who don’t own the lands they till. Already in debt before the storm, many have taken on even more loans to rebuild their homes and replant their fields.

In Carigara, the next town we visit, Edwardo Bastol and Melecio Llagas, tell me a similar story.

Melecio is Edwardo’s uncle, pushing into his late fifties. Both of their homes were levelled by Yolanda, which saw a whole river redirected from East to West, flooding hundreds of acres of crops.

When I visit them in their half-built home near Carigara elementary school (its roof still plastered with donated UN tarpaulins), Melecio is balancing himself on a single wooden plank, hammering away and eager to share their tale.

Construction materials promised them had not arrived in time. In fact they received nothing in any kind of aid, apart from food. Barangay officials assured them there was no need. They had already begun to rebuild their home, after all.

There’s the catch. Edwardo has indeed managed to carve out a small but sturdy cement shack for his wife, two children, and his uncle who has since moved in with him – but only after taking out a hefty loan from his employer, a local vulcanizing shop owner.

Without it, it would have been impossible to rebuild. Thousands like Edwardo have dug themselves deeper in debt as a result.

Food, seeds, electricity, fuel, clothes, school supplies for their children, yero – corrugated iron roofs – are expensive. Post-disaster inflation, brought on partly by the difficulty of shipping goods to Leyte and the lack of proper public subsidies, has sent prices soaring.

Makeshift houses in Tacloban City. CJ Chanco

Makeshift houses in Tacloban City. CJ Chanco

I arrive at a small grove a few blocks away, hidden by coco palms.  I look around me, and note in passing the austere, almost deceitful, beauty of the place, perhaps concealing more than it reveals.  A mountain on the other side, after all, used to be covered entirely with coconut trees and green shrubs, locals tell us. Now green is the exception, appearing only in isolated patches between emptied-out fields slicked in mud after the storm.

I stumble on a ruined shack.  Tattered curtains are draped on a few walls still standing. Bits and pieces of chicken wire lay scattered about. At first I mistake it for a chicken coop, then realise it’s someone’s home – or used to be. Torn clothes, some still damp, lay, as if to dry, on a bamboo pole.

Sunlight pours in from the emptied-out frame of the roof, like a wooden skeleton.

The place looks abandoned, so I turn to leave, before a woman approaches me from a corner, shyly, cradling a boy in her arms.

Estelita Garantinao is in her sixties and lives alone, with her husband and three-year-old grandson. Like most other families, the child’s parents have moved to Manila, hoping to send money back home.

Her husband is paralysed from the waist down. He would have died in the storm had she not pushed him away in time as the wind heaved a tree from its roots – a kind of pillar in the middle of their nipa hut that had been its foundation – and hurled it down in front of them.

It was a caimito tree that had weathered countless storms for over twenty years – until Yolanda.

It crushed everything from their bedroom to their tiny kitchen.

Estelita has no money to spare to rebuild or even clean up. She washes clothes for her neighbours, and earns just enough for her family to eat. She’s too weak now to rebuild from scratch, all by herself.

So three months after the storm, their tiny home is in shambles. They live in a temporary shack, even smaller than the first, built by her brother next to the ruins.

Estelita stops talking. I realise she opened up to me before she even got my name, before I even got to say a few words in reply. I tell her I’m from the relief caravan and she thanks us for our help. At this I feel more shame than pride. Had I really helped? Had I done any more than report on their grief?  What did we from Manila really know about their plight?

And did I interview the others, she asks? The boy who lost his whole family in the storm; the pregnant young mother, her husband a jeepney barker in Manila?

There were stories. Hundreds of them. But there was simply no time to hear them all.  We would leave for Palo the next morning.

