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.
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!”
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.
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:
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
Viva il Papa!