The Continuing Story of an Informal Settler

Published September 30th, 2013

I have featured for a few years the community of informal settlers near the Philippine Senate in a series of photo essays. This year, 2013, they will finally be relocated to Hugo Perez, Trece Martirez, Cavite. Their community will give way to an expanded national road and a garden by the bay. I have chronicled here their life, livelihood, games, faces. They were part of my journey in photography. I bid them farewell to hopefully a better life, a better chance of survival.

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Million People March, 26th August 2013, Philipp...

Published August 26th, 2013

I've talked to doctors seeing their patients die because their public hospital didn't have the medicines needed; teachers complaining of lack of classrooms and books; children knocking on cars for change, or selling flowers; homeless families vomiting on spoiled food on some sidewalk. Yet, billions in people's taxes go to personal coffers. On August 26, 2013, the Filipino people decided enough is enough. The battle has just begun.

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Life of an Informal Settler

Published August 9th, 2013

They used to be called "squatters". These are people migrating to the cities to find jobs, and not being able to afford rent, occupy unused public and private land. Some have been occupying these lots for decades and generations. People trapped in the cycle of crushing poverty from grandparents to grandchildren. The government had always grappled in finding the right solution for this social crisis. Decades ago the Human Settlement program by then President Marcos started relocating these indigent families into housing projects. Several presidents later the problem persists due to a "Manila-centric" economy and the inability to launch a true population management program (due to the Catholic church sway). Recently, their numbers have begun clogging waterways and "esteros" contributing to massive floods during the monsoon season. The current administration is into an ambitious relocation program but is hampered by the lack of employment opportunities of those willing to be put under gov ...

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Portraits vol. 2

Published July 26th, 2013

A friend of mine told me that photos are about stories. If it doesn't tell one it's not worth showing.

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Portraits

Published July 26th, 2013

I just bought a a book on sale by National Geographic about portraits but showing instead some street shots. I realised I was doing the same for sometime now without knowing it.

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The streets will always have something to show ...

Published July 17th, 2013

Two years of street photography has taught me that you can go to the same street in your town everyday and it can still surprise. It will always have a new story waiting to be captured and told through images. That is, if you know where to look.

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Karaoke Night

Published April 5th, 2013

Summers are about family reunions in my country. Being Filipinos facing the karaoke or videoke machines is a given on weekends, when the adults gets a respite from their day jobs. The images captured tries to evoke the fun and electricity of the night. A few drinks, something to eat and a microphone are all it takes to celebrate the moment.

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Epiphany

Published December 1st, 2012

Religion fuels art or perhaps the human mind grappling with his self-awareness used art to create his religions. Religious ecstasy perhaps is like looking at your face at the mirror for the first time. We are awestruck with the being in front of us. A million questions. Then we look at the night sky. A million questions more.

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Where to go to get the best "pancit"

Published November 2nd, 2012

I was sad the day my favorite "panciteria" (the place for Chinese noodles), the Pacifican gave way to a 24-hour grocery. Quiapo, Manila used to have dozens of these Chinese restaurants but over decades of changing business climate, they soon became mere footnotes in gastronomic history. The photo essay shows the walk I took to the last remaining old-timey eateries. The Delicious restaurant still stands at Soler street. Of course, I ordered the heavenly Chami noodles.

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Colonial Past

Published October 21st, 2012

In the heart of Manila lies the ghosts of its past. Once stately mansions are now multi-family dormitories. A fire a few years ago gutted down several of these historical building along Hidalgo and Arlegui streets in Quiapo, Manila. The area was once home to the oligarchy lining the street towards the Malacanan Palace.

The railway system was first modernized during the American period but fell into moribund times until recently when repairs were made and new trains were bought by the government.

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On a public holiday

Published August 27th, 2012

No work today so I took the train from Blumentritt and alighted at the España station. Wlaked e length of the avenue and too some pictures on an ancient Panasonic LX3. The shots couldn't match the newer technology of my Nikon but it served its purpose.

