Philippines – Graham Brice

Hi James

Thanks for the opportunity to submit some images for your scrutiny re the ‘travel’ focus of your next newsletter.

I’ve selected these for reasons that i hope I’ll make plain.

It might be too many, just use what you want, but my ‘story’ will weave them all together.

I’d like the reader to be dropped in the midst of these images without too much introduction – as that’s exactly how i came be involved in a small group at the invitation of the ‘people’s church’ – the United Church of Christ of the Philippines…to be led by them and their partner organisations, on an ‘immersion’ tour, of two weeks, through Luzon, starting the capital Manila. That’s enough of an introduction.

daily commute

Picture 1 — Everyday, you and I sip from containers, use wallets and purses, ride on or in vehicles, handle electronic gear, even sit on toilet seats that the world’s poor have helped bring into being. Their wages are miniscule by comparison with ours. We were on a journey to meet some of these people, and hear their stories. The first one I snapped through the glass window of our van as we crawled through steamy, oppressive Manilan heat. There they were, those ‘workers’ who carry our world on their shoulders, our privileges and even our aspirations perhaps, while we remain mostly in blissful ignorance of their struggle. Jammed into a Jeepney, ingeniously crafted ‘home made’ bus system of the Philippines (google it, it has a fascinating history!) – no air cons, not even windows, or seatbelts. It is cheap, reliable transport, but it comes at terrible price. They breathe the disgusting smog of a city that’s forgotten it’s poor – day in day out.

Elder_leader of grace

Picture 2.— We had arrived at our final destination of this particular day. We were walked through the ‘neighbourhood’ to meet the locals and begin to learn of their stories. This ‘delegation’ that i was part of, was not there to ‘take pictures’, but we all did. I was under explicit instructions to take ‘lots’ for my church, Pilgrim UCA, in the city, as we were beginning to expand partnership with the Manila region, though it had had one for many years further north, where we were to head later…But I wanted to just ‘blend in’ – not be perceived as ‘the photographer’…and I was pretty new to my shiny DSLR and very conscious i was on a huge and very rapid learning curve. So here we were – not ‘sight seeing’ but humbly being led by our Filipino hosts/guides, and beginning real dialogue about real people in real communities. And it was approaching dusk, very overcast – and there’s no way I was going to use a flash unless i absolutely had to…So here was one of the ‘village elders’, proud and strong, but fragile. Something drew me toward her, we exchanged smiles for a few seconds as we walked on to try to keep up with the guide….then i stepped back and tried to just acknowledge her status, wisdom, and grace. That was my aim anyway…

Communal pride

Picture 3. – Just on a bit, a normal, everyday, evening event – I imagined – so that struck me too…the richness of the sense of community between everyone, and the babies /everywhere the babies! (still birth control is rare and under catholic influence I think)…against the back drop of the most humble dwelling i’d seen in a while…just a ‘suburban’ twilight scene of outer Manila. Getting together to exchange stories and keep up with events. Our equivalent of facebook perhaps…It turned out, this whole community had already been’kicked out’ of Manila, from what we would call ‘shanty housing’, obviously in the way of the Big End of Town’s plans for development to satisfy the needs of the top 3% of Filipino society. that is going on everywhere…we were told.

it's on

Picture 4. – We’d got back in our vans and were taken a few k’s to the ‘other end’ of this huge sprawling village/community on the fringes of Angeles City, and her was a serious pasttime for the warm Filipino evenings…and here clearly was the heart of youth entertainment and technology – the pool table. I think it speaks for itself, but I’d be interested to hear what you, the readers, thinks it speaking…as we all have different perspectives. I was the only one who stopped to ‘shoot’ this scene – in fading light i did resort to a stopped down flash, nothing fancy – and I know little about flash photography anyway, so this one has had a bit more work on it in Light room to remove some blown highlights, and to bring up some shadows..

Picture 5.— No. We hadn’t moved on. This is the same place. Same community. Same extraordinary, resilient, beautiful, battling people. The pool table was on the left side of the bridge.  So that is the other ‘centre’ of this Angeles community, where we hope to keep building a meaningful relationship through our partner church leaders.  Picture 6. Same place. Can you feel her joy in welcoming us to her playground? – under the bridge. I had to hold back tears many a time in the Philippines, I think this was one of them.  Picture 7.  One of our guides, who spoke several Filipino languages fluently as he’d been there a while…tho he is an Aussie too….had obviously had quite a chat with this chap. I was just relaxing, taking it all in, as the sun was sinking behind the riverbank next to the bridge. I have no idea how i captured this moment of ‘see you later – thanks for coming – or ‘let’s start a new partnership beginning ‘now’ (which is what I imagined it was about)…I guess it was just lucky…

Progress on wheels

Picture 8. – Caught in the traffic. Later that week…this struck me as a powerful symbol of the nation. So much hope, aspiration and genuine goodwill for women in particular…but there it was. Stuck in the traffic. The traffic of greed. The traffic of rampant corruption. And above all, of leaders hell-bent on a path to lift the lives of the fragment few at the expense of the poorest of the poor.

advocacy

Picture 9.— One of the most courageous people I have ever met or am ever likely to meet. She told us the raw, statistical facts. Then put names to the statistics…Horrifying, shocking, undeniably preventable patterns of a nation that must be brought to account. Every couple of days she updates their website with more stories of abductions, bombings, or disappearances. In graphic detail so they are impossible to refute. Nothing will silence her or her organisation. You can learn more at karapatan.org. We were just, well, gobsmacked. I tried to convey something of her irrepressible commitment to stand in solidarity with the politically ‘unfavourable’ to the Aquino regime. I can send a report on this to anyone who is interested. But you will need a strong stomach. I wanted to finish with her, the CEO of the organisation, who so generously gave us her precious time – as she is but one voice trying to make a real difference for the people from Picture 1, and all others in between. We meet many many others, including one who’s son had been mowed down, shot when protesting pathetic wages – and we heard stories of the worst even in the history of modern journalism when 34 local and international journalists were massacred to stop them reporting on a challenge to one of the warlord/mayor’s rule in the Southern Philippines.

We came home, immensely grateful but very shaken. How could our Asian neighbourhood be so fraught, but more importantly, what can we do, to make a difference. That dialogue  continues, guided by our wonderful hosts.

On a technical note, as i was quite ‘raw’ to the DSLR world, I shot in JPG – as I was fearful of bigger file sizes filling my ‘cards’ and not having enough to last two weeks. I also didn’t always have the right setting as there was zero time for preparation for nearly every shot we took, and usually rather challenging light conditions…  I have a few other images that i personally think are better photographically and I am hoping to sell them (at fundraiser on October 25 in the city) to support the Angleles community, so I’d be keen to talk to anyone who might be able to help me choose the best ones…but I thought it was more important to attempt to tell something of the narrative of image – the real purpose for being there, which was not to take pictures at all. That was just a by-product…Still, I hope some of them might help some voices be heard that otherwise would have remained silent. I’d be grateful for any ‘travel’ or photojournalist hints. It’s been great to join the club just after i got back. Thanks for all your guidance and interest.

Since they were taken, in May this year, not only have their been more disappearances, etc…but there’s been a massive flood that hit Manila and displaced the equivalent of 3/4 of Adelaide’s population, and this ‘bridge’ community may have been in trouble. We are trying to find out more…but the organiser has been very unwell and we await further news…

Graham Brice  –  gr708@iinet.net.au

 

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