Project Larawan. Profiles of the Filipino. One portrait at a time.
An initiative to document and capture in photographs the multi-layered Filipino identity, encompassing a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, cutting across social strata, ethno-linguistic differences and regional divides. Hoping to enrich our lives and discover much more about ourselves as we celebrate diversity.
"We travel far and wide, traversing great distances and seeking out new experiences in far-off lands only to realize that the real journey lies in human encounters, where we rediscover the compassion and humanity that is common in all of us. There should be no strangers really."
Excerpt from Face to Face with the Mummies of Timbac, Viajero Chronicles
Yin-Yang. Mantigue Island Twins.
"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears." - Kahlil Gibran
While leisurely strolling around Mantigue Island, a lush four-hectare islet fringed by reefs and white sand just off the main Camiguin behemoth, I came upon the twins playing in a beached bangka. The children were part of the 20 families or so that made up the small fishing community that drew its livelihood from the sea. As I approached, one burst into laughter. The other became distraught. Two different reactions to the same situation.
I returned to Mantigue around 2015, 10 years after my visit, with the intent to take an updated photo of the twins, only to discover that several families from the fishing village had been relocated when the entire island was declared a marine sanctuary. I heard that the sisters had moved to Anda in Bohol. They should be in their early 20s by now.
I wonder how life has treated them. I would like to see them again and see how things have turned out. I wish them more reasons for joy than sorrow.
The Sto. Nino came to her in a dream.
When she awoke, Conching Achay found a small black stone beside her bed. And she understood her calling.
Her healing instruments are rudimentary – the small, black stone, a half-foot bamboo tube and a glass. With these, she performs the bolo-bolo, a healing ceremony that is unique even to her province where strangeness is commonplace.
The black stone is dropped into the glass half-filled with water. Using the bamboo tube, Nang Conching blows air into the water and presses the glass against the afflicted part of a patient. The water turns murky and dirt and debris appear in the water from nowhere.
The glass is emptied, refilled with clear water, and the procedure is repeated. Again and again, until the water finally stays clear. All toxins have been purged from the ailing patient’s body.
Nanch Conching attributes her healing powers to the supernatural. The stone, a gift from beyond. She had lost it once in a visit to Manila. She prayed to the Sto. Nino. When she returned to Siquijor, she found the stone waiting for her on her bed. Once, an unbeliever attempted to split it into two with a cleaver. The stone was not damaged yet the bolo-wielder was struck down by an unknown force and died on the spot.
She prays constantly. A large altar with religious images is a distinct feature of her humble home. When she fails to pray, she is weakened significantly.
She is soft-spoken, her words sparse yet potent. “Do not forget the Lord. Above all things.”
As Managing Director of The Extra Mile Productions, Ginggay co-heads a team of film and video creatives that presents compelling visual narratives of the Philippines and the Filipino – from the northernmost to the southernmost reaches of the archipelago. As a project manager of various government-private sector partnerships in the Visayas and Mindanao, she helps concretize opportunities for hope, recovery and development among communities ravaged by natural calamities, burdened by poverty, and torn apart by armed conflict.
Underlying all these involvements is Ginggay’s belief that making a difference in the lives of others is essential. Thus, she sees compassion as the key ingredient for a fruitful exchange that goes beyond all borders – of geography, of society, of culture, of faith.
In her eyes, poverty is the root cause of Muslim Mindanao’s woes. She believes that now more than ever, in the face of material lack and ethnic quarrels, the values of mutual understanding and open-mindedness are required to seek solutions to the violence.
Pata in Sulu has a dark and troubled history. It is the site of the infamous Pata massacre which has weighed significantly on the psyche of its residents and of the entire province.
Since Pata is an island municipality, it falls under the responsibility of the Philippine Marines. During an early morning trip to Pata Likud, the baranggay on the other side of the island, I took this photo.
Soldiering is not exclusive to men.
Maria Todi. Tboli.
