As a work in progress, “Manila Gothic” begins its narrative in the ‘come down’ and disquiet of what appeared to be a brief pause in the Philippine president’s brutal war on drugs through the lens of the impoverished men, women, and children who violently lost loved ones via extrajudicial killings.
According to scholar
, during the Philippine American War, white supremacy and an imperial agenda were reinforced through Western media’s proliferation of images of dead male Filipino bodies as well as pliant, scantily clad Filipino women. I was reminded of that historical moment with the sudden windfall of graphic imagery coming from the Philippines in the months prior to my visit.
Hence, this story doesn’t traffic in spectacle, but hopes to report, analyze, and interpret trauma and its portrayal in a personal light and different spectrum.
Using a forensic camera and a filter that captures a mixture of IR and UV light for the still imagery, the resulting uncanny colors express the ubiquitous and lingering grief of the bereaved.
On Aug. 31, 1986, two million people protested against martial law and lined the streets of Metro Manila. Yellow appeared as a symbol of unity and defiance. It will always be a reminder of those who sacrificed their lives during the Marcos martial law regime. I am using this color in a similar fashion, but in a new and equally terrifying context.
Along with handwritten letters from the victims, ephemera, and site-specific street art, the start of this series revisits former murder sites and reconnects with the families and individuals living in the wake of personal ruin.
The invisible scourge of addiction extends far beyond the alleged abuse of shabu. As a series of altered states, “Manila Gothic” concerns itself with the opiate of violence afflicting the Philippines, its people, and its perception.
Lawrence Sumulong (b. 1987) is a Filipino American photographer and Photo Editor with Jazz at Lincoln Center based in New York City. See more of Sumolong's work on
Charito Rivera, 33, wife to Jason Rivera, 32, who was killed on February 16, 2017, by unidentified gunmen holds up his picture in the area where his body was found in Market 3, Navotas Fish Port. People claim that the gunmen were members of the SAID Special Anti Drugs group of PNP Navotas.
Dear Jose, I miss you my son, your childish affections to me and your siblings, our fights because of your jealousy over your younger siblings, because it seems like they are my only children, and that at the end you realize that you’re the eldest, and that you are the father figure to your younger siblings. I miss your waking me up in the wee hours of the morning to eat and that you’d make me some coffee. You’d serve me my plate. And the times when I’d come home from work, you’d anticipate that I have food with me, because I work as a cook at a canteen, you always bug me and play around. My son, I miss all of that. You know so many people look for you because they need to have their computers repaired, or they need someone to clean their aircon, repair their DVD players or their cellphone, or their refrigerator needs freon. They’d be surprised that you are gone now. And during your wake, many kids came and were really sad even crying. Never realized that the kids liked you, and your desire to have one of your own. There was even a young girl who kept on crying and she called you as Daddy Tigas, then I found out that you supported her with her education. Even the children of Pangko, you were the one providing for their school allowance. I am so proud of you, my son, for all the positive things that you have done for the people in our neighborhood. The people here love you, also the children told me that on the day that you died, you came up to them and playfully pinched their cheeks.
I love you John R. De la Cruz I miss you every night. I think of you and still cry. I am sorry but it is hard to accept. I really can’t accept your loss. In my constant dreams you are always with me, and that we are happy. I hope time repeats itself and that I was able to save you, then you would still be with here. I wish that I have asked you to sleep in my parents house then nothing bad would have happened. I am sorry pa that I was not able to do anything that day. I hope that you watch over us, me and your child. I will never forsake our child. I will take care of her as I have always promised you. I will love her like I have loved you. Pa, I love you very much, I miss your sweet tenderness and affections to me. When I dream of you, I don’t want to wake up. Wherever you are, I hope that you are happy with Papa God, and I hope that you’d be able to accept that you are gone. Even us, it has been difficult for us to accept what has happened, but what can we do, it happened so fast. Am sorry pa, we love you so much, especially mom and dad. I hope that the killers gets bothered in their conscience for what they have done to you. Watch over all of us, mom and dad. I miss your touch, your cuddles, your tight embrace. I know that tears can’t do anything, but it’s my only way to make you feel how much I love you. Thank you for all your sacrifices for me and our child, I will never forget how much I love you. I am sorry for all my wrongdoings to you when you were here with me. So long for now, we love you.
Spectators and gamblers at Roligon Mega Cockpit in Pasay City look on at the two lifeless bodies of fighting roosters in the ring . When the drug killings first started here, a local reporter called it “Patay City” — “City of the Dead.”
The Padre Zamora area in Pandacan, Manila, where several extra judicial killings have occurred.
A large crowd gathers and swells to watch a live taping of the popular daytime variety show “Eat Bulaga” in Navotas, Manila.
The entrance to a barangay in Navotas, Manila rumored to be a popular spot for masked vigilantes and hired guns to gather and prep before targeting and killing suspected drug users or pushers in the area.
