New Internationalist

The mayhem through a lens

There was no time to scream for help.  My lungs were heavy from the tear gas, my eyes were already blurred by tears.  

I could hardly breathe, as if a slab of concrete fell on my chest.  The burn of the gas hung heavy in the air.  I wanted to stop and rest but rocks, bottles and sticks were flying everywhere.

The anti-riot police in their seamless sky-blue uniforms mercilessly sprayed water cannons against the human barricade of men and women.  Like flies, they started falling one by one, helpless against the fury of the water cannon.

The dispersal turned violent as residents of a shantytown here in San Juan in the eastern part of Metro Manila refused to give up their homes.

A thick blanket of water pierced through the residents who minutes before stood adamant in front of their homes. They all ran for safety, crying, screaming and coughing.

But while they all moved as fast as they could, a handful of brave individuals stayed right smack in the middle of the chaos, recording the mayhem with their lenses.


Filipino freelance photojournalist Jes Aznar (left) is among those who covered the demolition. Photo was taken before the violent dispersal erupted. Photo by author.

Hats off indeed to these photojournalists and video journalists who covered the demolition. As Filipino journalist Carlos H Conde noted in his blog post immediately after the dispersal, ‘photojournalism and video journalism are alive in the Philippines.’

And this is what I saw with my own eyes as I covered the dispersal, albeit from a relatively safer corner as I did not have to take photos.

As Conde said, these photographers and video journalists risk not just their equipment but also, more importantly, their life and limb to show the world the many injustices that continue to plague the Philippines.

One of them got hit on the forehead but he did not have time to stop.

None of them fled or stopped for a second to escape from the violence. They went as close as they could so that they could take photos and videos of the whole ordeal.

All they could think of was to capture with their lenses what was unfolding before their eyes: anti-riot police throwing tear gas canisters in a place full of babies; men and women collapsing from the suffocating burn; children caught in the cross-fire; thick blankets of smoke billowing through the shanty homes; hapless residents drenched in the fury of the water cannon; snipers ready to fire and demolition teams tearing down shanty homes.

And it was through their images and videos that the world was able to know what had happened in the morning of 25 January 2011 in an urban poor community in San Juan.

Photos by Jes Aznar.

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