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I was sold, but I am not a soldier

November 15, 2008

In Lanao del Norte 30,000 people still live under tarps and sleep on the concrete, afraid to return home for fear of the fighting.  When we arrived there in October, we had little comfort for them- sacks of rice and packets of noodles, the hands of doctors and the minds of counselors.  I hefted the sacks on the shoulder; my brawn attempting to make up for my helplessness, our helplessness.  Thirty thousand is too many to make a difference and fighting that’s lasted decades and decades has no hope of waning.  The government says “No peace until disarmament” and the rebels say “No disarmament until justice.”  No one can hear what the people are saying- their voices are eaten in gunfire.

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I took pictures of women and children, soldiers and Muslims.  I washed my hair in the pouring rain and noticed the beauty of the mountains.  The pictures seemed to say that something was happening even as the burned out homes said that something was over.  The babies in Barangay Munai were dehydrated and weary from diarrhea.  I covered my head and rolled down my sleeves.  Sometimes that’s all you can do.

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A week after we returned I read in the paper that a measles outbreak killed fifteen children in Munai.  There were only a hundred or so in that place, so as I scroll through my pictures, I wonder which ones.  Who did I capture a last time?  Who among them now can only be seen in my camera?  There wasn’t money for inoculations, there was barely money for rice.  This is just the collateral damage of war, the collateral damage of a “supply/demand” system allows drug companies to charge whatever the hell they want because that’s the free market.  “Free to choose,” capitalists say.  I guess these children just forgot to decide.  

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For my part, I see the US Government has been generous to send guns to the Philippines, like this M-16 pictured above.  This child may be among the dead.  At the very least he lost a sibling, cousin or friend.  I wonder if he would have traded one of those bullets for a measles shot.  The price of production would have been about the same.  But the only shots that protect Western interests and foreign investment in Mindanao are those fired by soldiers.

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