Challenges to the Bangsamoro project.

After the long 17 years of struggles and negotiations, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have finally signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that seeks to end more than four decades of Muslim secessionist movements and violence in southwestern Mindanao.

Will the Bangsamoro agreement bring peace to Mindanao? (Photo from

Will the Bangsamoro agreement bring peace to Mindanao? (Photo from

The framework agreement on the Bangsamoro has four annexes, each one tackling normalization, revenue generation and wealth sharing, transitional arrangement and modalities. These describe and justify the Bangsamoro as an identity, a territory and as a new political entity. However, despite the best efforts by the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine government to reconstruct the political system in Mindanao, the framework has vulnerabilities that might impede its success.

Inclusivity and factionalization. Amidst development in the peace process, not everyone is in favor of the deal. Other militant groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari and the Abu Sayyaf have been excluded from the talks. The Philippine government continues to fight armed splinter groups in the south and the prevalence of factionalization could arise among rebel groups in Mindanao. While the MILF negotiation with the national government seems to be in the pace of success, some of its members who favored an armed struggle for independence left and assembled a separate group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that has been recently involved in minor skirmishes with the Philippine military.

The negotiation process has heavily relied on Malaysia as its mediator which opens speculations whether the Bangsamoro government will give up its claim over the separate issue of territorial disputes over Sabah.

Capability and resources. As part of the agreement, the new political entity will be granted authority to govern its financial resources and levy taxes appropriately as prescribed in the agreement. The new Bangsamoro government will also receive 75 percent of taxes collected in the region, those revenues from metallic minerals and some control of fishing territories.

However, the question of proper mechanism and dynamics to properly run the entire financial administration and funding is vulnerably at stake. Although it can’t be assumed that the substate is not capable at all to conduct all the financial management it requires, there is a need to build its capacity and knowledge in handling public financial resources as it now involves the quality of governance in the Bangsamoro.

Police power and territorial jurisdiction. The supervision and training for the police forces in the Bangsamoro state remains problematic and unclear, especially as regards to where police power should emanate. Should the Bangsamoro region possess its own police power over its territory or should they still be subjected under the national government’s direction?

This requires a long term development program for the Bangsamoro to strengthen its police forces; and the issue of loyalty prevails if there will be two national police forces to be established.

Equal representation. In this “transitional democracy” to be handed to the Bangsamoro people, there must be solidarity among all Filipino people. They must be on the same page with regard to ending the conflict in the southern Philippines.

The peace development process includes a plebiscite once the Bangsamoro Basic Law has been passed by the middle of next year or even earlier, where the current residents of the “envisioned core territory” will be asked to ratify the Bangsamoro’s establishment. Former government negotiator Marvic Leonen, who is now a member of the Supreme Court, said that the plebiscite is what differentiates the newly signed agreement with the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain initiated by the Arroyo Administration. That agreement was struck down by the Supreme Court.

As the Aquino administration pushes for the new Bangsamoro region in 2016, the only way to make this new beginning worth striving for peace and development in Mindanao is the trust that the Filipino people would grant the current administration. This is going to be a long process, and nobody denies the difficulties.

Originally posted: The Observers


Beijing and Hong Kong’s pan-democratic movement.

by RJ Barrete

The on-going campaign in Hong Kong to achieve genuine democracy seems to be on a snail pace, if not at a dead end. Despite massive clamor for electoral reform, the campaign’s success remains uncertain.


Hong Kong is a special administrative region part of the People’s Republic of China | Photo: University of Nottingham, UK

Aside from universal suffrage, much of the campaign for genuine Hong Kong democracy focus on the nomination process for the city’s chief executive. Beijing consistently insists on its own interpretation of the Basic Law, which argues that the chief executive must be an “individual who loves the country and loves Hong Kong.” This biased interpretation, however, has led to a string of pro-Beijing chief executives that always favors the central government, ostensibly to avoid tensions.

In 2013, Li Fei, chairman of Beijing’s Basic Law Committee, announced a select group of Hong Kongers will filter nominations for the position of chief executive. This is despite vigorous campaign from democratic activists– called the “pan-democrats” in Hong Kong– who advocate a fair process wherein all voters would be able to have a say in the nomination process.

