Behind the Lens of Duterte’s Hell

 

 

Before directing Field of Vision’s latest film, “Duterte’s Hell,” with Aaron Goodman, Luis Liwanag worked as a photojournalist for local and foreign press in the Philippines. In the following essay, he reflects on his transition from taking still photographs to filmmaking, and what it was like to capture the horrors of President Duterte’s “war on drugs.

I discovered photography when I was 11. My family did not own a single camera, but our neighborhood sorbetero [ice cream vendor] had a twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera and would take our family photos for us. I remember we had so many that when I opened my mother’s closet, dozens of photo albums would cascade down from the shelves. My dad, an artist and illustrator, kept stacks of old National Geographic, Time, and Life magazines tucked away in his filing cabinet. I bought my first camera at age 12: a Kodak Instamatic. I guess you could say I was destined to be in this line of work.

As a kid, I would just snap pictures of my friends in school. As an adult, being a photographer has given me the power to make observations about daily life in my country and voice my opinion on certain issues.

When President Rodrigo Duterte came into power, the rampage of extrajudicial killings started. My fellow journalists were covering the night shifts at the police headquarters. Reports would come in—either from radio dispatch or via Twitter—and they would travel to crime scenes in convoys. It was only a matter of time before I decided to started going with them, to see the effects of Duterte’s war on drugs for myself.

A mother cries for her dead son, who was shot dead inside an apartment during a police operation. She claims her son is not a drug pusher and was actually helping the police as an informer. Luis Liwanag

Shooting this and other documentaries has been transformative experience for me. When working as a hired photojournalist, I didn’t really set up my shots—I just filmed whatever is happening right in front of me.

And as I witnessed the aftermath of the slayings, I felt like I was reconnecting to my old self. I was a police beat photographer at the onset of my career, but later shifted to more varied issues and mainstream news coverage. I became focused on issues dictated by the editorial policies of media entities that employed me.

Now, as a freelancer—and particularly with this film—I’ve had the leeway to choose stories that I feel I can interpret better visually. And although the nightly spate of killings numbed me in some ways, I felt for the people directly or indirectly affected by them.

An elderly woman is comforted by her relatives after witnessing her son dead on the pavement in a dark alley in Tondo, Manila. Luis Liwanag

A couple of months into photographing the killings in Manila and its surrounding metro area, Aaron Goodman, an educator and video journalist whom I had worked with previously, saw my images on social media and asked me if I was interested in collaborating with him on a video documentary about Duterte’s drug war.

A suspected drug user lies dead on the ground in Tondo, Manila. Witnesses say he was shot in the face by masked men. Luis Liwanag

While filming, we had to maintain a low-key lighting style, and only expose for the midtones. I wanted to be unobtrusive and invisible while shooting the events so that we left as few traces of ourselves as possible.

Bodies of several young men lie inside a house on Agham Road in Quezon City after they allegedly shot back at police operative during an alleged drug raid. Luis Liwanag

Police flaslights reveal a dead body found during an investigation of a crime scene in Mandaluyong City. The killing was allegedly perpetrated by masked vigilantes who hogtied the victim before he was shot. Luis Liwanag

We had a limited amount of time to set up each shot. When you’re filming events as they unfold, you don’t really have control over what is going to happen. You have to visualize the image in your mind’s eye beforehand, and shoot whatever occurs in the moment.

While filming, we were very attuned to the sounds, textures, emotions and details of each scene. My approach was to linger in a single framed shot as if it was a single image and slowly transition into another well-composed frame and capture the entire story happening between those frames.

Although I am an advocate of still photographs and what photography great Henri Cartier- Bresson calls “the decisive moment,” I have discovered that video, though more fleeting, can be equally powerful in stringing together single images to make a powerful statement.

See Goodman and Liwanag’s film here:

To see more work by Luis Liwanag, visit his website here.

Duterte’s Hell

Now, a new film shows the human toll of Duterte’s campaign. “Duterte’s Hell,” by Aaron Goodman and Luis Liwanag and produced with the documentary unit Field of Vision, shows graphic images of Philippine police examining and carting off dead bodies, and grieving communities struggling to cope with the government-sanctioned murders.