Maria Todi Wanan. 2017 NCCA Gawad Gabay Awardee. A proud Tboli who works tirelessly to ensure that her culture, traditions and way of life are not lost, and are handed down to the succeeding generations.
Laarnie Lumbos Espra. Blaan
A Blaan woman in traditional attire. The bamboo bridge that led to the community weaving center in Lamlifew was a good spot to take her portrait.
Port Barton Persona
Frederic is a very familiar face in Port Barton. He navigates boats, whips up a mean salad and knows the islands and waters around Port Barton very well. He is at his element underwater where he can hold his breath for long periods and surface with different fishes caught with a makeshift speargun. At the end of the day, he provides a listening ear over a few bottles of beer. Heck, he even has those European backpackers smitten.
An all-around good guy.
Last I heard he was no longer in the area. Wishing him fair winds and calm waters in his life's journey.
Gusabin, An Elderly Blaan
She bears a beautiful name and radiates with warmth and gentleness that calm and reassure. There is an air of understated regality to her constitution.
One of my most favorite portraits ever.
Al-Sharief and his Mohawk
While we were looking for the burial site of Prinsesa Tarhata Kiram, a royalty of the Sultanate of Sulu, in a graveyard at the border of Jolo and Patikul, this young Tausug was loitering and following us. I took his photo along a row of tombstones and struck a conversation with the lad. Probably one of the most gentle people I have ever encountered.
He wants to be a policeman.
Liana Mora. Rock Star.
Ranked number one in women's bouldering in 2015-2016. Women's Open Champion of the 2015 Habagat National Bouldering Competition and the NUS 2015 Bouldering Active Champion in Women's Intermediate category (Singapore).
Beside a running river strewn with rocks and boulder near the border of Cagayan de Oro and the province of Bukidnon is a place where Liana hones her skills.
Liana burst into the scene from nowhere and has been dominating national competitions.
MNLF Commander Ustadz Yahcub Mahmud
I met the MNLF commander in October 2016. He had agreed to meet us in Jolo, and drove from his camp in Bitanag, Panamao. While we were guarded by over 16 PNP SAF personnel, he came alone without guards and was just escorted by his teen-age son.
Ustadz Yahcub, a key officer of Nur Missuari, had gone to Syria and studied in one of its military academies before returning to Sulu. During the Zamboanga siege led by Ustadz Habier Malik, Ustadz Yahcub stayed in Sulu and refused to join the rogue faction, not believing in the particular course of action that Malik had undertaken..
He had established Camp Jahal Uhud as a zone of peace, a place which would not shelter kidnappers nor be the launching pad of military operations.
"A peace zone should allow our children to go to school, our farmers to farm so that there will be sufficient food on the table, not just the absence of war."
When we met again not long after that first encounter, I had asked him if I could do a documentary about him. I wanted to present real people and their narratives to add to the discussion on the complex Moro issue. He asked me what would people possibly be interested in hearing from him, then chuckled.
With his sudden passing in December 2017, I would no longer be able to sit down with him and capture our conversations on video. I could write and speak about the things we talked about and discussed, but it would have been different if the words came from his mouth.
Kidlat Tahimik. National Artist for Independent Cinema
It is not commonly known that Kidlat Tahimik wore suits to work when he was with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. He obtained an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. Not hard to believe that he would found AISEC in UP.
A crossroad in his life was when he took a sabbatical from work in Paris and headed to Munich for the Olympic games in 1972. He had used his savings as capital to sell souvenirs and memorabilia during the games. He lost everything during the terrorist attack and found himself broke. He then found haven in a commune in Germany where he temporarily stayed until he could raise enough money to return home. He found employment in a movie set doing production support when the director saw him and used him as an extra. That director was noted filmmaker Werner Herzog who eventually influenced him to pursue his own visions.
Kidlat Tahimik's film Perfumed Nightmare was completed in 1977.
Leandro Elahe. Ifugao. Mayoyao.