Article 45 of the Basic Law provides that the ultimate objective is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. Pan-democrats question the composition of the nominating committee, however, since they are almost always composed of pro-Beijing members.

The problem is that Hong Kong is not an independent political entity. As a constituent dependency of the People’s Republic of China, it cannot simply adopt national election models without Beijing’s approval. This why the central government has always insisted that it has the authority,and even the right, to guide Hong Kong’s political maturity. In practice, therefore, any democratic reforms must emanate from Beijing; and in the event that Beijing decrees these reforms, there would be implications on the pan-democratic movement.

Any democratic reforms that are gained through Beijing’s blessings could be seen as a result of the central government’s largess, not of the Hong Kong people’s sovereign will. This will further legitimize Beijing’s reign as the highest authority in Hong Kong’s political affairs– a potential challenge to the notion that, as per the Basic Law, the city should always remain a democracy.

Now, will the pan-democrats be willing to accept such a political relationship between the city and the central government? As things stand, it will absolutely take time to rebuild trust between Beijing and the pan-democratic movement.

At the end of the day, genuine democracy will remain a dream for the people of Hong Kong unless Beijing becomes willing to trade its ace and acquiesce to the pan-democratic movement. But is the movement ready for the political consequences of Beijing’s approval?

Originally published: The Observers

UNCLOS, China, and Myanmar’s ASEAN chairmanship.

by RJ Barrete

The South China Sea dispute has been an international concern that is becoming a global flash-point. The tensions in the disputed areas continue to aggregate as claimant nations show no signs of finding an effective resolution to the overlapping claims.

China's actions in the South China Sea have raised alarms in the region (Photo from The Guardian)

China’s actions in the South China Sea have raised alarms in the region (Photo from The Guardian)

The issue of ownership and sovereignty over the maritime areas boils down to the vast natural reserves and resources around the island-chains. Beijing claims the largest portion of territory, with its so-called “nine-dash-line” that stretches hundreds of miles south and east from the southern province of Hainan. The Chinese government consistently claims its rights based on historical evidence, and has regarded the islands as integral part of China since it issued a map in 1947 to justify its claims. However, Vietnam ardently disputes China’s historical account and argued that the islands are entirely within its territory since the 17th century.

On the other hand, the Philippines invokes a mixture of history and geographical proximity to the Spratly Islands as the major basis of its claim. Other countries like Malaysia and Brunei also lay claim to territory in the South China Sea on the foundation of economic exclusion zones (EEZ) as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS). However, what sets Brunei different from other claimant is that it does not claim any of the land formations.

Relevance of UNCLOS. While the fundamental issue in the South China Sea is one of sovereignty, UNCLOS has no provision on how to determine sovereignty over offshore islands. Since there is no treaty that upholds a balanced and peaceful process regarding the sovereignty claims, concerned countries must look to the rules of customary international law on the acquisition and territorial loss for guidance .

The existence of UNCLOS is critical to the disputed area because it establishes a legal framework governing all maritime concerns, and that it binds all states involved to carry out its provisions in good faith. Now, what are the provisions enclosed in this legal framework that is critically significant to evaluate the actions of the claimants that should be in accordance with international law? First, the UNCLOS sets out what maritime zones can be claimed from the mainland of the states bordering the sea, and what rights and jurisdiction coastal states and other states enjoy in those maritime zones. Second, it sets out which off-shore geographic features can be subject to sovereignty claims. Third, it sets out what maritime zones can be claimed from offshore geographic features; and, lastly, it established rules on how to delimit maritime boundaries in situations where overlapping maritime claims begins to manifest.

China’s Reassurance and Resolve. China’s policy toward the South China Sea dispute remains fundamentally unchanged. It had consciously tried to reassure its neighbors that, amid its booming economy, it will take a peaceful process on the issue; however it has recently made itself clear that it is determined to uphold its claims in the maritime areas. Despite these reassurances, however, the international community is disappointed with the seeming disconnect between China’s words and actions. In 2013, China’s new leadership under President Xi Jinping sent out a clear and consistent two-pronged stance about the disputes: While China’s intentions are peaceful, it will respond assertively against any perceived challenges to its claims. Beijing maintains that it is committed to maintaining stability in the South China Sea– adhering to the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties and resolving disputes on a bilateral basis– but would maintain vigilance on potential disturbances of some countries for their own interests.

