It was a quite slow start for me in 2019. Nothing much happened on the first few weeks in my proximate coverage area. As a photojournalist, you always seek to capture action and dramatic pictures. But I believe that you don’t have to chase for the moment, you just have to be patient and wait for the right moment to come.

I kicked off my major coverage with the much anticipated plebiscite in the Cotabato City on January 21 for its inclusion to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). I wasn’t expecting any violent incident because I was quite confident that “everyone would cooperate.” Although tension erupted in some parts of the city amid the stance of the city mayor on the inclusion of the city to the then newly-crafted BARMM.

Overall, the plebiscite in the city was peaceful as security units were on top of the situation.

Thousands of residents queue outside the Cotabato City Pilot Central Elementary School during the plebiscite for the ratifcaton of Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) on January 21, 2019.

 

At the end of the day, ‘Yes’ vote prevailed and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) wish to include Cotabato City, which they considered ‘crown jewel,’ to be part of the BARMM.  On the same day, BARRM residents also voted for the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

For the first time in his life, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Hadj Murad Ebrahim cast his vote with his real name “ Ahod Murad Balawag Ebrahim” on 21 January 2019 at Crossing Simuay Elementary School in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao for the ratification of Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL).

On February 6, residents of 63 of 67 barangays from seven towns of Cotabato Province agreed to join BARMM after participating in the plebiscite.  Pikit had the most number of barangays that eventually joined BARMM as ‘Yes’ votes prevailed in 22 (23 participated) of its 42 barangays.

Residents search for their names on pieces of paper outside their voting precincts in Rajamuda Elementary School, Pikit, North Cotabato on Febuary 6, 2019.

The plebiscite was perhaps one of the most defining moments in the history of the Bangsamoro struggle. In my previous interview with a top MILF official, autonomy wasn’t they had originally envisioned, but vowed that what they have achieved in the almost two decades of peace negotiations, is something they could start to work on to be able to address the needs of their people.

 

A lab technician of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) presents to media in Davao City on Monday 36 of the 39 bricks of cocaine worth P215 million recovered in the coastal area of Caraga, Davao Oriental on Sunday. PDEA added that three more bricks of cocaine were recovered shortly before noon of February 25, 2019.

On the first quarter of the year, hundreds of cocaine bricks had been recovered floating off the coasts on the eastern part of Luzon down to Visayas and Mindanao.

 

The P6.5-million Solar Powered Irrigation System (SPIS) in Barangay Manubuan of Matalam, Cotabato Province sits useless baside a vast parched ricefield as its water sources dried up due to El Niño.

In what is supposed to be designed to address the scarcity of water supply in rice farms this dry season, a P19 million-worth of state-of-the-art technology may have failed to serve its purpose in three project areas. Check out my multimedia story here.

Farmer Raul Garnatis shows damaged corn cub due severe heat brought El Niño phenomenon affecting several hectares of farmland in Alamada, Cotabato Province. Garnatis,who was able to harvest 113 sacks in previous cropping cycle from his 2.5-hectare farm, is now uncertain how many sacks of corn he could earn from his damaged cornfield.

But as the dry spell was wreaking havoc in many farms, some farmers were able find means to survive. Read my story “Surviving El Niño: contrasting tales of Alamada farmers.”

 

During the Palarong Pambansa 2019, I followed the journey of the Western Visayas football squad, represented mostly by players from Barotac Nuevo: the football capital of the Philippines.

Perhaps, I was lucky to have witnessed the finale of a legendary coach from Barotac Nuevo: Domingo Subo. He holds the record for most number of championships in Palarong Pambansa secondary football with five titles in 11 appearances. Read my piece “A glorious farewell game.”

Ilonggo booters celebrate with their coach Doming Subo after beating Central Visayas 2-1 in a championship game of the secondary football of the Palarong Pamabsa 2019.

 

Residents of Barangay 23C cast their votes in a makeshift classroom during the 2019 midterm elections on May 13.

 

Like in many parts of the country, election campaign materials’ trash litter the streets of Davao City as election season ends.

 

US Navy sailors peek at a porthole window of the USS Montgomery upon their arrival at Sasa Port in Davao City on  June 30, 2019. The Independence-class littoral combat ship, which is one of the most technologically advanced ships of the US Navy, is in the city for a three-day visit in the city.

US Navy’s USS Montgomery, an Independence-class littoral combat ship, prepares to dock at Sasa Port in Davao City on June 30, 2019.

The warship, which one of the most technologically advanced ships of the US Navy, is in the city for a three-day visit in the city.

 

Personnel of the City Health Office conducts fogging operation in a residential area as part of an anti-dengue measure in Brgy. Angliongto, Davao City on July 18, 2019. The Department of Health has delcared a nationwide alert following the spike of deaths due to dengue.