Leandro Elahe is one of the most experienced and highly-regarded guides in Mayoyao with his extensive and invaluable knowledge of the Ifugao rice culture and the contours and slopes of its milieu. He poses with a black and white image taken in the early 1900s by an American photographer. This image of an Ifugao lass is permanently displayed at the Tourism office of the local municipal hall. The little girl in the photo is his grandmother. Her neck wear of what appears to be a set of mother of pearl shells is said to be worn only by a select few.
At the top of the Giant Balete Tree. Baler.
“Tabi-tabi po. Nakikiraan po.” Excuse me. Just passing through.
The words flowed out continuously as I maneuvered from one exposed appendage to another knot within the hollowed out trunk of the massive balete tree. Making my way to the top of the tree utilizing vines, branches and roots as grips and foothold, I was concurrently seeking the indulgence of its residents -- dwende, engkanto, tikbalang, kapre and other elementals and spirits harbored in the cavities and ancient branches. My superstitious upbringing guaranteed my familiarity with decorum with the infamous tree and its mystical creatures. I was deliberate with my behaviour around their lair, avoiding loud noises, crass words, sudden movements or anything that could be considered a provocation. I knew better than to unwittingly offend them lest some harm, illness or misfortune might befall me. I wasn’t taking any chances. I negotiated the vertical tunnel more preoccupied with supernatural notions than with the climb itself.
I exited the core to an overhang where branches now shot upward along with twisting roots and coiling stems, lending itself to a languid and easy climb the rest of the way to the top.
The balete is known for its menacing nature. It cannot thrive on its own, its survival hinging on a nurturing host it destroys as it grows. Knotted tendrils eventually shrouded and overwhelmed the host, literally strangling the life out of the support tree, a hollow core the only thing that remains.
The type of beings that would inhabit such an ominous habitat would be similar in disposition to the dwelling place. Evil attracts evil, I suppose, comprehending the draw of the balete to malevolent creatures.
But I was not fooled by daylight. I knew the kapre and tikbalang were there, out of sight and hidden among the gnarled tendrils for now, more tolerant perhaps and passively taking in all the activity. Silent. And watching.
Perhaps I should return to climb the tree at night, in total darkness with only the light from a full moon to keep me company. In that less than ideal setting, what creatures may reveal themselves?
Now that would be something else.
Guy Custodio. Restorer of Ecclesiastical Heritage.
I met Guy Custodio in 2013 in Albuquerque, Bohol. Back then, the renowned art restorer was rehabilitating the ceiling frescoes of Sta. Monica church. The original paintings, completed by Ray Francia, a Cebuano artist commissioned by the Archdiocese of Cebu to render the ceilings of over 20 churches throughout Bohol with ecclesiastical art in the 1920s to 30s, had seriously depreciated and were in need of restoration. He would patiently and methodically work on the original sheets that made up the ceiling one by one, aided by locals he would train to assist him.
Sultan Phugdalun Kiram II
Sultan Phugdalun Kiram II. Royal Council of the Sulu Sultanate. A teacher by profession. Also known to referee basketball games.
Winter Flores. Yakan. Lamitan.
Winter Flores is a senior member of the Lamitan Dance Ensemble. Her face is masked with the patterns associated with the wedding ritual. Pensive as she prepares for a performance.
The Sniper of Marawi
Corporal Mike knew right away that he had hit the high value targets. He had fired on several figures escaping to Lake Lanao under the concealment of darkness in the early hours of October 16, 2017. The shots were taken from a sniper position on the third floor of a building overlooking the intersection leading to the hideaway of rebel leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkayam Maute. The surrounded fugitives were earlier anticipated to leave their lair and make a dash towards the lake. Although it would take another five hours or so until daylight to finally confirm the identities of the targets, Corporal Mike already knew in his heart that he had shot dead the Islamist rebels responsible for the siege of Marawi that lasted five months.
