Surviving Casiguran’s worst storm yet

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan


(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

CASIGURAN, AURORA–The black sky gradually breaks into a swirl of orange and purple.

Pockets of smoke rise in the distance, from wood– debris or fallen branches –being burnt in piles throughout town.

All is awake–a new day for Aurora’s northern town of Casiguran, still reeling from the super typhoon it first welcomed to the Philippines early this week.

The days are now dry, the run-up to sundown again climbing to stinging hot–evidence of the upside-down turn of climate.

It’s a far cry from the hours of what the locals say was their worst and longest ordeal under a storm since they could remember.


(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

They haven’t gone past the after-effects of it–eating breakfast in candlelight, settling for the radio during lunch instead of the usual noontime TV habit, and rushing home before darkness once again envelopes their power-less town.

But they’re thankful to have at least survived Lando.

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The eve of Lando’s landfall

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

(Shot by Rommel Zarate, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Rommel Zarate, ABS-CBN News)

BALER, AURORA– At the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Philippine shore, tourists tease and play with the waves, making the most of fading daylight.

The waves have been climbing as the hours pass, the tide teeming closer to the fences that separate the sand from the row of resort-hotels in this surfing hotspot.

It’s a last-ditch attempt to enjoy the remainder of what was previously surf-friendly weather.

The resort hotel they had checked into was also hosting a surfing event for the whole weekend. But even that had to be ended a day before schedule as reports of the approaching typhoon Lando (internationally Koppu) grew dire and direr. Beach activities, including surfing, have been banned.

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No longer playtime: Why Pinoy sailors trained with ‘toy guns’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan


PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, PALAWAN—Ridiculous. Disturbing. Humiliating.

These were among the intense reactions to an image of U.S. and Philippine navy officers handling visually distinct rifles at a training exercise aboard combat ship USS Fort Worth docked outside Puerto Princesa City.

The beige-clad U.S. servicemen brandished jet-black high-powered weapons, while their Filipino counterparts in blue coveralls held brick-colored plastic rifles lent by their trainors.

The contrast in the shot was telling: clearly, one was the real deal and the other a synthetic replica for training purposes. The meaning, unsettling for some who saw it: Why didn’t all the sailors just use similar weapons?

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When no news is good news

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

PDRRMC press con in Ilagan City after Chedeng (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

PDRRMC press con in Ilagan (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

ILAGAN CITY, ISABELA–“Sorry, guys, wala kayong maireport…”

It wasn’t pity or something sinister. No one lost a scoop nor was anything swept under the rug.

Jessie James Geronimo, information officer of Isabela province, was actually in good spirits giving this aside to national reporters at the briefing of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and local officials in the capitol.

Geronimo’s reason for saying so: “…Because we did our job.”

Everyone at the briefing shared a laugh.

After all, there was a grain of truth to it. The reporters had nothing much to report—except that the province survived the onslaught of Typhoon Chedeng (a.k.a. Maysak) a day earlier without a single casualty.

Interior Sec. Mar Roxas, in town for the meeting, smiled, exclaiming off mic: “Good news! Good news!”

In a country too used to rising death tolls after natural disasters, Chedeng left all with a sigh of relief.

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Left behind at Mamasapano

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Remnants of the fight at the Mamasapano site (Shot by Gani Taoatao, ABS-CBN News)

Remnants of the fight at the Mamasapano site (Shot by Gani Taoatao, ABS-CBN News)

MAGUINDANAO—The fallout of the bloody clash of police and armed groups has long since extended beyond Barangay Tuka na Lipao, this now-infamous hamlet of one of the country’s poorest provinces.

The much-depicted wooden stilt bridge and the open cornfields it connects are again quiet. About a 15-minutes’ walk from the nearest highway, the scorching sun bears down on the scene, much as it did when shots peppered the place on the morning of Jan. 25 and ended the lives of 44 elite police commandos and at least 18 Muslim fighters and 5 civilians.

The fire, smoke and ammunitions continue, this time figuratively and turned loose in Manila. There, two congressional investigations continue to uncover how a top-secret police operation went haywire and whose decisions were to blame.

Beyond Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo the incident has spun a political crisis, altered the legacy of a popular president, rewritten the fate of contenders in the next elections and stopped in its tracks a piece of legislation that would affect more than 3 million Filipinos.

The "Fallen 44" being flown from Cotabato City. (Shot by Bernie Mallari, ABS-CBN News)

The “Fallen 44” being flown from Cotabato City. (Shot by Bernie Mallari, ABS-CBN News)

Yet down south, a town, province and region’s residents continue to reel from the impact of a shattered ceasefire and now live under the specter of a full-scale conflict that could again wreck their way of life. Continue reading

SLIDESHOW: Zambo evacuees a year on


ZAMBOANGA CITY– For many locals who fled their homes during the height of the clashes between government troops and the Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front in September 2013, this has been their residence for the past 12 months.