A woman among the ruins in Palo, Leyte. CJ Chanco

A woman among the ruins in Palo, Leyte. CJ Chanco

Day 5 – Palo and Back to Manila

It was like a scene from Titanic. Walls of water rush in as floors give way to a seething ocean. People clamber onto their roofs, and grab anything they can find as the tide surges forth, enveloping everything in its path.   Class D passengers, women and children included, drown in the cabins below, while the aristocrats of the upper decks escape unscathed. The homes of the poor are wiped out. The mansions are left standing, empty for now, their distant occupants safe in Manila.

This is how survivors remember Yolanda at its height, those harrowing moments during the storm. What unfolded in its aftermath is described in terms no less disturbing:

Relief goods bought and paid for, or stolen outright by local officials who have divided the spoils between themselves and their voters.  A ravaged local economy, leaving one of the poorest and most unequal parts of the country with a population even more vulnerable, post-Yolanda.   Rehabilitation efforts being given over to Big Business, courtesy of Panfilo Lacson, the region’s “rehab czar”, who has officially declared his support for a private-sector led initiative.

Already, real estate, construction and commercial investors that run the gamut from Consunji to Ayala to Pangilinan have sunk their teeth into juicy contracts included in the government’s rebuilding and rehousing programmes.  Homes for the survivors of Yolanda will be built by the builders of Manila condominiums. Thousands will never be able to afford them. Tens of thousands more will remain homeless, landless, and jobless in a region that will surely take more than a decade to recover even half of what it has lost, in money and in human life.

But some scenes of recovery are visible.

Communities are picking themselves up from the ruins, mostly thanks to people’s own efforts in the absence of government support. Palo regional hospital is being rebuilt, courtesy of the South Korean military. Crime rates are fairly low, despite sensationalised reports of “mass looting” in the days after Yolanda.  Donations are trickling in, thanks to scattered charity drives that can only do so much without a more comprehensive, pro-active role in the rehab efforts by the state.

And the corpses are gone.

Many, of course, are still missing; others were buried after more than a month in an advanced state of decay.  As of late January, new bodies are being discovered, at a rate of one per day, calling into question the government’s modest estimates of more than 6,700 dead.


Smiling children in Palo, Leyte. CJ Chanco

Smiling children in Palo, Leyte. CJ Chanco

In Palo, roofless buildings are perhaps the second most common sight one sees across the town. The first most common?  Smiling children.

From day one, children would huddle around me and my camera –  something I would get used to after a week in Leyte. Indeed, raising the camera to my face to take a shot seemed a cue for someone to smile. And smile people did, with broad grins that stretched up to the wrinkles of their eyes.

What made them smile wasn’t innocence. They had all seen too much for that.

It would be another 24-hour journey before I could finally reach home. In Eastern Visayas, some 15 million people have a much longer journey ahead of them.

It’s difficult for the casual observer to connect any of the horrors its people have faced with the beaming faces you meet in this society of contradictions.  It’s easy to be misled.  Sometimes suffering can be too deeply etched on a person’s face that the sheer weight of their troubles erases all external signs of sorrow or despair, because succumbing to despair is useless when your life is at stake, and you have a family of five to care for.

Whether or not this is a sign of genuine happiness or isolated glimpses of joy – temporary breaks in an otherwise painful existence – is another matter.  What comes out as resilience can be hidden sorrow or   anger, long repressed.  To the greatest tragedies, there are only ever two ways humanity can respond.

Resignation – or rage.


CJ Chanco is a freelance writer, photographer, and research officer at the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. In late January, he joined volunteer doctors from Balsa and Samahang Operasyong Sagip as they made their way across Tacloban city and neighbouring barrios in a five-day relief caravan.

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#ForwardMarch: Pasulong na martsa ng kilusang kontra-pork barrel Sat, 14 Sep 2013 19:20:25 +0000

Mas maliit man kaysa sa naunang pagtitipon noong Agosto 26, malakas pa ring inirehistro ng humigit-kumulang 15,000 katao sa Luneta ang paglaban sa pork barrel. 

Hindi ipinagbawal, bagkus ay hinimok pa, ng mga organisador ng #ForwardMarch ang pagdadala ng mga plakard, bannersstreamers, watawat, effigy at kung anu-ano pang porma ng biswal na protesta.