China’s reassurance, however, was still coated with ambiguity as their words were obviously opposite of their actions – when they started series of aggressive measures. The most recent upsurge in tension has coincided with more posturing of military power, putting the Philippines and China in a maritime stand-off. In July 2012, China formally created Sansha City, an administrative body stationed in the Paracel which oversees Chinese territory in the disputed area.

The Next Flashpoint? Located 105 nautical miles from Palawan island in the Philippines, the Second Thomas Shoal could be the next flash point in the South China Sea. The Shoal, 15 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide, is also known as Ayungin in the Philippines and Ren’ai Reef in China. It is considered a strategic gateway to vast deposits of oil and natural gas in the Reeds Bank and is claimed by the Philippines as part of its 200 mile EEZ.

Beijing asserts that it has indisputable sovereignty over the shoal and any attempts on the part of the Philippines to intensify its so-called illegal presence run counter to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties. Beijing also insists that Chinese vessels to has the right to protect China’s sovereignty by sending patrols around the area, and that such right is beyond reproach.

The Philippine government had earlier filed a case with the United Nations to bring its territorial dispute with China to UNCLOS arbitration tribunal – an action that has drawn support from the United States, a treaty ally of the Philippines; the European Parliament; and other Asian countries like Japan and Vietnam. Manila’s move brought forth anger from China as it opposes any multilateral discussion on the dispute.

Philippine Defense. The Philippines has stated that it would approach the issue from three prongs – political, legal, and defense. Manila aims to transform the South China Sea, which it has unilaterally renamed the West Philippine Sea, into a zone of peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation. The Philippine government sees an alternative solution through multilateral channels.

For its part, the American government does not take an official position on competing territorial claims but firmly stands against coercive actions by China to alter the status quo. The Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington does not include an “automatic retaliation” clause, making security guarantees a little ambiguous. Still, Washington’s indirect support for Manila is perceived by China as an act of intimidation. This appears to have nurtured a sense of mistrust that could escalate if not managed properly.

Beijing’s Aggressive Foreign Policy and Its Implications. President Xi’s leadership appears to have embarked on an ambitious diplomatic offensive. We know that China is poised to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy, and is aiming for a new kind of great power relationship with the superpower. It is aggressively using its economic and military muscle to boost its say in the global order. It appears that China’s goal is to be a blue water maritime power.

As the world’s biggest trading nation and one of the largest sources of outward foreign direct investment, Beijing has been deploying its vast economic arsenal. At the Boao Conference in 2013, President Xi told world leaders that China would be importing goods and services worth $10 trillion in the coming five years, and that its FDI is tipped to amount to $500 billion in the same period. China has been projecting power through economic heft, improving its international status in terms of progress and development. According to recent reports, part of the reason why the European Union (EU) might have second thoughts about punishing the alleged dumping of Chinese products was the booming growth of Chinese FDI in Europe. China’s business activities are becoming the backbone of Beijing’s pivot to America’s backyard strategy.

A breakthrough to resolve the conflict in the South China Sea, however, remains unclear and that conflict management will be the focus to avoid military skirmishes and potential conflict in the coming years. China manifests lack of enthusiasm for any kind of code, making its actions unpredictable.

Myanmar's ASEAN chairmanship could be crucial. (Photo from France24)

Myanmar’s ASEAN chairmanship could be crucial. (Photo from France24)

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year is something that the international community should watch for. Beijing has great economic and political leverage over Myanmar. As the dispute remains unsolved, the ASEAN’s objective to present a united front will continue to be put under strain. This poses a challenge to the organization’s objective to maintain centrality in the regional security building process. Its leaders will have to struggle with the growing number of barbed problems created by, as the ASEAN chair recently put it, an increasingly complex geopolitical environment.

Originally Posted: The Observers

5 Things To Remember About Diversity

We often think how humanity would be like in the absence of conflict, where pursuit of harmonious society is never just a dream that everyone wishes for but a reality for humankind. However, have we even asked ourselves as part of this system, what have we done right to achieve this?

I lived for almost a month in a foreign land, with 32 wonderful people from 17 nations – with them they bring their rich culture and traditions and their belief system that I have never heard before. However, what makes our differences worth the celebration is the connection despite diversity. Here are the 5 things why we should celebrate diversity.