After failing to be sutured and stitched up, a fighting rooster succumbs to its wounds and gasps its last breath at Roligon Mega Cockpit in Pasay City.
Cristeta Malasaga, is the only witness to the death of Cesar Noblejas of Caloocan City, who was shot in front of her in this bridge underpass on February 26, 2017. Cristeta, is homeless and pictured is her temporary home under a bridge in Caloocan City.
Maria Donna “Madona” Bernardo, 23, with her 3 month old baby Meldina stands for a portrait on the former landfill, Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila. Bernardo’s husband Dennis “Roy” Daang, 48, disappeared mysteriously. She found his body in a morgue. She lives alone with her two children.
Site specific work of Manila based street artist Doktor Karayom, who I asked to tag and transform the demolished neighborhood of Jazmine Durabia in Navotas, Manila. Jazmine Durabia, 15, is a mother to a 2 months old baby named, Hazel. Her deceased partner is John “Toto” Dela Cruz, 16. One night masked men knocked on their door and looked for Toto. The men pushed her and threatened her. They dragged Toto out of the door and shot him in the head.
Lady Love, 9 years old, a witness to the death of her parents Adrian and Vivian Peregrino in Camarin on August 25, 2016. She has 5 other siblings and is presently staying with her aunt. Her other siblings are scattered among other relatives. This is a formal portrait that my fixer and guide, Rica Concepcion, and I set up with a gravedigger and florist to create a wreath of indigenous and popular Filipino flowers that are associated with death and funerals. This photo was taken in a church and safe house in barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City.
Navotas Public Cemetery.
A church and safe house in barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City.
Son, I will not forget how much you took care of us, me and your child, your sweet affections, how you repeatedly show how much you care for us. Every time we eat we miss you so much. Your child is too young to lose a father. It has been very hard to go on without you. I really don’t know how will it be for me and our child. I have no one with me to take care of our child. It really hurts to have lost you. Now that you are gone, I will promise to take good care of our child and do my best to be able to make him go to school. Son, wherever you are we love you very much. Dear God, I surrender Jayson to you. If he had sinned, please forgive him. Thank you. Amen (A letter from the mother of Jayson Riverato to God and her deceased son}
A severed limb of a fighting rooster on a table intended for the losers/the deceased at Roligon Mega Cockpit in Pasay City.
The stations of the cross with the statue of the Black Nazarene in Pandacan, Manila, where several extra judicial killings have occurred. The statue, an emblem of grief and suffering, is renowned in the Philippines and considered miraculous by many Filipino Catholics
Crisanta Torres mother of Joel “Tigas” Fontanilla Torres, 37, holds his picture near their home inMaricaban, Pasay City. Tigas was killed by unidentified men in masks on October 11, 2016. According to the police, he was on the Drug Watch List and surrendered on July 21, 2016.
“Rise Up”, a church based organization helping families left behind by victims of Extra Judicial Killings from the War on Drugs, under the Duterte Administration, gathered the bereaved around for a get together on Ash Wednesday at The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Manila.
Street children pose with the site specific work of Manila based street artist Doktor Karayom, who I asked to tag and transform the demolished neighborhood of Jazmine Durabia in Navotas, Manila. Jazmine Durabia, 15, is a mother to a 2 months old baby named, Hazel. Her deceased partner is John “Toto” Dela Cruz, 16. One night masked men knocked on their door and looked for Toto. The men pushed her and threatened her. They dragged Toto out of the door and shot him in the head.
Family members of Ronnel “Unte” Jaraba, celebrate the 40th day after his death. They offered prayers and remembered him on this day at his grave at Navotas Catholic Cemetery.
Maria Donna “Madona” Bernardo, 23, with her 3 month old baby Meldina Daang visiting the grave of her deceased husband Dennis “Roy” Daang, 48, who disappeared mysteriously. She found his body in a morgue. She lives alone with her two children on the former landfill, Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila.
I am Madona, who lost her husband. I do not know how I’ll be able to raise my 3 kids, I hope that you will be able to help me. It so hard to lose a husband. I don’t know how I can make my 2 kids finish school. I am having a hard time especially that I have an infant, my youngest. Goodbye for now. Thank you very much
Dear Rommel, You may not be with us, I’d like you to know that we love you very much. Thank you very much for all the help and care that you have provided to your younger siblings. You really are a good son and that you fulfilled your promise to your father that you will take good care of us. But what happened, why did you go? We miss you here, especially when there are fights in our neighborhood. You have always been the “Peace Maker”, Brother Rommel is now gone. I hope that wherever you are now, you are happy, now that you are with your grandfather, grandmother, your favorite auntie, and most of all your father. I want to tell you a lot of things, but it still is difficult for me, I can’t help but cry every time I try. The right time will come and that we will be together again. My only request is that you be with us always. We may not see you but we’d like to to feel that you are just there. Don’t worry about your wife and your children, as long as I am strong enough, I will always take care of them. I’d like you to know that I love you very much. Your Mother!!! Mother Tess