May mataimtim na pananalangin, pero mayroon ding maingay na pagtugtog ng mga banda at musikero, ang narinig mula sa entablado. Dahil dito, isang makulay, malikhain at matunog na protesta ang inirehistro ng mga mamamayan noong Setyembre 13.

Nilahukan, siyempre, ang protesta ng organisadong hanay ng mga mamamayan. Bahagi ang militanteng mga grupo, mga alyado nila, at progresibong mga indibidwal at netizens sa Abolish the Pork Barrel Movement (#AbolishPork) na nag-organisa sa protestang iyon.

Pero bukod dito, lumahok din ang iba’t ibang eskuwelahan, mula sa pampublikong mga pamantasan hanggang sa eksklusibo at Katolikong eskuwelahan.

Samantalang nagtipon sa Liwasang Bonifacio ang mga organisasyon sa ilalim ng Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), naglunsad naman ng banal na misa ang mga pari at relihiyoso sa simbahan ng San Agustin sa Intramuros, bago nagmartsa patungong Luneta.

Patungo sa parke, tinagpo nila ang mga kapwa-relihiyoso mula sa mga Kristiyanong Protestante, kasama ang whistleblowers sa pangunguna ni Jun Lozada. Nakasama pa ng mga relihiyosong Protestante si dating Chief Justice Reynato Puno.

IKILIK ANG LARAWAN PARA MAKITA NANG MALAKI. #ForwardMarch sa Luneta Park, 13 Setyembre 2013. (Mga larawang pinagdikit, ni Pher Pasion)

IKILIK ANG LARAWAN PARA MAKITA NANG MALAKI. #ForwardMarch sa Luneta Park, 13 Setyembre 2013. (Mga larawang pinagdikit, ni Pher Pasion)

Sa Luneta, muling naglunsad ng ecumenical service ang mga relihiyosong Katoliko, Protestante, at Muslim. Tinapos ito ng talumpati ni Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, na matapang na nananawagan ng pananalangin at pagkilos.

“Magdasal tayo,” sabi ni Cruz. “Pero kumilos din tayo. Maganda ang dasal pero hindi sapat ang dasal.”

Sinabi niya na makapangyarihan ang dalawang ito — panalangin at pagkilos — para tutulan ang “kababuyang” nagaganap sa bansa ngayon.

Inunahan na rin niya ang inaasahang pagmamaliit ng Malakanyang at midya sa pagkilos ng mga mamamayan noong araw na iyon.

“Kung may magsasabi na ang taong wala rito (sa Luneta) ay sang-ayon sa pork barrel system mo (Pangulong Aquino), nagkakamali ka,” ani Cruz.

Maaari umanong “wala lang pamasahe, o walang laman ang tiyan” ng mga mamamayang hindi nakalahok sa protesta.

“Pero imposible na payag sila sa mga nangyayari sa bayan natin ngayon,” pagtatapos ng Arsobispo.

Dumulo ang programa sa mga talumpati at pagtatanghal, at konsiyerto — tinaguriang “Rock and Rage” — ng mga musikerong malakas na nagpahayag ng pagtutol sa sistema ng pork barrel, sa korupsiyon sa pamahalaan, at sa pagsasamantala ng iilan sa nakararaming mamamayan.

Nangako silang magpapatuloy ang mga protesta. May nakatakda na, sa Setyembre 21, pero bago at matapos ang petsang ito, inaasahang magpapatuloy ang pagpapahayag ng pagtutol sa lahat ng porma ng pork barrelhanggang mabasura ito, o mabasura ang mga nagtataguyod nito.


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Bj Patiño | Vanished Lives, Remembered Moments Thu, 29 Aug 2013 23:22:29 +0000 ]]> 0 Macky Macaspac | Fading Memories Thu, 29 Aug 2013 23:10:41 +0000
This is the story of Sugar, who has fading memories of his father, Gabriel, and grandfather, Rogelio. Both Gabriel and Rogelio Calubad were abducted by military elements on June 2006.