“Now we can’t distguish who is who – no race , no religion,just humans. All are equal.” – Hend Sallam

LIFE. Your realities are never the realities of others. It is sometimes our personal perceptions that create our reality. We are not in the position to dictate how the reality of others should be like. In this life’s existence, we meet a lot of people – so deeply listen with their stories, just listen and when you are done listening, try to understand and if it poses you questions never hesitate to ask. There are times when the answers we hear are not enough or the sense of dissatisfaction becomes our argument, hold back, it is their reality not ours.

FRIENDSHIP. Having thousands of friends could be an achievement, but having good ones to keep is a treasure. Was there a point in our lives when we asked ourselves, who our friends are? Sure, we set standards and it varies – but what makes friendship lasts are the moments you have genuinely lived together and the nostalgic memories that bridge boundaries.

RELIGION. In a society where we perceive we belong, acceptance and appreciation are our greatest allies. Nonetheless, even in the environment we thought we own, sometimes it disowns us, not because we don’t deserve it but because of the perceived notion that being different needs a cure. In this world, we were made to believe that religion is the most powerful guide to be a better person – we were taught to pray, praise our gods, and live by our teachings and because of this, an embedded belief that the things we do are the absolute. Sometimes, we tend to forget that others have their own ways too – and human nature dictates that being behind is deemed unacceptable. If the basic teaching of religion is to do good, I firmly ask the question, what happened to us?

CULTURE. Traveling could be your greatest teacher to appreciate culture – at first curiosity strikes you. Traveling alone and living with a “new family” you have never known before gives you another aspect of life. You are forced to examine both your own culture and the culture you’re being immersed in.

LOVE. Love is always unexpectable and often times, it gives you a thousand questions and even answers you’re not ready to hear. We may have lived in a liberal society or in the most conservative one, but who are we to judge? Some said, societal restrictions and limitations can reduce the pain of being hurt, some even said love starts after marriage. We live in a very diverse world, some could be together, some may not but at the end of the day it is our choice to challenge our realities – we take risks, but that’s how life should be. We win some and we lose some.

The Aquino’s test of leadership

Let’s mention it, 2014 is here and Filipinos are certainly hoping for a more stable and successful year for personal aspirations – an annual common drive for our countrymen to be motivated and bring their social and economic mobility to a higher ladder. This characteristics of positivism and anticipation of good things are never exclusive to Filipinos alone – rather stemmed to human beings as comforting mechanism and living by the cliché, “Pag May Bukas, May Pag-asa”.

Living in a democractic and developing society surely helps our people to maintain a life of being hopeful because things are in process and moderation, but this does not exempt the leadership of public officials in power. Hope can only do so much as to hope is nothing without progression.

Aquino Clan

Way back in 1983, former Senator Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., who was assassinated at the Manila International Airport , formed the leadership of the opposition to the government of then president Ferdinand Marcos. He received popular support from the Filipino people as he fought for freedom and sovereignty of the nation against the authoritarian government of the Marcos regime marred with extreme corruption, political repression and human rights violations.

In 2009, former President Corazon Aquino, icon of people power in the Philippines and around the world, died of colon cancer. The whole country mourned for another leader’s death , one who contributed to the nation’s fight for freedom during the Martial law against the Marcos government. She adopted a policy of national reconciliation that freed more than 500 political prisoners, including the top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines during her presidency; pushed for labor-intensive projects and forwarded trend of setting targets for poverty reduction and unemployment. The gigantic support turned into tangible recognition of Filipinos that crowded her death and memorial at the Manila Memorial Park.

All of these celebrated leaders will never be forgotten. The compelling reason why PNoy run for office and got elected  could be the easy recall of the contributions done by his parents who  massively contributed to the reformation of the Philippine polical system. I I reckon that the Filipino people do not deserve his kind of leadership. After his mother’s death in 2009, politicians urged him to run for office. People again showed support and the influential clout of her sister in show business were again grand.

