The usual everyday chaos may have left most of Manila’s streets but during the first few days of the city on lockdown, the confusion was right on people’s faces.
“At first glance, you would see people going about and consumed with how they should respond to the situation. It’s the first time in our lives that we’re experiencing something like this,” says Neil Daza, who took the pictures in this story. “But what's more striking was seeing the uncertainty in people’s faces. There’s a disconnect to what’s happening, to the point of being surreal.” The empty streets, Daza says, only underscored the seriousness of the situation.
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A documentary photographer and cinematographer, Daza is behind last week’s portraits of Manila’s main thoroughfares photographed in their stark emptiness, but he’s also been taking pictures of people: the homeless, mothers and children waiting to get a ride home, urban dwellers standing or sitting just outside their houses, wearing masks that reveal only their eyes, their foreheads, their personal distress. “I have always photographed the marginalized sector so I also wanted to see how they were coping with the lockdown — the homeless and the daily wage earners.”
Daza, who at one point in the past was shooting for the police beat, says he chose the areas he shot instinctively. “If you’re locking down 12.8 million people and limiting their movement, for sure they would want to get out from that situation —so I went to the bus stations. Those people, I would assume, have homes that they can go home to. But what about the homeless?”
To hear Daza say it, he wasn’t prepared for the sight of people at checkpoints during the first few days of lockdown. The chaos was disheartening. “There was no public transportation. People were displaced, disoriented and helpless. An old man who walked for two hours from his home planning to see his doctor, a service driver tasked to deliver gallons of blood to a blood bank, an office messenger that needed to go to work, a mother with her daughter who was pleading so she can visit her sick father, motor riders who were waiting for three hours to cross the checkpoint — it was heartbreaking to see all of these simultaneously happening in front of me.”
Daza says he has been shooting the city since March 13, the day after the community quarantine over Metro Manila was announced, and he’s encountered many stories since then while moving about. “Stories of people whose only goal is to survive each day,” he says.
There’s the story of the 70-year old Like Merle, who is homeless and lives by her lonesome. “She is used to getting her daily food from city government feeding stations, but with the pandemic, she’s not sure if a homeless like her is going to be prioritized by the government.”
There’s also Flordeliza, 42 years old, says Daza. Flordeliza collects trash and was earning 90 pesos daily pre-lockdown; now she only earns 20 pesos a day. “She needs to feed her six children with ages ranging from two to 15 years old.”
While on no official assignment, Daza continues to document the current national health crisis through its impact on city folk. The work, he says, exposes him to a wide range of emotions, among them excitement, sadness, disgust, and anger. “I think that is a given when you take pictures of the human condition especially in a situation which you yourself know is something new and there's little that you can do at that point,” he says.
“That is why there was this overriding feeling of wanting to document these events — for the present and future generation to see. The pictures are not telling you the whole story, and will definitely not change the world but I hope they inspire compassion in all of us.”