One Picture, Three Stories: A Funeral, Cesar Climaco and Zamboanga


I saw this wonderful blog post by illustrator Jane Heinrichs last year in which she shared one photo that meant something to her, and told three stories about it. The photo she shared was the one on the right, click on the badge to read it.

If you follow me on Facebook you might have noticed that I'm something of a shutterbug. I love taking photos ... and I love looking at them too. There is so much story in a photo.

I so enjoyed Jane's idea that I'm going to take up her challenge to do a One Picture, Three Stories link up. If you're a blogger and want to have a go, let Jane know.

Here's my first picture.

Story #1. I was 24 years old when I took this picture. I know I was 24 because it was taken during the funeral of assassinated mayor Cesar Climaco in 1985.  You can just see the faint typewritten caption 'Zamboanga 1985' bottom right.

I was a young journalist working for a political magazine opposed to the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, who had been president since I was aged three. I had just purchased a heavy 300mm lens from my friend Jaime Unson.

The streets of Zamboanga were packed with tens of thousands of people for the funeral. Traffic was at a standstill and I could see nothing. So I climbed to the top of a stalled bus. My new 300mm lens could see a long way and I spotted this tableau of townspeople with an expressionless soldier.

It would have been a perfect way to illustrate the militarisation that Climaco had fought against. But as I snapped the photograph, the little girl smiled. Which kind of ruined my story.

Story #2. When journalists wrote about the murdered mayor Cesar Climaco, they always attached the word 'colourful' to his name.

He swore he wouldn't cut his hair until Marcos fell from power. So he marched around with mad, flowing grey locks. He put up a scoreboard in front of City Hall keeping a tally of violent crimes, and had a tempestuous relationship with the military and police who he accused of these crimes. And yet he travelled everywhere on small motorbike and was sniffy about bodyguards.

In 1984, he was shot in the  nape by an assassin while supervising operations at a fire. Nobody's ever been convicted of his murder. Before he died, Climaco said that if he was ever assassinated the military would be sure to blame a particular Muslim group. Climaco's wife accused the military of masterminding the killing. The military, as Climaco predicted, blamed the Muslim group.

Story #3. Zamboanga. It's a city in the Muslim south of the Philippines. There's a terrible racist song that came out of the American occupation in the 1900s - 'There are monkeys with no tails in Zamboanga ...' How I hated it.

I have not been back since I took this photograph.

I remember a hotel by a beautiful sea, with an outdoor restaurant. Huge crabs and giant prawns, in garlic, ginger and coconut sauce. Men in boats rowing up to your hotel table to sell gorgeous woven mats.  I still have quilts  made from fabrics that I bought at the fantastic market nearby. Their language is Chabacano - which sounds a lot like Spanish.

I wonder what Zamboanga is like now. I would like to go back.

You might also want to read these posts on my other blog:

The Invention of the Teenager

Social Media: Eight Things We Can Learn from Old Style Journalism