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Libertad "Wet" Market, Pasay City

Published August 23rd, 2012

I remember when I was a kid, my mother would send me out to buy meat and fish from our local "wet" market. What we bought were not put in plastic bags like today. Each shopper would bring their own native baskets or "bayong", for those who really had to buy more. These places were called "wet market" because the floors are always wet as the sellers would sprinkle water regulary over the meat and fish to keep them looking fresh. Shoppers would pinch and smell the goods before buying. They were trained to look for signs of "real" freshness. In the supermarket, they cannot handle the goods in the same way.

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Aduana Ruins

Published August 21st, 2012

I always wanted to go to abandoned old places and take some pictures. Going to the old city of Intramuros gave me my first opportunity to shoot a very old building that was built in the 19th century. The Aduana building was the former Customs House during the Spanish and American period. It was heavily bombed by both the Americans and the Japanese during World War II.

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Future characters in a changing landscape

Published July 6th, 2012

In as little as two years the places I took pictures of will be different. Shops and buildings will replace them. I wonder about the future selves of the characters you see these images. How many of them will go on to be doctors and engineers? Who among them will continue their circle of poverty-stricken lives.

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The Philippine Post Office

Published June 28th, 2012

At the foot of Lawton lies a casualty of the internet age - the Philipine Post Office. I still remember when throngs of people line up in this building to send their letters to distant places. Now only a few windows are manned. It is now quiet here. No hawkers are selling envelopes and ballpens outside can be seen. I heard this building has been bought already to be transformed maybe into a hotel or a mall. It will soon be gone.

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Evangelista Street

Published June 17th, 2012

There is a street that never sleeps. Right in the heart of downtown Manila is Evangelista street. It starts from the Basilica of the Black Nazarene, Quiapo and ends in Recto Avenue, Sta. Cruz. The streets are lined with food stops and hardware stores. There used to be residential apartments here but they are now being torn down. I could see condominiums risng in the future. But in the faces of its denizens I can still see the soul of old Manila.

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Old ideas, new pictures

Published June 12th, 2012

I always loved the sepia tones of family heirloom photographs. I am amazed of the details and the stunning composition of the nameless photographers. Later I discovered several masters who printed the borders of the film they used, suggesting they never cropped their shots. Using Film Lab, Infinicam and Picboost apps on the iPad I processed the images here to look like they were taken a long time ago.

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A little piece of paradise

Published June 11th, 2012

When you find your center, you find your heart. Pain, poverty, strife, the lot of the human condition becomes ethereal when you see truth directly. When the eyes pierce the veil of reality and see truth in its orginal face, the sky and earth are one.

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A little deeper into the undiscovered country

Published June 10th, 2012

On the day Pacquiao fought, I asked myself should I watch the delayed telecast or shouldn't I. Then I decided there wouldn't be too much people on the street as all of them would be glued to their TV sets. I grabbed my camera and took the downtown train. I walked a little farther than before. There is something magical about the inner cities. You never know what you will find. Like a jazz improv, it's different everytime. The fear that you might get mugged adds to the adrenalin rush. As I took these shots I hear a bebop jam in my head.

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To Those Whose Homes are to be Demolished

Published June 7th, 2012

I probably made pictures of this place a hundred times. Each time, a page is turned and a new story unfolds. One mother told me, they were from Bacolod originally and had relocated somewhere in Manila. Their home was demolished and now they stay at the breakwater, braving the elements. The informal settlers here are shown in a surreal manner to show their surreal existence. I just learned their settlements are scheduled for demolition soon. The mother and her kids from Bacolod will again be asked to relocate.

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The Undiscovered Country

Published May 28th, 2012

All these years, I thought I knew my city like the back of my hands. I am now discovering places where I can do some street photography.

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Under Blistering Heat

Published May 19th, 2012

It is one of the hottest summer I could remember. I left the house at one in the afternoon. I just had to go take a walk since I just learned to use this new setting on my camera -- high ISO and shutter. Previously, I was shooting slow, deliberately trying to slow down life. Now I face it head on under sweltering 38 degrees of sun. I went home with my favorite mongo hopia.

