Category: Published Images

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.

Our Book is Finally Out!

Our book,  about Philippine trade gates and their keepers and the problem of corruption and rampant smuggling, is finally out! It will be available in major bookstores starting next week.

Inside the Lion’s Den is a photographic reportage by Jes Aznar, accompanied by essays written by Iris Gonzales, on fragments of daily life inside the country’s trade gates, port areas and the men and women who work here.

It is a documentary journey of a photographer and a writer inside a bureaucracy often unknown to and deplored by the outside world – the Bureau of Customs, its collection districts around the country, far-flung sub-ports and the men and women who comprise it.

It is a story of many stories of survival, self-preservation, and dreams coming true.

The collection of images captured the different aspects of life in both the Bureau of Customs and in the many ports around the country.

The essays provide information on the history of the bureau and the collection districts that are defined by their geographical positions and the economies in their respective areas. The articles also tackle the problem of rampant smuggling and the culture of corruption inside.

It is a journalistic endeavor driven by a desire to chronicle something important in a society struggling to exist meaningfully and define itself, and the need to share it.

The book is edited by Sonny Yabao with text editing by Michael Marasigan. It is published by Europa.


With unprecedented access granted by its very own Commissioner and if only from a pure photo-documentary standpoint, the images break positive new ground in the direction of public interest and what can hopefully be more honestly transparent and real views of a public agency’s actual role in the country’s life and function. – Ben Razon, from the Foreword to the Photographs.



Over a dead body


A detail of an old and neglected photo of Former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos inside the Marcos museum in Batac, Ilocos Norte.

Every once in a while, and whenever the occasion calls for it, the debate on whether to let the remains of former president Ferdinand Marcos should be given a hero’s burial or not arises. The Marcos family has long been asking for this. They say that he should, as he once was a soldier that served during world war II, and that  he served his country well for more than 20 years before his ouster by a popular uprising  in 1986.

This assignment for the New York Times took us far up north to his hometown in Ilocos Norte. I was there when I did another assignment for the Times last year and like before, the name of Marcos brings back memories of my childhood years when everything seems to be in order at the surface and then the sudden escalation of chaos the next. Like a volcano erupting after years of silence.

During my grade school years, beauty and order was an absolute rule. Every part of the public school that I went to was virtually spotless while the faint sound of the Maharlika was playing over and over in the background. Public walls were painted spotless white and in the middle of the road you will find an officer with his proud sash and shiny boots minding the flow of traffic like clockwork. In class, we were told how bright our future was, and that it would stay that way only if we will be obedient to the great ruler.  In virtue of the true, the good and  the beautiful, there was somehow a sense that everything was in order while growing up during the Marcos years.  A far cry to what we have seen when we arrived in his mausoleum in his home town 21 years later, as described by a colleague Carlos Conde. Everything was ill-maintained and dilapidated and the photographs that hang on the walls and the memorabilia are in a state of disrepair. The ceiling leaked. The floor looked like it had not been cleaned for weeks, with candy wrappers strewn about.

Later on, during my early years as well, I have started to see and appreciate things not just from its surface. There was this scene in our town that had been inscribed in my mind forever. Soldiers and tanks passing by the road on front of our house while my young brother, who at that age didn’t have any idea of what was going on, held a poster with a big black “Boycott” sign.  My first reaction was, why would anyone want to boycott a democratic process like the election? I did not notice it at first but after seeing  this scene, I realized that I was beginning to question things. Its like everything that they taught us in school didn’t fit in the present situation at that time. One of those early question is that why were there sick and impoverished people living behind those spotless white painted walls found everywhere our country.

Inside the mausoleum, there lies the late dictator. A woman visitor in her 40s describes the former president as still young looking, just like how he was when he was still in power. At peace inside his vacuum sealed and refrigerated coffin. In between sprays of air freshener by the guard on duty, a set of new visitors comes in as another come out the exit door, mostly families on a holiday trip.

I accompanied veteran journalist Seth Mydans on this assignment for the Times  and he did a great piece on whether he should be buried as a hero or stay displayed inside a glass for people to see and remember a symbol of a country’s bitter past.

Visitors view photos of Former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos inside the Marcos museum in Batac.

Click the link below or here for the story.




$1,000 cheques for being abducted, tortured, or killed under Marcos Rule

Too dark to remember. By Iris Gonzales

After 25 years of waiting and litigation, compensation was served.  But most victims under the martial rule of Ferdinand Marcos demands justice, not just the $1,000 check, after suffering grave human rights violations for years.

Read the story on the New York Times here and on New Internationalist here.