I am not a critic of the president or a follower of his “promising” taglines “Pag Walang Kurap, Walang Mahirap and the vague illustration of “Tuwid na Daan”however it has been three years yet things are still the same for common Juan Dela Cruz. Surely, when he stood at the podium during the campaign period, he mesmerized the electorate with his resounding slogans, offering a new kind of leadership – to let culprits of corruption be punished and give justice to the people as we value public office as a public trust. After three years  passed, I try to recall PNoy’s exclusive political brand as to what his parents  achieved and delivered to the entire nation . Two things transpired – (1) a justice provider to pave way for empowerment and sustainability and (2) a leader who does not possess a decision-making capacity.

These accusations of his leadership are never fictional but factual. The previous year was indeed fatal for the whole country – Zamboanga standoff, Bohol earthquake, pork barrel probe, and the devastating super typhoon Yolanda, tragic as it may appear for the victims and survivors of these unwanted scenarios for the Philippines, this could be an opportunity for the president to bring his leadership to another level.

During the Zamboanga crisis, it was reported that Junior AAFP officers were unsatisfied with PNoy’s take on Zamboanga standoff, group of Reformed Office Union of AFP aired out sentiments caused by countless failures of the government to respond to the Zamboanga siege by the group of former Moro National Liberation Front Chairman Nur Misuari. It took five days for PNoy to fly to Zamboanga for him to check the status of the siege first hand on ground.

The most catastrophic event of last 2013, on the other hand, was when typhoon Yolanda ravaged the Visayas region and other provinces and islands – thousands lost their homes, loved ones and livelihood, causing a total economic breakdown for areas severely hit by the typhoon. This event turned out to be a blame game or worse a soap opera in the making as polliticians divulge themselves into dramatic course of questioning accountability between Romualdez and Roxas because the system has failed. Without a doubt, the system has failed. PNoy blamed the response of the local government in the face of the typhoon’s unprecedented destructive power, appearing to ward off international criticism that the national government dragged its feet in hastening aid to the disaster zone. Aquino once told reporters, “We had a breakdown in power, a breakdown in communications… a breakdown in practically everything.”

One thing, in a country where everything is in the process of development, I consider the presence of assistance in its local units – benevolent in extending help from the national government, constant cooperation and most importantly perceptive of its functions.

In this country where political association seems to be the be-all and end-all in keeping our duties – progression will always be in the state of hope.

Originally posted at Philippine Online Chronicles.

Photos via President Aquino’s Facebook page. Some rights reserved.

Inside the World of Yakuza: An Interview with Anton Kusters

Anton Kusters is a Belgian photographer (and graphic/web designer), who currently feels most at ease expressing himself in a visual way through photographs, words and even videos.

‘I live for the journey, and hope I can still make a few of those, given this precious little time I get to walk this earth. And of course I hope I can share my stories…’

Kusters is the first Westerner who gained access in the world of Yakuza, the most notorious organized criminal group in Japan. But how did he able to enter the Yakuza world?

‘We were patient and negotiated for a long time to gain trust and access. My brother (who lives in Tokyo and speaks Japanese) and I talked for about 10 months with Souichirou, our contact and member of the Yakuza family I hoped to photograph. It was definitely not easy, but there were some crucial things that helped gain the necessary mutual trust to actually start the project. First and foremost was the fact that I set out to make a documentary story, not a journalistic one. That and also the fact that I wanted to take my time – two years – to photograph them so that I could learn and try to understand the Japanese culture and by extension the Yakuza sub culture, made a huge difference to them. Once they realised I was not a reporter looking for a quick sensational story, but that I was an artist looking to show what I felt being witness inside an unknown closed world for a longer time, and creating a photo book and an exhibit out of it, they slowly started seeing that my approach was different. After ten months of negotiating, we gained access and I started making images.’


Nitto-san sits in the back of a car en route to the Niigata prison to pick up two yakuza members, who would be released from prison that morning. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘The most unforgettable experience would definitely be the funeral of Miyamoto-san, one of the senior bosses of the family, who died of a stroke. I went to visit him in the hospital – he was in a coma, never to awake again – and paid my respects. In turn, the family asked me to attend the funeral, which happened the next days. It was an intimate buddhist ritual that normally I would never have ever been allowed to witness, be part of, or let alone photograph.’

kusters odo yakuza tokyo

Funeral of Miyamoto-san, one of the senior bosses of the family. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘I don’t think I would like to catalog the experience (or parts of the experience) of photographing the Yakuza as “good” or “bad”… I would rather state that I experienced many things, and that I am grateful for all of them… I had the chance to witness an extremely closed organized crime family, learn about a totally unique and new subculture (at least to me), and I was able to gain respect and trust from them, simply for one thing: my artistic expression…. to this day, I feel like grateful for this chance I got. Besides that, I’ve also learned a lot in regards to human interaction and foreign culture, and I’ve become so much closer to my own family and friends along the way.’


