The year that was

2016 has been a year of many deaths. From the last six months at least, about 6,000 victims have been killed from the war on drugs. They were called addicts, criminals, zombies, and scums of the earth by no other than the father of the country. They deserved it all, he said. 

It has been a year of mourning for many families. Mothers had to bury sons, sons had to bury fathers, and wives had to survive without their husbands. The list goes on, but one thing is common to most. Pusher or not, they were a loss and a loved one.

On December 14, Enrico Ranho was sleeping beside his daughter when unidentified masked men barged into his house and shot him in the head. Eight-year old Erica was left with her papa’s dead body, blood, and trauma. It was later on found out that the killers were looking for a “Fernando,” and not her father Enrico. 

Last week, Elizabeth Navarro buried her husband and five-year old son who were killed inside their home. In the day of their funeral, she walked from the church to the cemetery with her feet as swollen as her eyes, and her three daughters behind her back. She is jobless and nine-months pregnant. God knows what future holds for her and her children. Her husband Domingo was the only one who kept them alive.

On Christmas eve, Kimberly Sailog spent the night beside the casket of her daughter. They were attending the dawn mass when a stray bullet hit and pierced her daughter’s heart which was intended for a village watchman in the area. Kristine died whispering "mama" until she was gone. She was only 12 years old. 

Two days ago, 13-year Congcong buried his father who was killed in the wake of his aunt. He held his father until the last seconds of his life, begging the killers to save him a few breaths. He would later on find out that he also been shot twice in the leg. He spent Christmas with his siblings and cousins eating noche buena in company of two dead parents. 

Pusher or not, they still were a loved one. Pusher or not, they were a loss to some. Pusher or not, they did not deserve to die. 

Tonight, thousands of sons and daughters, and wives and husbands will welcome the new year without their loved one. Next year, how many more will be gone? 

About that night:

My pictures are not enough to tell you the story. And rightfully so, because they should never be. We could go on for days and weeks and months of telling stories of the dead—and still, they will not be enough. 

Since the day I worked in the night shift, I have been haunted. 

Late in the evening and up 'til the morning rose, we rushed through the empty roads, navigating dark alleys, looking for the police report almost always in an unsuspecting street or shanty. 

It's just like in the movies. 

Pools of fresh blood, bullets sprayed like light rain, unbothered authorities, and a circle of spectators as if an audience of a movie scene.  

And then there are the protagonists. The stars of the night. Gunned, masked, and labeled with atrocities—roles they did not sign for. A morbid ending to an already tragic plot. 

In most films, this is how it ends. In the movies, when the credits roll, it's over. You go home and sleep in peace.

In the crime scene, you watch and you don't feel anything. You don't know what's happening until hours after. Until it comes back in your head:

The sound of a woman shrieking in pain, the face of a mother painted red with her own blood, the pleading of a helpless child, the spotlight coming from the police car making shadows in the tragic scenario, making the macabre a little less than it is. 

Before you know it, you're already haunted. Now it stays in your heart. The shrieking, the dying, the tragedy.

You see it, hear it—once, twice, and many times more in one night. And you go home just as the first light of the morning comes, you lie in your bed as the scene replays in your head, and you ask yourself:

Where does it go from here? 


Drawing the lines

In journalism, words and photographs solidify the existence of events. They are the bread and butter of every newspaper—the reason why the print industry lives. But in history, words and photographs are not the only authors. Editors, writers, and photographers are the frontrunners but not the only players in the game. 

There are artists. Editorial cartoonists and graphic artists drawing history by drawing lines. Lines that evoke issues, lines that hold one’s sentiments, lines that attack the enemies, or—in rare occurrences—praise the heroes. They are, as written in the walls of the exhibit, "a demarcation of space, a declaration of one’s position or stance, and even a gesture to a limit.”

They are the works of artists Francisco Coching, Danilo Dalena, Neil Doloricon, E.Z. Izon, Dengcoy Miel, Dante Perez, Jose Tence Ruiz, and Pinggot Zulueta exhibited at the Lopez Museum for the show, Drawing The Lines. They are veterans, one even a National Artist (Coching), whose careers have inspired many, and works have transpired thoughtful discourse. 

The drawings are mostly taken from the pages of The Manila Chronicle and Philippine Free Press which date as far back to the 60's. They were once attacks on politicians who have now retired or died, think pieces on issues that we have supposedly outgrown, and portrayals of problems that we should have solved. 

But here they are. Suited just as well for our time. 

In the almost-one year I’ve worked in a newspaper, I always thought the photographs were underrated and us, photographers were underdogs. But like in many cases, I am proven wrong. Because here are the underdogs. Here are the never-to-see-the-light-of-day artworks of artists who’ve worked just as hard as the writers, and photographers, but given so little chance or as in a newspaper—so little space. 

These works, and a hundred more, are on display at Lopez Museum, Pasig City until July 8, 2016. 

To the martyrs

In the museum it's called the Hall of Forgotten Martyrs. Of students and teachers, of nuns and soldiers, of a man from the mountains—of people from all walks of life. 

One is a militant to the government, a hero to the opressed, a daugher to her beloved parents, and a mother to her son. She is Maria Lorrena Barros. Laurie, to most. The proud founder of MAKIBAKA, Free Movement of New Women.
An iskolar ng bayan, the woman knew not to be scared to seek for rights that are only fair, to believe in her ideals that are only just. 

She is tortured and imprisoned a year after Martial Law was declared. Killed in a bloody encounter three years after. Some would say she is a man, but perhaps such is an insult to a mother who's a fighter. She is a new Filipina. The new Filipina.

And in her own words, "the new woman, the new Filipina, is first and foremost a militant. The new Filipina is one who can stay whole days and nights with striking workers, learning from them the social realities which her bourgeois education has kept from her. She is a woman who has discovered the exalting realm of responsibility, a woman fully engaged in the making of history. No longer is she a woman for marriage, but more and more a woman for action.”

The Hall of Forgotten Martyrs tells the story of the rebels who dared to speak against the atrocities during the nine-year martial rule of Ferdinand Marcos. It was inside the nine-part experiential museum, "Journey To The Light" in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City especially organized for the 30th anniversary of the People Power Revolution on February 25. 

I wrote more about the museum in a feature I wrote for UCANews. Read the full story here

Celebrating Chinese New Year

Before the defeaning scenes in Binondo, there was the serene and silent inside the Seng Guan temple in Divisoria. Inside, it was as if you were in another world. Everywhere were the aroma of incense and the strong, sweet smell of patchouli; the worshippers praying and paying respects to Buddha, greeting the new year with thanksgiving; and little kids taught of the buddhist rituals by their elders, bowing endlessly to their rightful gods.

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And again I am convinced that religion, no matter how conflicted and confusing, is still a gift to mankind.