BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy 2016!

And so it is. 

flowers from my mini garden

Nepal. One of the highlights of our 2015





Korea 2015
the Lumads of Mindanao

Another year has come to a close. I cannot thank the universe enough for a year filled with much love and blessings. 

2015, like 2014, has been kind, indeed. 

It is a year filled with stories, photographs, travels, hugs, kisses, flowers, Oscar moments, long drives, a blooming mini garden and bells. 

As we enter another year, I am keeping my fingers crossed that the new year would continue to be filled with only the best. 

Namaste everyone! Have a great 2016! 

Monday, December 7, 2015

From Brazil to Quiapo: Informal Market Worlds

I am happy to share this newly published atlas on the informal markets of the world, which includes my story on Quiapo, published by NA1010 PUBLISHERS.

Thank you to Peter Mortenbock of the University of Vienna, the brains behind the project. I am honoured to be part of this. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Scenes from the 24th EJAP Journalism Awards Night

We won! My fellow Star reporters and I won in this year's EJAP awards. Yehey! Thank you EJAP and to the esteemed panel of judges.  Read about the awards night here.

It's always good to see long lost friends

This is me with my trophy 

Here with my amigas, Alena and Lenie

Saturday, October 3, 2015


It is quiet in the confession booth, except perhaps for the whispers of sinners seeking salvation from strangers in white robes. Men and women, thieves, vagabonds, adulterers, lonely mistresses — sinners they all are — will kneel and confess their acts before they do it all again, in another time, another day.

There is a soldier, slumped on his back, perhaps dead or dying, perhaps wounded or too weak to stand. His gun-wielding comrades are by his side. They are in the middle of a battle, or the war has just begun. All are fighting for their lives.

In a place named Tacloban, after the world came to an end when
 Super Typhoon Haiyan struck, a man stands in the middle of the chaos. He has almost nothing, no shirt, no bags, no home; just a black rosary he wears around his neck.

This is faith, held deeply by nearly every man, woman and child in this predominantly Catholic country of 100 million people. There is sometimes no rationality or reason but faith, nevertheless, serves its epistemic function here in this country where more than 25 million Filipinos are mired in deep poverty. It is an end to contradictions or at the center of ironies.

Faith is expressed in many ways and the differences are stark and telling. The ways are varied, as they are endless.

And the different ways by which Filipinos hold on to their faith are vividly captured in a collection of images by five Filipino photojournalists: Jose Enrique Soriano, Veejay Villafranca, Jake Verzosa, Carlo Gabuco, and Jes Aznar.

The result is Pananampalataya --the Filipino word for faith -- an exhibition, which is part of the inaugural PhotoBangkok Festival, an ongoing international photography festival in Bangkok, Thailand.

Pananampalataya is presented by AsianEye Gallery, an online gallery that aims to raise the profile of veteran and emerging Asian photographers and to encourage collectors from all over the world to discover and appreciate their vision and works.

“Any simple attempt at describing the belief systems native to a Filipino is likely to be inadequate. The Filipino photographer is unique when juxtaposed with the rest of his Asian and Western counterparts. The artist comes from an archipelago composed of 7,107 islands in Southeast Asia, and is greatly influenced by the country’s history of popular struggles. One unparalleled historical factor which explains the distinctiveness of the Philippines in Asia, is its prolonged history under direct colonial domination. Colonialism in the Philippines began in the sixteenth century, as in Latin America – 300 years earlier than most Asian countries. The worldview of Filipinos reflects a strong Hispanic and Christianized influence, with the Catholic Church contributing to this. The Filipino is the fruit of this integration. And what is integral in this integration is the faith (pananampalataya) of its people - a faith in a force (tadhana) that determines the destiny of its people,” according to the exhibition notes.

Pia Artadi, the Filipina behind AsianEye, says she wanted to show the world the unique talent of Filipino photographers.

“I wanted to portray how strong the work of Filipino photographers are and unique all over the world,” Artadi says.

On the subject of faith, Artadi says its universality remains profound and that she wanted to share Filipinos’ practice of faith to a wider audience that in the process, they may find a common ground.

She says the gallery is proud to be part of the inaugural Photo Bangkok Festival.

Piyatat Hemmatat, director of PhotoBangkok 2015 said the festival, which would go on for two months, aims to elevate the development of the creative community through the next generations.

“As we believe that our country is full of passionate creative artists with promising photographic capability and potential, it is inevitably now that all concerned parties come together to work hand in hand in creating an integrated platform that leads the works of Thailand’s photographers to an international stage,” he said.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Walking the Streets of Bangkok with Sonny Yabao

Bangkok, Thailand - Many things have changed in the Kingdom of drunkard kings and dancing queens. Once many moons ago, I woke up in the middle of the night in the smoke-filled bars of Patpong, in full view of fat and ageing naked strippers out to please sex-starved men in another night of hustle. 

This time, I found myself walking the streets of Sukhamvit Road in broad day light, looking for a place to eat. I couldn’t wait to fill my hungry stomach, Sonny Yabao, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to shoot. 