In 2016, Duterte campaigned on a policy of mass extermination for anyone involved in the drug trade — not only drug traffickers, but addicts as well. “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews,” Duterte said in September. “Now there is 3 million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Dateline: Tacloban, Six months after Typhoon Haiyan

It’s been quite a while since I have revisited typhoon devastated Tacloban City. I was hoping on documenting it’s rise from devastation.
A couple of weeks back, just before the 6 month after typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) struck and destroyed a large swath of the area, I was commissioned to do some video work for the UN’s Farm and Agriculture Organization. Below is the finished short.

May 2014
Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) hit the central Philippines on 8 November 2013, destroying some 600 000 hectares of farmland and leaving tens of thousands of farmers without a source of income, severely threatening their food security.

Thanks to an immediate response by the international community, the Department of Agriculture and FAO were able to assist tens of thousands of rice farmers quickly restore and replant their devastated fields in the wake of the disaster, working closely with the national government at all levels. Within weeks of the disaster, FAO, the Department of Agriculture and their partners, began distributing certified rice seeds and urea fertilizer to severely affected farmers, reaching 80 000 families in time for the December/January planting season.

Some have already gathered their crops, others will be doing so over the coming weeks and into early June, giving farmers hope for the future and kick-starting their recovery.

– See more at: http://www.fao.org/emergencies/resources/videos/video-detail/en/c/231219/#sthash.LGvOepTX.dpuf

Neil Young is God


For Neil Young, the Sixties never ended. The music, memories and changes haunt his best songs and records like bittersweet perfume: vital, endlessly renewing inspirations that are also constant, enraging reminders of promises broken and ideals betrayed. In “Twisted Road,” one of eight new songs sprawled across this turbulent two-CD set, Young recalls, in a brilliantly mixed metaphor, the first time he heard Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”: “Poetry rolling offhis tongue/Like Hank Williams chewing bubble gum.” And Young tells you what he did with the impact. “I felt that magic and took it home/Gave it a twist and made it mine,” he sings over Crazy Horse’s rough-country swagger, as if the marvel of that time and his dreams are still close enough to touch.

for more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/psychedelic-pill-20121030#ixzz2BOuc5LdF


Ramada Inn:
This time machine bring you back into Neil’s mind/road trip into 60’s Americana…and back before you know it. Some of the kaleidoscopic imagery remind’s me of the 90’s when I almost worked at the Berkeley System’s screensaver company doing the famous flying toasters….

Mangrove Fight club


Under the canopy of the lush mangrove nurseries of Palawan, a few young boys get together to follow their dreams of being a boxer like their idol…Manny Pacquiao, as they cover their tender fists with old scraps of raggedy fabric…to punch on old sacks for practice and hoping to win PHP 500 as prize money for a regular barangay amateur boxing night.

CONECTADOS MANILA 2012

CONECTADOS will be co-curated by Cesar Caballero, Spanish artist residing in the Philippines, and Kenneth Esguerra, Ayala Museum’s Senior Curator and Head of Conservation. This will be composed of a three-part program –

It is an exhibition of photographs by select award-winning photographers from the Philippines, Spain and Mexico, at the Ground Floor Gallery of Ayala Museum from November 8-25, 2012. This will be formally opened on Thursday, November 8, 2012, at 6:30 PM;

It is a five-night, five-hour simultaneous presentations of multimedia projections focusing on select works of the participating artists in five prime locations such as the sprawling black granite façade of Ayala Museum, the Tower One arch, Makati Stock Exchange wall, The Link, and the Fashion Walk at Greenbelt 5. The multimedia projections will be conducted from November 8-12, from 6:00-11:00 PM; and

Watch for special live multimedia performance of the world-renowned Spanish multimedia artist Suso33 (www.suso33.com) during the opening reception on Thursday, November 8. His in-situ action visual performance will highlight the formal opening of the exhibition and launch of CONECTADOS.