HASHTAG EDSA

Twenty nine years ago today, a large crowd heaped themselves here, hell-bent on toppling a regime. There were guns and roses too! And the rest is history repeats itself.

No I won’t dwell on that malarkey. The world is too noisy as vuvuzela. All I want is a quiet walk in the city.

For this is the best time for photography — street photography — on this side of the Earth. I think one will never get to really appreciate February morning light and air unless he steps outside with a camera.

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WHERE PHOTOGRAPHY IS BANNED ON THE PASIG RIVER

Who would care to shoot on the Pasig in the first place? The river is no longer worth a thousand words and there’s nothing much to look at here but dystopia Manila. The place is a national 404.

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At any rate, the world is on a Photography Spring. You know, there’s a wave of photo nuts out there and they’re leaving no stones unturned. In this age of camerphones and hashtags, everything must be posted online.

Now with the ferry service back in business, I tried a cruise from Plaza Mexico to Guadalupe one time as I work on the People of the Pasig. Together with a caucasian visitor and his inamorata, we got a frontseat view of the riverscape.

Unfortunately, this 28-kilometer waterway is not spared from the NO-PHOTOGRAPHY BS. Where the river runs through Malacañang Palace, taking pictures is a no-no. That’s from underneath Ayala Bridge to Mabini Bridge, or a total of 2 forbidden kilometers.

Every passing vessel is subject to inspection and escort by a Coast Guard personnel who gets to see nobody makes a shot. I hear these are highly-trained men with mixed capabilities so — don’t rock the boat. You can go back to taking photos (of post-apocalyptic backdrops) beyond these points anyway.

You get the picture.

WHY WE BLEED FOR THESE MEN

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They were soldiers. We are at war. Death is a given. So how is it the annihilation of 44 Special Action Forces was too painful for us all? Let me tell you a story:

During that huge congregation at the recent Papal visit here in Manila, I stationed myself at the corner of Remedios and Taft, taking all sorts of inquiries from the crowd. Informations, directions, routes, updates. Anything under the LRT. Think of a stand-up public-assistance-office.

I have stepped in for these two uniformed cops posted there who were all too consumed to perform the task. They were dead-tired and ready to drop. “We haven’t slept for 2 days now.” One of them spoke with difficulty opening his lips.

It was oddly a pleasure doing favor for these men.

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The Pope’s visit called for the service of 20,000 police officers. The largest contingent ever deployed for a visiting head of state. The event allowed the opportunity to place the police in a huddle with the populace. We were bunched together. Nestled closely on the street, face to face.

For 5 days we stood with them, sat with them, exchanged laughs, dined. It was easy looking at them straight in the eye. The force is with us, literally. Which is offbeat considering the general feeling towards these police officers: buwayas, pigs, troubles, disappointments. But they were humanized this time.

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In fact, one of the best parts we can make much of from the Pope’s visit here in the Philippines is how the law enforcers took care of business. They had their chance and they delivered damn well. And then we realized our men can be very good too! And oh yes we called them ours. Never has the PNP been so esteemed.

But did we give them a big hand for that? No, ’cause we’re simply not used to cheering for them. We are strangers when it comes to commending the force. We’d rather be reserved. After a job well done, they have never heard from us.

UNTIL THAT FATEFUL DAY.

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Our outrage is not solely on how the MILF-BIFF wasted our boys. What those Muslim rebels did doesn’t surprise us anymore. We have seen it before. No, our anger is not only about the way our government is steering us through all these. Not only of how politics is allowing the murderers get away with it either. We have a yellow leader and it’s been a curse and we knew it.

What really crushed us is this: we have just barely come from the honeymoon. The Papal event left us with our cops emerging as heroes. The force reaching new heights as the people looked up to our men in uniform.

The tragedy that befell our law enforcers in Maguindanao is — in point of fact — a slap on our face.

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The other day, I heard a voice from the news coming out with: “The Philippine National Police should make the most of these moments when they are being loved by the people.”