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An Afternoon Photowalk

Published May 10th, 2012

A street photographer need not go far to find these nooks and make creative images. It is about finding the little gems here and there. As Jim Krause said in his book, everything is photogenic. So one never gives up and pack his gear when things seem to get boring. It takes only a double take and you statt discovering the amazing.

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Chinatown

Published May 7th, 2012

I took a Sunday walk in the old Chinatown, I bought Hopia (mongo cakes) from my favorite delicacy store, the Eng Bee Tin. I took home some anime DVDs too (in original Japanese and Chinese audio). From Chinese traditional herbal shops, to imported toys and a dizzying line-up of restaurants, the place is a tourist, as well as, a local treat. The wet market too is teeming with the best and freshest seafood and meat. You can walk from the arch of friendship straight to the Ongpin bridge near the Lorenzo Ruiz Basilica in about thirty minutes.

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The Day of the Proletariat: Epilogue

Published May 1st, 2012

The day started hot. Under scorching summer sun I made my way to Avenida Rizal. From there you can have a short-cut to Plaza Miranda where various workers' union will congregate, have a short program and start their march to the seat of government power in Mendiola.

Proud muliticolored banners waved in the air. Womenfolk and the elderly with some kids in tow were among the ten thousand marchers.

We were about a kilometer away from the Mendiola gate when the sky turned gray and I knew it would rain. I took some shots from the walkway and got the images here of the bonfire.

During the downpour I took shelter in a Japanese/Korean restaurant and ate a jjampong noodle soup, hot and spicy. I left the place before sundown when the second downpour came and drench me and my camera. I waded through ankle-deep waters at Recto Avenue.

Today, I felt young.

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The Day of the Proletariat

Published May 1st, 2012

Without the hands that run the factories and till the soil, history, as we know it, will not be written. Our history is written in the blood, sweat, tears and rage of the working class.

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Life's a Ball

Published April 30th, 2012

One thing I learned from kids is to enjoy everyday without expectations. To find room for play anywhere and to find joy in the simplest discovery were so natural. Somehow, when we grow older we lose our sense of wonder and joyfulness. We end up looking foward to a day of expected rewards and go home forlorn with dissatisfaction and frustration.

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Sunday: a time travel

Published April 29th, 2012

1976, the place was filled with families on a picnic. We had to find a place to put our mats and food baskets. We had chicken adobo and rice pandan. The breakwater was filled with bathers on tire-rim floaters. It was one grand time. I ran around the place with my sister. We went there packed into an old white volkswagen beetle. 2012, the place was almost empty. No picnic mats. A few brave souls came here to watch the sea and the handful of fishermen. The public is now prohibited from bathing in the toxic waters. The horizon is still blue. The kids still run around. Magic is still there for the young at heart.

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fish tales

Published April 26th, 2012

I bought this really cheap fish-eye converter online. As expected it was cheap. But only as a matter of perspective. It's not what you got it's how you abuse it.

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The Daily Ride

Published April 26th, 2012

There's a lot of unique image possibilities in street photography. A scene or a person often comes with a unique angle worth framing. These images were shot on public transport vehicles. It's interesting to think about their individual stories. They remain nameless though.

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A Day at the Office

Published April 26th, 2012

How do you use "office" in a short sentence? Make a collage.

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Music and Me

Published April 26th, 2012

I have known Kuya Ely since 1994. He saw me noodling on my cheap and cranky electric guitar. He introduced himself as a musician. Eversince that day we talked about having a band together. After 18 years, we actually jammed in the office of the workers' union.

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What's the frequency Kenneth to show things hav...

Published April 26th, 2012

I was walking home from my kids' school when I spotted Manong listening to his radio on the street, perhaps to get a better signal. My iPhone and his portable radio were tech-worlds apart, as well as our generation.

