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Oct 21, 2013
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Hope turns to tragedy in quake aftermath

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Cebu, Philippines

By Erik de Castro

It was a normal Tuesday morning for me that fateful day when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the central Philippines. I was covering a Muslim Eid Al-Adha religious festival at a Manila park, after nearly a week of floods coverage brought about by Typhoon Nari. As I was driving away from the park, I received a text message from a Reuters reporter about the quake. I felt the adrenalin rush as I mentally ran through my checklist of disaster gear while hitting the accelerator to reach home quickly. After getting my manager’s approval to cover the earthquake aftermath, I rushed to the airport to catch the next flight to Cebu city. I was lucky to get on a flight minutes before the plane’s door closed. After more than an hour, I arrived in Cebu and quickly contacted a driver and rented a van to go around the city. I was checking out damaged structures near the Cebu airport when I heard from a local radio station that hospital patients were being evacuated from a quake-damaged hospital.

When I reached Cebu City medical center, I saw the adjacent basketball court filled with hospital beds and patients. I immediately took pictures of a general view of the area. As I fired my shutter, I noticed some medical personnel surrounding a baby lying on top of a small table converted into a makeshift operating table at the far end of the covered court. I moved closer and took a few pictures only as I was worried I might interrupt their work to save the baby.

Jul 25, 2013
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Rich and poor in the Philippines

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Manila, Philippines

By Erik De Castro

Taking photos of poor people is nothing unusual for me, as the poor comprise more than a fourth of the Philippine population of nearly 97 million. They are also the most vulnerable during disasters such as typhoons, landslides and fires that frequently dominate the headlines in the country.

Late last month, the Secretary General of the state agency National Statistical Coordination Board wrote in an article that the gap between the country’s rich and poor is widening, with the country’s strong growth, the fastest in Asia so far this year, benefiting high-income earners more than those from the middle- and low-income classes. The article said the rich were enjoying significantly faster growth in incomes compared with people from lower income classes.

Mar 4, 2013
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An endangered priesthood

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Tagaytay city, Philippines

By Erik de Castro

I woke at dawn to the sound of a bell ringing and Gregorian Chant music at the Saint Augustine Minor Seminary compound on Mindoro island in the central Philippines. It was still dark as dozens of seminarians in the first phase of a 12-year journey to priesthood walked towards a chapel for their morning prayers and a mass.

I walked to the same chapel 41 years ago and left after more than two years in the seminary.

Oct 2, 2012
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The cycle of poverty and pregnancy

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By Erik de Castro

It was a few minutes before 6 a.m. when I arrived at the dwelling of Liza Cabiya-an, 39, and her 14 children. Liza was pouring coffee on a plate of rice as her five small children, including her youngest 11-month-old baby, huddled on the floor around her waiting to be served their breakfast. On a good day, Liza says breakfast would be pan de sal, or the classic Filipino salt bread, which they dip into hot instant coffee.

While the small children have their breakfast, Liza’s nine other children were still asleep, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a room of approximately 9-square meters.

Dec 23, 2011
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When December turns tragic

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By Erik de Castro

December is normally a festive month in the Philippines with the Christmas season a big deal in this country of predominantly Roman Catholics. However, based on experience, heavy rains that can bring flash floods, landslides and lead to ferries sinking are also likely to happen during this period. For some Filipinos who have survived the worst kind of such disasters, December reminds them of the trauma they experienced.

Several villages in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City were caught flat-footed as they slept last Friday night when tropical storm Washi swept across Mindanao and Eastern Visayas, bringing strong winds and heavy rains that caused massive flooding, flash floods and landslides.

Oct 7, 2011
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38 days and 10 years in Afghanistan

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By Erik de Castro

As I write this blog, I am on the 38th day of my current assignment to Afghanistan as an embedded journalist with U.S. military forces. I have been assigned here several times since 2001 to cover the war that is still going on 10 years after the al Qaeda attack on U.S. soil. Mullah Omar, popularly known as the one-eyed Taliban, was the first member of the Taliban I met back in 2001. He held press conferences almost daily at the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan a few weeks before U.S. forces and its allies attacked Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government.

Ten years and several trips back to Afghanistan later, I still haven’t seen a lot of Taliban fighters. My present assignment is the time I’ve experienced the most encounters between the combined U.S. and Afghan forces and the Taliban.

Sep 19, 2011
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Back in Afghanistan, ten years later

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By Erik de Castro

Ten years ago I was part of the three-member Reuters multimedia team that went to Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. We covered the pursuit for Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban followers, who were believed to be holed up in the caves of the Tora Bora mountains, by US military special forces fighting alongside the Afghan Mujaheedin. Nobody from the press saw Osama. Instead about a dozen Taliban captured from the caves were presented to the media in Tora Bora.

As we passed the Afghan border on the road to Jalalabad following a long journey from Islamabad, Pakistan, I remember the precautions our security adviser told us: If ever we are stopped by armed men along the way, stay calm and just hand over our U.S. dollars. Weeks earlier, two Reuters colleagues (a TV cameraman and a photographer) and two other European journalists traveling with a convoy of media vehicles were killed by bandits on the same road.

Apr 25, 2011
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Half a century of crucifixions for both penitent and photographer

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I can’t help but be amazed by the contrasting observance of the Lenten season, particularly Holy Week, in my country, the Philippines. To many, Holy Week means going back to their home towns for vacation for a relaxing time and to renew ties with families and friends. To others, like the people from Pampanga in the northern Philippines, it is the time for the annual religious ritual that could be viewed as bizarre in the eyes of some observers.

Pampanga has become a popular destination for local and foreign tourists, as well as journalists, during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as thousands of penitents self-flagellate and dozens enact Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Last Thursday, I followed the shirtless men as they walked the streets while whipping their backs with bamboo sticks. Blood splattered not only on my clothes but also on my camera lens as I got closer to the penitents to take a snap shot of their wounded and bloodied backs. Sometimes I even tasted the blood as droplets landed on my face.

Jan 18, 2011
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Feast of the Black Nazarene

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Downtown Manila’s “Feast of the Black Nazarene” is an annual event that everyone anticipates. It has become a routine because everything happens as expected – millions of people jockeying to get near and touch the image of the Black Nazarene or at least the rope that pulls the carriage for the religious procession. Some people faint, a few unfortunate ones get trampled to death or suffer heart attacks, petty thieves take advantage of the situation to pick pockets and bags, and so on.

Yes, it has become predictable and routine but it never ceases to amaze me every time I see the outpouring of emotions and enthusiasm of the people to be part of the event. Last January 9, I was at the Qurino Grandstand in Manila as early as 5 a.m. The procession didn’t start until 7 a.m. after a Holy Mass but I had to make sure I would get the best possible position to capture good images of the crowd. That position was at the rooftop of the grandstand.

Oct 4, 2010
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Medevac! Medevac! Lifeline over Afghanistan

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I had just reached the camp of the unit I would be embedded with at remote Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.

As soon as I got off the military aircraft that took me there, I saw a helicopter with a red cross sign painted on it. I approached a crew doing a routine check on their aircraft and, after introducing myself, they explained the details of my embed and gave me some instructions. They pointed me to a section in the chopper where they said I should keep my body armor and helmet, which I have to put on when we flew.

    • About Erik

      "Erik De Castro has been with Reuters since 1985. He is currently Chief Photographers in Reuters Philippines. From 2006 to 2008, he was posted as the chief photographer for Reuters’ Baghdad bureau to oversee Reuters pictures operation on Iraq coverage. Erik has been embedded several times with the U.S. military covering war in Iraq and Afghanistan since the September 11, 2001 attacks."
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