Tagged: Philippines

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.




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.



Testament #3



Higaonon tribe women leader Bae Adelfa Belayong, 47, lost a daughter, husband and brother because they refused to give up their land and community to mining. In 2005, the government, through the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) asked them to sign a contract that would pave the way for foreign mining companies to get hold of their resource rich ancestral land. The NCIP claims that the land belongs to the government and they should not resist the signing of the contract. But aware of the harm that the mining operation and the alleged ‘development’ would do to their community and their families, they insisted “This land is our ancestral land, and this land is ours long before you established that government of yours. Where do we farm if we give our lands to you?” During that time, government troops in large numbers began to operate in their area in Agusan de Sur. Many of the young males in their tribe were forced to join the paramilitary or face harsh consequences. Her husband, Datu Maampagi, was tagged as a rotten tomato by the military and was among those killed. Bayi Adelfa still laments the pain of how her four year old child was decapitated after being shot by paramilitaries on the neck while she carried her child on her back.

Testaments to the culture of impunity in the Philippines. Here are the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, whose lives were shaken and who continue to bear the pain of the wounds of human rights violations by the state in a society where impunity reigns and perpetrators roam free.

Testament #2



Manobo tribal leader Genasque Enriquez. Their resource-rich 59 thousand hectare ancestral land in Surigao del Sur is under heavy militarization as foreign mining companies set up extraction of minerals in their domain.


Testaments to the culture of impunity in the Philippines. Here are the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, whose lives were shaken and who continue to bear the pain of the wounds of human rights violations by the state in a society where impunity reigns and perpetrators roam free.

In The Name of the Mother

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It was a humid August night in Manila years ago when I found myself walking on a muddy pathway in pitch-black darkness looking for a house in the slums of BASECO. The stench of human waste and death in the air was inescapable. With only the faint but distinct blinking red and blue lights of a patrol car as my guide, I walked carefully toward the lights but fast enough to catch my picture for the day. After a few dozen jumps around filthy puddles, I finally arrived in this house with a lifeless man on the ground bearing the numbers: SOCO 230-07 PHE 349-07. A crime scene–a man mercilessly murdered with a single shot on the head by an unknown assailant. But just a few steps away, as investigators and kibitzers huddled around the body, was a scene more brutal than the crime itself.

Silently staring outside the window of their very small house were 9 children. They are the family of the deceased, said a voice from behind me. I saw the eldest one, probably 13, sitting right next to a flickering lamp- the house’s only source of light. No words came out from them as they silently stared at me. With eyes loudly shouting sadness and despair, they quietly huddled with each other around the light while hearing the faint cry of their mother sobbing against the wall of their tin can house, like a lullaby in which they want to quickly fall asleep from. She looked pregnant with another child, with their youngest clutched around her arm. No words came out from me as well. I drove home stunned.

How will they survive now? I asked myself.

Such are the scenes that became a staple in my job, from the dark alleys of demolished homes to conflict ravaged lands; Scenes in which it is very hard to ignore the most vulnerable–the mothers and the children. No, they are not few. I can testify and prove that after having been around the country and having seen the dark side of the tourist billboards. Men, women, and children struggle daily for survival.

Fast forward to 2012, where in between the convolution of debates on whether to pass the Reproductive Health bill or not lies the fact that social injustice and grave inequality still prevail in this society. We need to fight for maternal health, it’s a step, but it must not stop there. Blaming population as the cause of why we are poor is not just plain irresponsible but outright dangerous. We are not that stupid.

After 14 years of dormancy after it was filed in 1999, and in between the convolution of debates on whether to pass it as a law or not, the Reproductive Health Law was finally enacted and signed by the Philippines President Simeon Benigno Aquino III.

The law, that would give funding for free contraceptives, requiring government hospitals to provide reproductive health services, and mandating sex education be taught in public schools, was met with strong opposition from the influential Catholic church in the only nation in Southeast Asia where the majority of its population are Catholics.

The issue of the country’s population, which is attributed by the law’s authors and supporters to the rising poverty level in contrast to the church’s moral discourse on abortion and contraception has been one of the widely debated aspect.

The Philippines is a country of 94 million people, where almost a third of the population live below the poverty line. With the majority of Filipinos still face rising commodity prices, record joblessness, low wages, and ever growing poverty, and with a lack of vital national industries, a declining agricultural output, and continued dependence on labor export and remittances, the question of wether this law can suffice to the plight of the everyday Filipino still remains.

How can the government of this nation that completely ignores the plight of the majority of its population make any step to help it?

I just read somewhere that in 2010, 20 million men, women, and children died of starvation. In the same year, Sex and the City 2 grossed $288 Million. Fucked up isn’t it?




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.