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The Beaches of My Childhood

Published April 26th, 2012

Summer meant "swimming" for me when I was a kid. In fact it's still is. I remember each and every beach we ever went to. I used to swim in Folk Arts area in Manila Bay, when it wasn't much polluted yet. We used to rent those tire rims as floating devices and swim to our hearts content. Remember watching the sun set everytime. I remember my father with his fishing pole as we waited for our catch until the air was chilly and the sky was full of stars. Today I shot these images not far from the Folk Arts area. I saw the families picnicking on the public beach. I remembered.

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The Hidden

Published April 26th, 2012

There is a world no one sees easily. Either we are helpless on what to do with such reality or refuse to acknowledge it for fear of tarnishing our own definition of a functional society. Such is the world of informal settlers. Living in the shadows of a city desperately trying to be first world.

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Pritil, Juan Luna Street

Published April 26th, 2012

If you are a photographer for sometime, you may find it peculiar that you observe with your naked eyes what is in front of you as if you have Nikkor lenses attached to your head. The decisive moment happens as fast as you see it.

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Avenida Rizal

Published April 25th, 2012

There are stories that can not be told immediately. It has to be distilled. Yet moments like these are fleeting. Your camera should be at hand for the unexpected. To shoot the hidden is the challenge.

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Intramuros

Published April 25th, 2012

I can't get enough of this place. I probably took a thousand photographs of this place and I am still rearing to return and shoot some more. The juxtaposition of the ancient and the new is dizzying.

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Quiapo

Published April 25th, 2012

Quiapo, a legendary place. Magical and alluring. This is where crumbling Spanish era buildings and the San Sebastian church constructed of steel can be found. This is where the ghosts of secret past blatantly slaps you in the face and offer you to relive them.

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Home Is Where The Heart Is

Published April 25th, 2012

Tondo, a place infamous for Asiong Salonga and the denizens of the underworld. Some taxis won't go there at night. Yet, this is my neighborhood. An inner city in the heart of Manila where people live and love just like the ones in the gated community of Forbes Park.

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a world of their own

Published April 25th, 2012

There is a road under construction linking the Mall of Asia and the CCP Complex Financial Center. This project displaces the informal settlers in the area. Despite the bleak future for them, the children find time to play in the construction area with a joy you can not miss in their faces.

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Baliuag, Bulacan

Published April 25th, 2012

Baliuag, Bulacan, an ancient town of the Tagalog speaking region. Bahay-na-bato (houses of stone) abound in this province. Of course, the town cathedral is also centuries old. Looking at the old buildings, I fall into daydreaming the lives of the old citizens, their concerns, their gossips and their costumes.

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Sta. Cruz, Manila

Published April 25th, 2012

A special place for me. My family used to attend church services here when I was a kid. I remember the balloons being sold outside the church. The first balloon I got from this place was a bowling-pin shaped balloon with an attached cardboard feet. Sta-Cruz, Manila, was also the gateway to the Binondo, Chinatown.

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Escolta

Published April 25th, 2012

From the Spanish period to the American era, Escolta, Manila was the business center. It was the center for trade and the stock exchange. After WWII, business decentralized and relocated to the Makati area. Much of the appeal of Escolta are the fast disappearing Art Noveau buildings constructed in the American period, giving way to condominiums. If you look hard enough, you can still find the spirit of the old Escolta. The photos were taken from the Escolta to the Del Pan Bridge.

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Parian

Published April 25th, 2012

We did a photowalk in the old Intramuros, Manila. For a long time, I didn't know where the actual Parian gate was until this April. The Parian section was in ancient times the place for Chinese merchants and community. This was where they pass as they ply their wares in Intramuros which was a closed and fortified city of the colonizing Spaniards and mestizos. The Parian gate was reconstructed recently and is now used as passage for students and visitors. It wasn't a total reconstruction though, as much of the passageways are now blocked with brick unlike in the pre-WW II design with a lot of internal shops inside the adobe walls.

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