BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Sunday, September 25, 2016


(I found this in my archives. It's an unpublished version of a piece I did for Starweek. I forgot writing about this but I'm posting it here because I think I like it more than the published piece. But why I chose to submit the other version remains a puzzle).

A scissors, a chair and a cloth to cover falling hair; there is little boy and a lanky barber, his hair grown thick as well. This is a pop-up barber “shop” in an empty alley in downtown Manila. There really is no shop with the trademark helix of red, blue and white, the barber pole that dates back to the medieval times. There is

There is a woman, she with long hair cascading down her shoulders sitting alone appreciating art inside the Oarhouse Pub on Bocobo Street, described as one of the last remnants of Manila’s colourful past.

In a mass grave in Leyte in the southern Philippines, the names of the dead, they who perished when Haiyan came, are cast in stone and etched in gold, remembered forever.

In a town of water lilies, in the middle of cornfields, there is a woman covered in blue. She is the wife of a dead rebel, she is the mother of an infant son and four other children, now without a father.

Welcome to the Philippines where little boys get their hair cut anywhere, anytime, in empty streets or in crowded barber shops, where children roam fishing villages in Snow White costumes, where town elders read the livers of freshly butchered pigs in fog covered mountains in the northern Philippines and where cornfields become massacre sites.

A country of 94 million people, the Philippines is a storied place. Surrealism runs through the daily lives of people. And the stories are endless as they are varied; every place is a cartographic reality; age-old traditions exist alongside the ephemeral and yet the Philippines is as real as it can get.

There is more to the Philippines than just poverty and politics and this is what Everyday Philippines, an Instagram project put up by three Filipino freelance photojournalists, Tammy David (, Veejay Villafranca ( and Jes Aznar (

All three said that EverydayPhilippines, an account on photo-sharing site Instagram seeks to show the Philippines and not just the usual stories of poverty and corruption that the country is sometimes synonymous with.

The Instagram project joins the growing global Everyday movement inspired by EverydayAfrica, which started in 2012 initially as a Tumblr Blog by photographer Peter DiCampo and writer Austin Merill.

EverydayAfrica inspired similar Instagram accounts put up by mostly professional photographers: EverydayIran, EverydayBronx, EverydayUSA, EverydayEasternEurope, EverydayMyanmar and also to non-geographic issues such as EverydayClimateChange and EverydayIncarceration, among others.

EverydayPhilippines officially started on Jan. 1, 2015 and joins this global movement as it aims to break the visual stereotype of the Philippines being just another Third World country mired in deep poverty.

The goal is to break these stereotypes, says David, who is also a video journalist and whose works have appeared in both local and foreign publications including the Wall Street Journal.

Villafranca, a photographer represented by Getty Images, said it has become difficult to pitch stories about the country because some Western media’s preconceived notions of what the Philippines is.

“The Philippines on its own is very rich (but) when you pitch (stories) to the Western media, there are a lot of misconceptions,” says Villafranca.

And yes some people zero in on the country being just another Third World nation.

Aznar, whose works appear on the pages of the New York Times, thought of coming up with the project so he suggested it to his two friends Villafranca and David, who in turn, happen to have the same idea, inspired by EverydayAfrica’s success.

The rules are simple. The project is open to other photographers and the photographs must be, as much as possible, phone-camera captured, visually stunning and must provide contexts.

“There are many photographs and stories but what is important is to put the context,” Aznar says.

Photographers can then post their photos on their individual Instagram accounts and use the hashtag #EverydayPhilippines and from this, the three proponents then curate the photographs that appear on this hashtag search before reposting these on the EverydayPhilippines account.

And true enough, the result is a visually stunning tapestry of vignettes of life in the Philippines that entices the audience to take a closer look at a nation whose daily life is so rich in history, culture and magic realism. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

On Self Preservation

Behind the driver’s seat, I listened intently to his story. He’s been driving all his life, the only skill he knows that can earn him a living. For two years, many moons ago, he was in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, too, driving under the scorching heat of the Middle Eastern sun, serving the thousands or so servants of the King. 

He’s been driving his brother’s car for a month now, to bring commuters to wherever they need to go. Brother is in Qatar, earning a living, for his daughter who is left in Manila with her grandparent. 

Back to the driver. He’s earning a decent amount every month but things could be better. Much, much better, he says. 

And so he wants to try his luck again abroad. In Bahrain this time to earn more and more and more. Life abroad is difficult. Very, very difficult but what can he do? 

"The loneliness can kill you," he says.

"But it’s where the money is." 

The stories of survival in the Philippines are varied as they are endless. 

In the streets of Metro Manila at night, small time drug pushers are playing cat-and-mouse chase with the police and vigilante groups. 

Everyone’s trying to survive the times -- in the most mundane of hours, the most difficult days. 

And it’s not only a matter of life and death. It's also about one’s happiness and sanity.

There are a hundred and one ways to do it — from the illegal to the overt. 

Those in unhappy marriages, for instance, take in paramours and those who fall in love with their paramours just try to fight the misery. 

Some wives settle with their philandering husbands for the family to survive. 

Others just go on with their lives, just winging it, surviving on other people’s skills, talents and perhaps, even money. 

We all have our ways. 

As for me, I write to survive. I write to stay sane. I write to breathe. Most of all, as Anais Nin said, I write to taste life twice.