Yakuza recruits line up at the beach every morning to have a moment of meditation before they start their daily training routine of close combat fighting, bodyguard training, and knife practice. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘It is not my place as a photographer to judge the Yakuza. They are criminals for sure, and they know that themselves also. But this is not the point here. They chose their path in life, and that is their business, not mine. They are also human, just like everybody else. My photos do not intend in any way to pass judgement upon them, be it good or bad. Any interpretation of my images one way or the other, is in the eye of the viewer, and the eye of the viewer only… as it should always be.’

kusters odo yakuza tokyo

Members of the Shinseikai family stand guard outside a restaurant where the bosses are eating dinner. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘In this project I do not force an opinion on my viewers through my images… as in life I try hard not to judge…. because who am I to judge another human being? And yes, indeed… maybe the viewer is left with even more questions than he/she had before seeing this work… I know I often am… the world to me seems to be not black & white anymore, but many shades of grey. In short: I cannot say if I see goodness in them or not. I can only see that they are human.’


Yamamoto Kaicho, a number two boss, lies as master Tattooist Hori Sensei completes his full body tattoo. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

Kusters said that this project is special because it brought his family physically together. ‘This project is special to me because the reason I started it…. which was a tiny personal reason: I wanted to be able to visit my brother more often in Japan… My sister and my mother live close to me, but my brother lives literally 9300km away… And this project brought us physically closer together. Family is always a good reason to start a project…’


Traditional Japanese tattoos, often seen on the bodies of the yakuza, are done manually with several sharp, inked needles. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘I learned a lot about how to collaborate with my subjects (not just the Yakuza, but my subjects in general). I learned how to work together, how to give back, learned how to gain and keep trust from the people I photograph, and most of all, learned how to be patient and open-minded as much as I can.’


Men shower in an Onsen, a typical Japanese bath house, after playing in a golf tournament. Some bath houses in Japan deny access to those with tattoos, in an effort to stop yakuza from frequenting them. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

Kusters is now on his next projects, dealing with two stories. ‘Two stories: one dealing with the Holocaust called “Heavens”, and one dealing with being homesick and finding where one belongs, called “I Was a Dog”…

Personal message for the blog: ‘Be patient, know what you want, be patient, work very hard, and be patient. And most of all, when you want to jump, don’t let fear hold you back… you WILL land safely, whatever happens… trust me.”

Follow Anton Kusters photography by visiting his website

Resiliency over Adversity: A month after Yolanda

Yesterday, as we approach Ormoc City the damages done by Yolanda was beyond my expectations. Coming from the Visayas region it was more heartbreaking to see your people trying to rebuild what they lost (more unexplainable feelings when I hear stories about the death of their families, relatives and friends). Some said, they already accepted it, however at least they should find their bodies. Approaching to Tacloban from Palo, Tananuan and Tolosa was more extremely devastated. As of now, I reserve my judgment on how the President defines ‘normalcy’. I know it is really hard for the victims to start over, but to witness them trying to move forward is just so uplifting. It’s been a month since Yolanda yet some areas still look like war zones. Let’s not stop helping our fellow countrymen. More than immediate assistance, a simple show of sympathy, not pity is what they need. Let’s build a better Tacloban.

Seriously, this place turned out into something I only see in movies. Burning of debris everywhere to serve as source of light, police and military checkpoints, devastated buildings and homes, people seeking shelter on streets, unwanted smell of air because of dead bodies and foreign teams into assessment of recovery.

This is a new starting point for the people of Visayas and the government. We’ve invested so much to industrialization and commercialization and lost track of agriculture – something that the government should take into account for rehab and reconstruction.

I do not know if people here receive enough but I must say, they need more.

A boy plays sepak takraw in SOS Village as his father watches him.

A boy plays sepak takraw in SOS Village as his father watches him.

A shipping line ashores the coast line near Tacloban City that ravaged the houses near the shore.

A shipping line ashores the coast line near Tacloban City that ravaged the houses near the shore.