We turned left and right and left again, looking for an authentic Thai cuisine. I didn’t see the bars this time. Sonny, who was here one time and another, thinks too that the world has changed by leaps and bounds. 

"In the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” the lead player sings, “Sunrise, sunset… when did she get to be a beauty… I don’t remember growing older… when did they?” Indeed, and Bob Dylan mourns, too, about “The times, they are a-changin’.” It cannot be denied that we all share these hopes and fears in the ever-changing things as they are, that one cannot go home again. And on a train ride, Bob Dylan again asks, “I wonder if that old oak tree’s still standing, that old oak tree, the one we used to climb," Yabao muses, writing about this particular trip

As for me, I'm it my imagination or there are now more transgender walking the streets of Bangkok? Perhaps, this goes with a more progressive world or it is because having your penis removed is now as simple as going to a salon here in this city?

Meet Ashley, cherry-red lips, with chest brown hair, sexy and voluptuous. She sure turned heads including Sonny's but she was, once upon a time, a man like the rest of them. 

There’s also a whole industry of massage salons and spas, a sign of a more stressful city. (Traffic takes hours, just like Manila’s gates of hell). 

Many signs are now in English, a relief to visitors like me who have no patience doing sign language with Thais. 

Once, years ago, Jes and I found ourselves desperately lost in the middle of nowhere — there were no signs in English and not a soul spoke a language we could understand. We were on our way to Laos and the only thing that helped us get out of the rumpus and on to our destination was a lone rickety Third World bus with a wooden sign on its window: "Laos." 

Jes and I are back in Bangkok, this time for the opening of Pananampalataya. We’re lucky to have Sonny join us though until the last minute, we weren't quite sure he would leave the comforts of his Laguna abode, hop on the plane and actually take the flight. Or if he did, I imagined he might just choose to run away with a beautiful flight stewardess and forget about the exhibit. The night before he arrived, while we were setting up the exhibit, the photographers washed away their jitters with Japanese whiskey as they imagined the Master shaking his head in disapproval.

But showed up he did and allowed himself to be dragged all the way to this city, lending honour to the jam-packed exhibit opening, which is another story for another day.

After walking a while, Sonny and I finally found the authentic Thai restaurant we were looking for. The voluptuous Ashley, 100 percent Filipina, graciously served us like we were the only ones in the place.  

We walked the rest of the afternoon. I had one goal: to look for a bookstore while Sonny just wanted to shoot. I thought I was guiding an old man in an unfamiliar place, making sure he wasn't too tired from too much walking. But this was not quite the case. 

Sonny saw things I didn't see: birds huddled in twisted branches; she-men and a stranger's foot in the sprawling grassy park, the signs and silhouettes, the puddles of water with the reflection of the Bangkok sky; all these and more. Indeed, there's a whole plethora of things I almost missed. 

He refused to take the escalator on the way to the hulking white mall and laughed at me when I insisted the stairs might be too much for him. 

We spent hours in the bookstore and I would have dragged him for more shopping but I found myself really tired. The man, more than twenty years my senior, wasn't done. He went chasing a vendor with a Vietnamese style conical hat and a rickety food cart -- perhaps this would make a good photograph -- and they both disappeared in a narrow alley filled with street food.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Thank you, Nepal; a Postscript

More than two months after our visit, the enigma, magic and unshakeable faith of Nepal still linger in my mind.

Thank you to the Nepali people for their unwavering strength and resilience and to this Himalayan country for revealing its beauty amid the devastation. 

Here's my collection of stories from the trip:

Nepal is still strongly in need of help, my story for The New Internationalist even as Social Caretaking Keeps Nepal Going, as I wrote for Womensenews.

And reminisce with me again as I reflect on this amazing place for The Starweek, made extra amazing and strong by its women, who played visible roles in rebuilding Nepal as I wrote for Womensenews.

Again, thank you to everyone that Jes and I met in this journey. It was magical to say the least. 

Once again, Namaste!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Women Play Visible Roles in Rebuilding Nepal

My latest story for Womensenews:

KATHMANDU,  Nepal (WOMENSENEWS)-- The capital city of Nepal is slowly and painfully rebuilding after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck this Himalayan country on a seemingly ordinary lunch hour on April 25, a Saturday.

The earthquake left the people of Nepal, especially its government, in a state of shock, but amidst the chaos, women are remarkably playing a significant role in the difficult but necessary process of rebuilding. Here is a sampling of what women are doing. All photos by Iris Gonzales.

Water supply is intermittent in Kathmandu because of the damage to water pipes by the earthquake. Women and children collect water from a public source near Basantapur Durbar Square.

Naniyera Tamraker, 68, owner of a bakery in Nardevi Street in Kathmandu, sits with her grandchildren, Palaistha Tamraker, 10, and Palpasa Tamraker, 15. She stays with her grandchildren constantly now to help allay fears left by the disaster.

Sita Shrestha, 48, forms cotton wicks, which she sells to candle vendors near the various temples in Nepal. She is staying in a tent city near Thamel because her house was destroyed by the earthquake.

A woman in a tent city near Nardevi Street prepares to dry native crops under the sun. The poles propped against the buildings to prevent further collapse are a now-common post-earthquake feature.