 

For the nth time already, dozens of houses were razed to the ground on August 16, 2019 in a coastal community of informal settlers in Davao City.

The community is known as “Isla Verde,”where thousands of informal settlers live in shanties made of light materials. According to locals, they could no longer remember how many times their village was razed to the ground. The area is mostly occupied by different Muslim tribes coming from different parts of Mindanao. Many of them sought shelter here to avoid the wars in their places of origin.

 

Dancers perform before the crowd on August 17, 2019 during the Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan, a street dancing competition, which is one of the highlights of the annual Kadayawan Festival in Davao City. (Keith Bacongco)

 

A truck sits on a vacant lot after it was washed away by a flood in Barangay Talomo, Davao City August 28, 2019. Heavy rains swamped several villages of the city, forcing thousands of residents to sought shelter in safer grounds.

Laborers unload pigs from a delivery truck in Agdao Market, Davao City. The city government has stepped up its measures to prevent the entry of the deadly Asian Swine Fever (ASF).

 

A cargo ship emerge from a haze from Indonesia that enveloped the Davao Gulf. According to local sailors, the visibility off the coast of Davao City was about 2 kilometers.

Reports show that forest fires in Indonesian archipelago have been blamed for the haze that spread in some parts of Southeast Asia.

 

It took Francisco Quidato almost three years to build his house from his income as a farmer and oftentimes, half of the P3,200 cash he receives from 4Ps. But in about 20 seconds, the magnitude 6.3 earthquake on October 16 reduced his house into rubble in a mountainous village of Malawanit in Magsaysay, Davao del Sur.

 

In remote village of Malawanit in Magsaysay, a portion of the mountain collapsed and buried 22-year old mother and a 10 month-old baby. Authorities have

The epicenter of this temblor was in the neighboring town of Tulunan, North Cotabato.

 

On October 29, magnitude 6.6 tremor rocked Davao del Sur and North Cotabato anew. This has prompted hospitals, just like this one in Bansalan, to temporarily move their patients outside the building.

Two days later, Magntitude 6.5 earthquake struck Makilala and neighboring areas anew and forced thousands of villagers to evacuate the to safer grounds. The tremor triggered landslides in several villages of Makilala and left at least eight persons remain missing as of this posting.

Volunteers from Assumption College of Davao conducts a psychosocial intervention activity to displaced villagers at an evacuation camp in Barangay Malasila, Makilala.

The earthquake left a trail of destruction in Makilala, where at least 20,000 houses were destroyed and affected over 100,000 people. [More photos here ]

Just as the earthquake-hit communities were still reeling from impact of the series of earthquakes last October, a Magnitude 6.9
temblor jolted Davao del Sur and neighboring areas on December 15. Perhaps this was the strongest earthquake to have hit Mindanao since 1976. According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, it was the first time in recent history that a succession of above-magnitude 6 earthquakes hit within a short time and in close proximity to each other.

Responders walk past beside the collapsed business establishment in Padada, Davao del Sur  that left three persons dead.

The epicenter of the powerful tremor was in the neighboring town of Matanao, also in Davao del Sur. But media’s attention focused in Padada due to this collapsed establishment. Several establishment’s in Padada’s public market also sustained damages prompting authorities to cordon the area for safety reasons.

 

This is an old water reservoir in Padada, Davao del Sur that collapsed following the magnitude 6.9 earthquake last Sunday. According to locals, the reservoir is no longer functional for more than 25 years. It stands about 50 feet tall and was built in early 1960s.

The reservoir sustained major damage on its foundation after the Magnitude 6.6 earthquake last October 29. Thus, the local government ordered the demolition of the structure. According to the residents living near the reservoir, the demolition started on Sunday morning( December 15). The villagers quoted the local officials reportedly urging the contractor to demolish the structure as soon as possible before another earthquake would hit.

Unfortunately, the powerful temblor struck at 2:11pm and the water reservoir collapsed leaving seven workers badly injured.
While we were in Gov. Geneoroso town in Davao Oriental for a family trip, news circulated around this town that an alleged image of Jesus Christ’s face appeared on a concrete wall located in a fishing village. According to locals, the image appeared on December 19 and has been attracting Catholic devotees and even curious tourists.

Devotees offer candles, flowers and drinks before an alleged image of Jesus Christ in a coastal village in Gov. Generoso.

Local church has yet to issue an official statement saying that they yet to investigate the matter. But many villagers believe that the appearance of Christ’s image could be sending a message amid the series of disasters that hit not just Mindanao but as well as in other parts of the country. [Read my story here]