A man who works again as tricycle driver in Tacloban City.

A man who works again as tricycle driver in Tacloban City.

Homes turned into pieces of debris near the shore line of Tacloban City.

Homes turned into pieces of debris near the shore line of Tacloban City.

Children play near devastated area in Tacloban City.

Children play near devastated area in Tacloban City.

Residents selling products from nearby provinces to earn income to survive.

Residents selling products from nearby provinces to earn income to survive.

A man cleans the walls of Sto. Niño Parish.

A man cleans the walls of Sto. Niño Parish.

Portrait of Christ on dumped baskets.

Portrait of Christ on dumped baskets.

A room in a residential house damaged by Yolanda in Sampaguita St., Tacloban City.

A room in a residential house damaged by Yolanda in Sampaguita St., Tacloban City.

An old lady sits outside her house remembering Yolanda.

An old lady sits outside her house remembering Yolanda.

A young boy sells his goods while a man stops over at the shed that says: "I LOVE TACLOBAN"

A young boy sells his goods while a man stops over at the shed that says: “I LOVE TACLOBAN”

Photos taken via Instagram: @rjamesbarrete

Follow me on Twitter: @rjamesbarrete

Olivia Wise, who covered Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ died

Now available on iTunes. All proceeds go to the
‘Roar’ iTunes (Canada):…
Roar CDBaby:


Olivia Wise has Brain Cancer. She came into a recording studio for her first time and recorded the Katy Perry song Roar. She couldn’t walk or stand, she didn’t have her full breath or the energy she used to, and she was managing her new pains and new limitations. While her physical condition was rapidly fading, her spirit remained untouched.

Olivia is a fighter and has gone through the fire, in fact, she was going through the fire while she recorded this song, but you wouldn’t know it, because she was dancing right through it. She is an inspiration, a champion, and my hero. This is her Roar.

Thanks to Jon Levine and Matt Marek.

Love you Liv,


Extreme Vantage Point: An Interview with Vadim Makhorov

Vadim Makhorov is a Russian photographer who loves to view the world from extreme heights and appreciates urban landscapes. His amazing style of photography has been published in The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Daily Mail and New York Times. I had a short interview with him, here he talks about why he loves taking photos in extreme vantage points.

Vadim Makhorov, 24, Professional Photographer

Why is photography your interest and why bring it to an extreme new level?

My passion evolves in the world of arts, and I definitely consider photography as part of it. I started doing photography four (4) years ago (and started travelling at the age of 19). I tried different kinds of creativity in the world of photography, dabbled with it. Since, I almost tried everything about it, one day I realized there is so much beauty in urban landscape that one can appreciate, and so it was the day I considered as my greatest take-off in my passion and interest. Imagine a city full of lights, monstrous buildings – where heights may be considered as the greatest fear one may imagine. However, height has so much beauty that deserves appreciation.

We all have unique or yet personal definition of what photography is; but whenever I take photos, I let people define it. I consider myself as creative and as of the present, this is where my creativity belongs. I have managed to succeed. But things are not permanent, change is constant in this world. The success you embrace in the present may be not the same as that in the future. So, I always assure myself to capture the greatest heights I can reach and appreciate its beauty.

What could be the other countries you want to visit as your subject?

Recently, I traveled to Europe with my best friend and partner in photography (Vitaliy Raskalov). We wanted to see the non-touristic side of the continent. We always wanted to offer something new, complicated, and fascinating views of a place, the unusual side. Sometimes, when we set our attention into something we think could be the best and perfect, we tend to appreciate what the world offers. Someone asked me before, what could be the best photo you consider or captured so far? I answered, “That’s a difficult question, I always leave it to the viewers.”

Benidorm, Spain

If I were to travel some other time in the future, I would love to visit China, Brazil and North Korea.

What could be the greatest challenge you have encountered?

Well, problems are everywhere – everyone has stories to tell. Sometimes, we find a way to get around them. But surely, we can solve them. Personally, at a young age (yes, I consider myself young), I don’t remember that I have encountered a greatest challenge YET. There is still a long journey that awaits me in this world. I’m not yet half-way showing the beauty of the world.

I can only share one great achievement so far, and that’s doing the things I love and live without tension.

Twitter Handle: @dedmaxopka

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