Corporal Mike is an alias and his identity is a well-guarded secret. While the battle for Marawi is over, for him, there is no real closure yet. He is a marked man, sought by those who wish to retaliate and harm him. I don't know what he looks like. His face was permanently concealed by a balaclava he kept on the entire duration of our meeting.
The burden of responsibility weighed heavily on him. He would have preferred that someone else had actually taken down the two rebel leaders. He wished he had not been the one. He lives with the reality of being hunted. Settling down is difficult. A normal life is almost impossible with the constant threat on his life. There is no real peace of mind.
Dr. Joven Cuanang
Dr. Joven Cuanang, one of the country’s top neurologists, is equally known for his pursuits outside the medical field. The former Director of St. Luke’s Hospital is also lauded for his patronage of the arts. He founded both the Boston Art Gallery in Quezon City and the Pintô Art Museum in Antipolo, to provide venues for local artists to showcase their work. He owns Sitio Remedios, a nostalgic resort of restored ancestral houses which captures the charm and feel of old-world villages. As of late, he has been advocating the inabel and supporting the entire traditional weaving process, from strengthening the sourcing of local fibers through the reestablishment of cotton farming in Ilocos Norte, to the promotion of the final textile and garments. His latest preoccupation is Balay San Nicholas, recently restored and brought to its former glory through his leadership and guidance.
Dr. Joven Cuanang -- neurologist, heritage advocate, and one of Ilocos Norte's finest and reputable citizens. Renaissance man.
Tata Corazon. Basi Maker. Ilocos Sur.
Tata Corazon is one of the better known basi makers in Ilocos. Basi is fermented sugar cane extract stored in burnay jars. Basi is produced in numerous small-scale backyard operations by Ilocano wine makers, each with his own way and preference as to the durarion of the fermenting period and ingredients and agents.
Lorena. Radio Producer.
In her spare time, radio producer Lorena Sullano assists visitors around her city, especially during periods of festivities and events. In a moment of respite in between scheduled activities, she unwinds against a sarimanok mural by famed visual and performance artist Kulai Millan in one of Davao's malls.
It is said that the Takibo fishermen of Laguna wear hoods not just to protect their their skin from the sun, but also to hide their faces from the fish as they act as executioners as well.
Paul Santos. Museo Dabawenyo.
Museo Dabawenyo guide Paul Untal proudly points out the finer details of the triptych "Tri-People" by Desiderio Satorre, Jr. The mixed media piece welcomes visitors to the center, which exhibits and flaunts the rich heritage and culture of Davao City. Satorre's artwork recognizes and honors the diverse, multicultural identity not only of the city of Davao, but of the whole Mindanao itself. Christian, Moro, and Lumad features and representations (okir and ukkil patterns, the cross, and repeating geometric arrangements) form a singular composite face, in harmony with all the elements.
Carlos Aga, one of the best surfers in Borongan. A legend in Eastern Samar surfing folklore.
A pioneer and pillar of the local surfing community, Carlos is a keeper of secrets -- of breaks and surfing spots from the channels to the outer islands, a lifetime of discoveries made by exploring the 100-kilometer stretch of coastline of Eastern Samar since the 1990s.
“There is a need to change the image of the surfer. People used to look down on surfing because they couldn’t see what it was for. They thought we were just being reckless.”
Teri Malvar. Multi-awarded Actress.
Therese "Teri" Malvar is a multi-awarded thespian who won her first best actress award at 13-years old opposite Angel Aquino in the indie film ""Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita." Since then, she has received numerous recognitions, both local and abroad, including the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award at the 15th New York Asian Film Festival, and the Silver St. George Best Actress at the 38th Moscow International Film Festival, for various film projects.
Teri is a great-granddaughter of General Miguel Malvar. She is also of Rizal lineage. Dr. Jose Rizal's youngest sister Soledad, is her great-grandmother.
Raiza Kiana D. Tiwan. Young Leader.
Head Youth Delegate at APEC Voices of the Future Philippines. Doctor of Dentistry in the making.
Custodian of trivia and random facts. Educator. Comedian. All around good guy.