QUIRINO CORNER TAFT AVENUE AND THE QUEST FOR A PICTURE-PERFECT PAPA FRANCISCO

The police officer was in the middle of his lunch as he lays the traffic cones back across Agoncillo Street, barring three disgruntled bikers. “The Pope is set to return any moment now. This one’s closed. Try the next street!” He instructed them with his mouth full. The cops have set up numerous roadblocks all throughout Malate in connection with the Papal visit. Hearing this, I ran back home pronto outrunning the motocross riders. I have a motorcade to catch.

The Pope’s itinerary in Tacloban was cut short due to the storm and they are on a sudden flight back to Manila. In a few minutes the motorcade will be back on the street and there’ll be no time for me to find a position. Position in this respect, is the BEST vantage point in taking snapshots of Pope Francis when his motorcade pushes along. It’s a precious spot actually and — if ever there is one — it would be an almighty scramble for everyone.

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For 5 days, the Papal visit here in Manila has turned into a quest for picture-perfect shot of His Holiness. I have consider this as a challenge now. The hitch is how to pick the best spot at the most perfect time; to master the art of squeezing through people; or simply, how to outsmart the multitude. Because there’s just no way to beat the crowd. People eat and sleep on the street just to have a ringside view of the Papa.

On Day 1 the Pope breezed through the roaring crowd and into his official residency, the Apostolic Nunciature on Quirino corner Taft Avenue. As expected, the hordes trail along, piling themselves up before barricades and behind police lines, hoping for a glimpse of the Pope.

At one point, when an officer announced that Pope Francis has already rested and advised them to go home too, an old lady rebutted: “He might go out for a hamburger!”

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Quirino and Taft is an awful junction. One of a number of chaotic intersections here in Malate. The LRT station obfuscates the life below. The padyaks contribute to traffic disorder. The curbs, watery all year round. This spot is dismal for good.

Today, however, the place rocks. With the Pope on the block, here is where the party is.

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As soon as the news broke out of the Pope’s flight back to Manila, I rushed straight away to Quirino Avenue before everybody does, only to find this:

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For three days, the Papal convoy weaved through the streets of Manila creating an enormous surge of bodies on the thoroughfares. A tumultuous euphoria the city — or this country of which 90% are Roman Catholic — has never seen before. Everybody wants a shot of the Pope and they’re all bent on crushing anything that gets in their way.

Three days and still no picture-perfect-Pope for me. I was not really thrilled with the idea of climbing the human ridge just to have me a photograph of the Pope like everyone else. If I’m going to have a shot of anything, I want it exclusive and something I could really own. There must be a taste of individualism here now.

And then it occurred to me how we all have been reduced to mere technoslaves. I remember twenty years ago during the last Papal visit here in Manila, our hands were free of devices and we can wave and clap while chanting Viva il Papa. Today we have all sorts of obstructions swinging above our heads. Today we have been transformed into a battalion of tablet-smartphone-SLR-wielding army.

But have we really seen the Pope?

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Day 4 came and my Canon and I still haven’t seen the light. From the wee hours of the morning I clung to this traffic light (together with the man himselfJoel Mataro) hoisted over Quirino and Taft, waiting. Believing we have a very good chance. Yet when the motorcade emerged, the Pontiff rode in a closed sedan instead of the yawning Pope-mobile.

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The Concluding Mass at Rizal Park was marred by the storm. Typhoon “Amang” messed it all up. The monstrous crowd ever multiplying. With the rains, everything seemed impossible now.

Tomorrow the Pope flies back to Rome!

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I am just an ordinary man with his camera. Not even a pro. I don’t even get paid for this. And I do have second thoughts too about forcing my way into this frightening crowd. Or braving the weather. I won’t lose my job if I don’t get what I want. Still, if I can’t have that picture perfect moment, I will just have to fail in good spirits.

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On the other hand, remember what they say after you have given your 100 percent? “Luck is all that you have left!”

The next morning was one of the finest. The parting Pope passed by. It was my final stand. One final shot. I kept my calm and — clicked.

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Viva il Papa!

POPE FRANCIS ON THE BLOCK

Nobody has been received by Filipinos as big as this in decades. The humongous crowd; horde of law enforcers;  helicopters flying low and the electrifying air. This afternoon commences the euphoric days ahead of us with the arrival here in Malate of His Holiness Pope Francis. Scheduled to be housed at the Papal Nunciature, a stone-throw away from where I roost actually. Welcome to the neighborhood Papa Francisco!

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