Emotions were high. It was a mixture of sadness, anger, hope and grief. As photojournalists and storytellers, we always keep our feelings hidden; not to put bias in our works and deliver just straight facts. But we weren’t there just to bring the updates to the people but to see, hear, smell, touch and of course, to feel. Feel the story behind every image that we make. Ask questions to every detail we encounter; and I asked “Why care for Mary Jane Veloso so much?”
It was day 3 of the prayer vigil in front of the Indonesian embassy in Makati; the sun was in its hottest during mid day; the traffic was terrible and everybody was exhausted. I was hoping to see personalities, celebrities who support Mary Jane or the Veloso family, I wanted to get interviews from them, hear what will they say and see how they react to the news coming from where Mary Jane was held.
Unfortunately, I did not see one. Then I asked again, “Why care for Mary Jane so much?” Then I took a second look. Something was popping and pushing me towards the crowd of strangers who were in their 3rd day in that same street of Makati.
I have to feel something aside from the burning heat of the day.
Yen Nieves, 24
“Ako si Yen Nieves; 24 years old na ako at dito ako nagwo-work sa Salcedo. Lunes at Martes ang off ko kaya naisipan kung pumunta dito. May paniniwala ako na medyo connected ako kay Mary Jane eh, kasi OFW din Mama ko. Nagtrabaho siya sa Hongkong ng 20 years; DH siya. Lumaki nga akong di siya nakakasama eh tapos noong umuwi na siya dito, dumating siya na may sakit na breast cancer. Namatay siya last year.”
(I am Yen Nieves; 24 years old and I am working here in Salcedo. Mondays and Tuesdays are my day-off that’s why I decided to come here. I believe connected somehow to Mary Jane because my mother was an OFW. She worked in Hongkong as a Domestic Helper (DH) for 20 years. I grew up without her and when she decided to come home for good, she came with a diagnosed breast cancer. She passed away last year. )
Her words are depressing; I ended the conversation with a thank you and a smile, then I walk away.
Banjo Solis, 32
“Galing kami sa Commonwealth, Quezon City. Sumama lang ako sa kapatid kung aktibista sa UP noong pumunta sila dito noong Linggo. Eh eto, inabot kami ng tatlong araw na. Uuwi kapag pagod na tapos babalik ulit kinabukasan. Gusto ko kasing malaman anong mangyayari. Pagbibigyan ba siya o hindi. Ramdam ko yung responsibilidad ko sa kapwa ko eh. Pakiramdam ko kailangan ko mangialam para sa ikabubuti. Pero naniniwala kasi ako na kung meron mang kasalanan si Mary Jane eh hindi siya dapat patayin. Papaano maitutuwid ng mali ang isa pang mali. Saka buhay ng tao pinag uusapan dito.”
(We came from Commonwealth, Quezon City. I was with my sister who is an activist in University of the Philippines (UP) when they went here last Sunday. This is our 3rd day. I go home when I feel tired then go back here the following morning. I want to know what will happen; if she will be pardoned or not. I feel responsible for my fellowman. I think I need to be involved for something good; but I believe that if she (Mary Jane) had done something wrong, she should not be killed. How can you correct what’s wrong with another wrong doing; and we are talking of human’s life.)
My interview was interrupted with three police trucks full load of officers replacing their comrades but I think I got what Solis wants to tell me.
It was getting dark and more people were flocking in. It was just hours away before the scheduled execution. I took my break with a heavy heart. Thinking what will happen next. If she (Veloso) dies tonight, what will the crowd do? If she will be spared, how would they respond?
Hours later, I and my colleagues went back to the vigil site. I saw rallyists and anti-riot policemen sleeping on the concrete road of Salcedo; they used their shields, posters, banners and tarpaulins of Mary Jane to support their bodies against the cold cement. It was just moments before we heard the announcement that Veloso was reprieved when I asked the question again, “why care for Mary Jane so much?”
Security Guard (SG) Roy dela Pena, 38
“Hindi ko rin alam Sir eh, pero siguro dahil alam ng bawat Pinoy ang pakiramdam ng kawalang pag-asa. Kaya siguro hangga’t maaari eh kapag nakakakita tayo ng kapwa natin na para bang wala ng pag-asa eh tutulungan natin kahit moral support lang para mabuhayan siya ng loob. Alam kasi natin kung ano nararamdaman ng mahihirap eh kasi mahirap din tayo. Kaya tayo tayo eh nagbibigay pag-asa sa bawat isa.”
(I also don’t know Sir, but maybe because every Filipino knows the feeling of hopelessness. That’s why whenever we see someone who losses hope; we give them moral support to bring back their hopes alive. We know what it means to be poor because we are poor ourselves. That’s why we give each others hope.)
Then, there was the news. Mary Jane was spared!