Life’s arcade: Quiapo

Rick Rocamora
Those in the know see Quiapo in a different light – a Mecca for hard-working individuals sharing a common goal of finding solutions to their grinding poverty

MANILA, Philippines – The major question we should ask ourselves every time we envision a new project is: What can we do that will make our work significantly different from what has been done before?

Quiapo was a challenge because the Feast of Black Nazarene is a major yearly photographic event, and a favorite of many street photography groups and their “Masters.”

Initially, I focused on the ongoing story of  “Rodallie S. Mosende, Hope Among the Homeless on Paterno Street,” which is an in-depth look on a single street documenting the life of Mosende, who has lived homeless on Paterno Street since birth where she struggled against tough challenges to finish high school. Included in the project are the various characters that inhabit Paterno Street.  

Getting a benefactor to give Mosende a four-year college scholarship and a monthly stipend, along with additional support from readers of GMA News Online and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was a rewarding and unexpected bonus to my work. 

Intrigued and challenged, I decided to expand my documentation beyond Paterno Street.  During the Feast of Black Nazarene, instead of focusing on the procession, I directed my attention to events happening on the side streets away from the armada of photographers that descends on Quiapo during the fiesta every year.

I dug deeper into the lives of my subjects in Quiapo, knowing each of their life histories, challenges and anxieties.  I have made sure that my design complements the content, and, as much as possible does not repeat previous work done by other photographers.  I also worked hard to find subjects who represent a cohesive voice of the residents and visitors who frequent Quiapo.

Out of this collection has come Veronica Rodillas, a 14-year-old student of Araullo High School who has been selling Sampaguita garlands in Quiapo since she was 5 year old.  Separated from her husband, Rodillas’ mother decided to try her luck in Manila and, as a single parent, their lives have been full of challenges. After I posted Veronica’s story on Facebook, a benefactor came forward to provide her educational assistance to finish high school and she is looking forward to getting a college education.

The story of Quiapo is not about crime and filth. It is a haven for strong-hearted individuals tenacious enough to overcome life’s obstacles, determined to make life better for themselves and their families, and motivated to rise up and dream against all odds. 

While many avoid Quiapo because of fear for their lives and property, those in the know see Quiapo in a different light – a Mecca for hard-working individuals sharing a common goal of finding solutions to their grinding poverty with high hopes for prosperity on the horizon.

I hope that my work negates the common impression of Quiapo and give Quiapo a second chance. Like some of her residents, all they need is a second chance to improve their lives.

I hope that you find nuggets of inspiration from their images and stories. 

I did. –

Rick Rocamora is a multi-awarded photographer now based in United States. His images and picture stories received awards from the Asian American Journalist Association, SF Bay Area Press Photographers Association, New California Media, and Media Alliance and have been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Times and other national and international print and online publications.

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