Humanity 2013 – In Pictures


The New York Times Year in Pictures 2013


The picture I took on assignment in Tacloban, reminds me of how fragile we are as a human being in this world.

The link brings you to the rest of the photos of events that took place in the world last 2013.




Tacloban Journal: Covering the Path of Haiyan


TACLOBAN – The city of was a mess. The most powerful typhoon ever recorded by satellites made land fall here. Slabs of concrete that were once part of houses and buildings were like dominoes, one on top of another. Millions of pieces of broken lumber, stones, household items created a whole new landscape in this city of more than 200,000. Vehicles had been  thrown like match boxes on top of roofs and across roads, as if  nature had thrown a major tantrum-fit.

Our first task after the typhoon had been to reach Tacloban. All we had seen  were the last amateur footages shown on television, of terrifying winds battering  Tacloban, and then the fast-rising water from the storm surge. Giving us this chilling impression of what awaits us the moment we set foot on this city.

Just like the dozens of calamities and disasters I have covered in the Philippines, I just know that one wont know his preparedness until the actual thing happen, and when you actually get on the ground. I know for a fact that you have to be prepared not just physically, psychologically, and emotionally, but you have to be logistically prepared as well. And this particular coverage has proved to be one of the most logistically challenging for all of us who went there.

Climate change has effectively made coverages of natural disasters like this one more frequent than before. So photographers now would not only want to get the best lenses, but also should invest in good survival gears, as you wouldn’t know how long or how hard the conditions would be. Making a decision on whether to packing light for mobility, or bringing the whole nine yards has always proved to be a hard decision.

So we decided to dig in for the long haul. When we arrived at the nearly destroyed airport, it was easy to decide that this would  be the initial base camp for us as well. The Tacloban airport lies by  the sea, and the one-story terminal had been turned into twisted steel by the force of the waves that had crashed on it. Although full of hungry, thirsty refugees, it was practically the only place that police and soldiers deployed at first. Looters, including at least some of the 1,100 people who escaped from three prisons during the storm, were being confronted by business owners with guns across the city, but the airport area, although unfenced and packed with people who appeared to have lost everything, was a little less chaotic than the rest of the city.

It has never been easy to shoot people in despair and misery. However you may want to share with the pain of the person you are shooting, you would still not bear the same intensity of their suffering. No amount of pressure of producing a picture would replace to need for compassion and giving dignity and respect to the victims.

Dozens of dead bodies lay just a few meters away from the airport’s gutted control tower, and more lay along the road going downtown. A light but steady rain fell as I walked to the city center. People milled around  carrying the few items they had  salvaged from what was left of their homes. More importantly, they were looking for food and water, as the relief effort took nearly a week to get going, only really starting when other countries realized that the typhoon was a calamity beyond the immediate ability of the Philippines government to handle. But what amazes and humbles me, is that most of these survivors and victims, no matter how bad they have been affected, would never hesitate sharing a morsel of food that they have, or extend help in any way they can to help you do your job.

Instead of waiting for help to come, many  decided to leave the city. Even the mayor called for his constituents to flee the city, as thousands of corpses in advanced decomposition lay uncollected.

A family waited for help by the road in Tacloban city.
A family waited for help by the road in Tacloban.

Everyday, families, people from all walks of life swarm to the airport to get a chance to leave. During the fist days, when there were just a few government C130 planes that were operational are at the airport, things were chaotic. The C130s were there to deliver supplies mainly, and they cannot possibly accommodate the hordes of people waiting for days for a chance to get out of the fast deteriorating city.

Surviving the wrath of storm when it made land fall was one thing, living through darkness and hunger would be another. As always, we could not complain of difficulties.  We can always leave,  but the victims of this disaster had no such option.

A Doused Light

Flowers, a bar of local chocolate, and a sachet of powdered milk  for Athena Mae, at her burial. 

She was the only child, a relative told me while walking down the road through a light but steady rain. They are carrying a piece of plywood with a black object securely fastened on top with yellow packaging tape: a body bag holding the remains of Athena Mae Pelingon, age 3. She was found under the debris two weeks after this monster of a typhoon battered and flattened most of the villages in Tacloban, killing thousands.



Berlin Journal

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The Need to Remember

Berlin — Winter is approaching fast in this city. The last remaining leaves fall on crowds of people flocking to these monuments. Braving the biting cold and silently gazing on pictures and words engraved on the ground and on walls. Perhaps more biting are the memories associated with them. They are memories of Germany’s cold and dark past. And they are here serving as reminder that events like these should never happen again.

There’s this certain feeling that the past is not so far away in Berlin. Somehow it can just be found with one peek on holes in between slabs of cold concrete walls in Bernauer Strasse. People line up, especially the younger ones who missed the era of division, and strain to see what’s inside this giant box of memories–or what was once there that is now gone.

Meanwhile swarms of warm feet slowly waltz along spaces between back-lighted letters of victims on the floor inside this dark room under the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate. Silent tears fall on faces of visitors as they read every line. These words were part of letters, diary entries and farewell notes written by victims before they were murdered by Nazis.

On one of the boxes are these words of despair and resignation to life: “Dear father, I am saying goodbye to you before I die. We would so love to live, but they won’t let us and we will die. I am so scared of this death because small children were thrown alive into the pit. Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly.”

The Sachsenhausen concentration camp just outside Berlin saw some 30,000 inmates held inside its walls who died from exhaustion, disease, malnutrition, pneumonia, etc. due to the poor living conditions. A breeze of chilly autumn wind blows on every corner of this triangular shaped prison. It was used as a labour camp, said a tour guide; prisoners were forced to work in brick factories to serve the needs of the Nazis. Now, some red bricks are displayed inside the museum as a silent witness to this camp’s brutal past.

A myriad of buildings make up another enormous complex housing millions and millions of records on paper where lives of people were closely monitored, classified and kept on index cards. The archives of the Stasi, the East German Secret Police, reveal humanity stripped down to its barest, where a person doesn’t need a name, just letters and numbers. It is nowhere near being a monument, nor anyone wants to celebrate this place but it is a reminder of the evil of men in power.

Holocaust MemorialFrom the Berlin wall memorial to the enormous obelisks in former concentration camps, Germany is trying to make its efforts known to all – the country is paying a high price for the horrors of its past. “People want their dignity back. One of the first things that we should do after a genocide, sometimes more important than food, is to put up monuments,” says Tom Koenigs, a member of the German parliament. “Truth must be found, justice served and the victim’s honor regained.”

A Statue and a Circus

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