Romeo Gacad, ‘Lord’ of Filipino photojournalism, dies at 62

Romeo Gacad, ‘Lord’ of Filipino photojournalism, dies at 62

FRONTLINE. Romeo Gacad in action in Myanmar.

Photo from Romeo Gacad's Facebook

(1st UPDATE) Romeo Gacad dies of liver complications related to a wild-type gastrointestinal stromal tumor cancer

Multi-awarded Filipino journalist Romeo Gacad, a two-time Pulitzer prize finalist and a three-time nominee, died on Saturday evening, October 30, at the age of 62.

Gacad was Agence France Presse’s photo editor for Thailand and Southeast Asia.

In a statement released on Sunday afternoon, the Gacad siblings – Raha, Bianca, and Sabrina – said their father died at 6:14 pm Bangkok Time (7:14 pm, Manila time) due to liver complications related to a wild-type gastronintestinal stromal tumor cancer.

“Many know our dad for living a fearless and full life. He met the cancer challenge with the same inspiring energy – his commitment to his full health and healing came with creative flair, he held presence and gratitude for the many wonders of everyday life, and he shared meaningful relationships with friends and loved ones, all across Manila, Jakarta, Yangon, and Bangkok,” they said.

News of Gacad’s death rippled through the journalist and artist communities on Sunday, with friends and colleagues offering him colorful tributes.

“We call him Lord, short for Lord Gacad. It is not for some strange reason that he is one of the lords in Philippine photojournalism. Here is a shooter who stands out with his works. But more than that, he stands tall in the industry for being fair to everyone, newcomer or veteran, mainstream, freelancer or alternative,” said photographer Jun Sepe in a Facebook post.

“Romeo Gacad was our foundation, our barometer in producing quality images, especially in hostile areas. He was also our torch whenever we were lost in the field,” said Mindanao-based journalist Julie Alipala in a Facebook post.

Former journalist and now consul-general Elmer Cato in his own post wrote: “A three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, Romy was among the best we had. He was a kind and gentle person who I learned a lot from.”

Gacad has been described by Filipino photojournalists as a “legend” for his coverage of mass movements and war. The crop of younger shooters remembered him as a mentor. For all those who knew him personally, he was described as gentle, kind, and trustworthy.

National Artist Virgilio Almario, who writes as Rio Alma, composed a poem for Gacad on Sunday, entitled “Retratista.”

“I saw his patience to wait for the right moment to capture a scene. His search for the correct angle. He is a great friend and artist,” Almario said in Filipino.

Sepe, Alipala, Cato, and Almario’s were only four in the outpouring of admiration for Gacad, who has spent his career documenting conflicts in the Philippines and abroad.

Gacad first reached the Pulitzer finals in 1989, after capturing a powerful 1989 finish-line photo of Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis in the 100-meter dash finals race in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

He reached the Pulitzer finals again in 2002 for his photos on America’s war on Afghanistan, which were published in TIME magazine on Christmas eve 2001.

Gacad was nominated again for the Pulitzer in 2003 for the Iraq war.

Throughout Gacad’s career, his work has appeared in countless international publications as he covered for news service Agence France-Presse.

Gacad’s death is a loss to the profession at a time when journalists all over the world are under attack. Among the most vulnerable are the photojournalists covering the frontlines.

In 2009, Gacad shared his perspective on the purpose of photojournalism in a Philippine STAR piece by Ida Anita del Mundo. He described it as a grueling vocation, but a vocation that should be pursued, nonetheless.

“When you are covering war, you have to be physically and mentally strong. You can suffer so much from seeing scenes you can only see in hell, but you have to be strong and you have to tell the world this is what happens during the war,” Gacad was quoted as saying.

He added: “The role of artists is to contribute to awareness of what is going on around us.”

The Gacad siblings meanwhile thanked people for the tributes and stories and “for celebrating our dad’s life with us.”

“On behalf of our family – dad’s siblings, the whole Gacad-Maniquiz clan, and our mother, we thank you for celebrating our dad’s life with us. To our dad’s dear friends and colleagues in the press and across the world, we appreciate the space and privacy that you are granting our family as we navigate joy, love and grief, across timezones, online and offline. Please continue sharing the tributes, anecdotes and memories that you may have of our dad, it gives us much comfort.” –