The open-air Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex has sprung its own community in that time, with the evacuees there building their daily routines on the makeshift cabins and amenities there.

They are now a fraction of the original 110,000 occupants of the stadium, with new arrivals from tents at the bayside. Those who already left returned to the affected barangays, others to temporary shelters in four areas in the city.

City Hall says the sports complex will be vacated by December, the evacuees to transfer to these so-called “transitional sites”.

For now, they continue to pray, play and survive in a village that’s not theirs. They fear not the specter of another armed siege, but of carrying on life with no permanent means to sustain it.

Read more about the evacuees here.
Many thanks to Chito Concepcion, whose camera was used to take these shots.

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Waiting for a permanent address

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Muslim refugees pray at a makeshift mosque at the Joaquin F Enriquez Sports Complex in Zamboanga City. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

ZAMBOANGA CITY–The midday call to Muslim prayers blares from a megaphone atop a tent of donated canvas.

Inside on plastic matting, no more than ten men stand, sit, and bow, doing the positions of the salah. Their muddied slippers and sandals wait outside. One man hurries to wash his head, upper body, and limbs with water from a soft drink bottle—the ritualistic cleanse before going in to pray.

The makeshift masjid or mosque stands unnoticeably amid more tents and shanties at the grounds of the Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex, just a walk near the bay.

It’s the city’s main stadium, but for the tens of thousands of locals here, this has been their house, playground, workplace, and village for the past year.

They once lived in barangays like Rio Hondo, Santa Catalina, and Santa Barbara. But a three-week-long firefight between soldiers and rebels that began exactly 12 months ago razed their communities, left hundreds dead, and forced them from their homes and livelihood.

Here at the grandstand, the year that passed hosted an endless cycle of status quos and struggles for survival. For some, it’s only gotten worse, with no end in sight.
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Rebuilding near danger

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Life after Yolanda, Log 6

Typhoon-ravaged Esperas Avenue in Tacloban's Magallanes district. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Along Esperas Avenue in Tacloban’s Magallanes district. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

TACLOBAN CITY—Taking a turn off the main roads leads to another image of this recovering city.

The streets around downtown now hardly look like they were struck by 2013’s worst natural disaster. But beyond the city center, it’s as if Tacloban has yet to get back on its feet after Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda.

Behind the two-storey buildings along the highway hide the receding ruins of has-been houses. The alleys there have long been swept clean, thanks to an NGO’s cash-for-work effort. Yet the debris have only been kept off the streets. From the street curbs to the nearby coastline, a stretch of wreckage and discards still lies half a kilometer wide.

Debris and damaged houses in Magallanes district of Tacloban City. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

This is Magallanes District. The area runs parallel to Real Avenue, where most of the traffic to downtown passes. Magallanes is not just one but a couple of adjacent communities, barangays identified just by their numbers. We asked around for the worst-hit areas in Tacloban, and they pointed us to Brgy. San Jose near the airport, and to here.

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A renewed mission for ‘TV Patrol Tacloban’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

(Life after Yolanda, Log 5)

TACLOBAN CITY–How do journalists cover the news when they themselves were directly affected by it?

Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) did not spare local media outlets in Eastern Visayas. The worst hit were radio stations whose announcers were on the air as the typhoon hit.

For the news team of ABS-CBN’s regional station in Tacloban City, the biggest story they covered cost them their homes and nearly them and their families’ lives.

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A patch of buried dreams

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Life after Yolanda, Log 4

The mass grave in Barangay San Joaquin, Palo, Leyte, with the barangay chapel in the background.

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

PALO, LEYTE—Walk through this lot of makeshift graves and read the stories written on each mound and marker.

They are rolls of names etched by felt-tip pens on boards fastened to sticks. The lists number from two to ten to twenty, some too long to fit. Their surnames, often the same: spouses, children, and in-laws bound together in their last hours and in their final rest.

Beside the names, just dates of birth. Everyone here knows when all these people died. Many of the birth years are only past 2000.

Lit candles litter the mounds. Among them are keepsakes of the departed and offerings to the missed. Flowers—some real, some plastic. Rosaries. Stuffed animals. Watches. Bracelets. Portraits. Canned sardines. Biscuits. Containers of coffee and chocolate milk. Soda in half-empty bottles. Rice and pansit in aluminum foil.

Memorial markers in Palo, Leyte of people killed  during Typhoon Yolanda. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

A statue of Jesus Christ of the Sacred Heart towers over the graves—one arm outstretched, the other broken off. An eerie fit to this sudden cemetery along the highway of Palo, Leyte.

But the kids here say this was once a grass yard, the de facto plaza of the church of Barangay San Joaquin. Youth groups would practice hip-hop dances here.

Then came Yolanda.

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