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Marc Talampas | A Son’s Struggle Thu, 29 Aug 2013 22:43:41 +0000

June 26, 2006 turned out to be an eventful day for Gloria Soco.

While on her way to see her ailing father, the van that she was in was forced to a stop by five other vehicles carrying armed men somewhere in Camarines Norte. She and her four companions were then handcuffed, blindfolded and made to ride in separate vehicles.

“My mother is an ordinary citizen. She does not belong to any mass organization nor has she violated any law or caused trouble to anybody to deserve such a cruel fate,” says Eugenio Soco, the son, who has now taken it upon himself to continue the search for his mother.

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Mon Mamaril | Bakas Thu, 29 Aug 2013 22:39:04 +0000

Isinilang at lumaki sa Kalye Ilang-Ilang sa Pandacan, Maynila si Lydia Laborera de Castro — sa isang payak na bahay na magiging tahanan sa kanyang pamilya at kanlungan ng mga aktibista ng kanilang panahon. Dito nagsasagawa noon ng mga pagpupulong ang kanyang asawang si Saulo de Castro noong unang bahagi ng dekada ‘80, para sa Kilusang May Uno.

Kalagitnaan ng dekadang iyon, naging aktibo na rin sa kilusan si Lydia. Habang tumatagal, naramdaman nilang nagiging kumplikado ang kanilang pamumuhay. Panahon ng maraming disoryentasyon. Kaya noong 1988, lumipat ang kanilang pamilya sa Bicol, sa tahanang napag-ipunan ng isa sa kanilang mga anak na nagtrabaho sa ibang bansa.

Dahil kinakailangan pa ring kumita, si Saulo’y naglalako ng sigarilyo sa umaga, at balut naman sa gabi. Si Lydia naman, naiiwan lamang sa bahay. Noong umaga ng ika-6 ng Oktubre 1988, inihatid  ni Saulo ang isa sa mga anak sa paaralan. Matapos mag-uwi ng ulam, tumungo siya sa isang kapatid sa kalapit na baryong Iyam. Hindi na siya nakauwi mula noon. May mga nagsabing dinukot siya ng apat na armadong lalaki lulan ng isang owner-type jeep.

Nagmistulang bangungot ang mga sumunod na linggopara kay Lydia; tila nakakarinig siya ng mga yabag at putok ng baril sa kalagitnaan ng gabi. Naramdaman niyang hindi na sila ligtas. Dala ng pagod dulot ng paghahanap at pag-iisip, pinili niyang bumalik sa Pandacan.

Lumipas ang mga taon at ang epekto ng pagkawala ni Saulo’y ramdam pa rin hindi lamang ni Lydia kundi ng buong pamilya De Castro. Hanggang ngayon, tila bumibisita pa rin ang espiritu ng ama sa isa sa mga anak at madalas niya itong sinasapian. Si Lydia naman, dumudukot na lamang ng lakas sa kanyang pananampalataya sa Diyos at mga kaibigan. Binuo niya ang Dekada ’80, isang maliit samahan ng mga dating aktibista at mga kaanak ng desaparecidos.

Ngayong higit animnapu’t apat na taon na si Lydia, sinasabi niyang tanggap na niya ang nangyari sa kaniyang asawa. Aniya’y wala siyang hinihinging anumang tulong. Bagkus, ang kailangan ng mga tulad niyang naiwan ay mga tanging makikinig at malawak na pag-intindi sa kanilang mga pinagdaanan.

Sa ngayo’y halos wala na ring bakas si Saulo sa kanilang tahanan. Ang bawat pagtungo nila noon sa iba’t ibang presinto upang maghanap ay bumabawas sa iilang lawarang mayroon siya. Ang mga ito’y isa-isang nawala, hanggang sa  mistulang pangalan at alaala na lamang niya ang naiwan.

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