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Among the countries of South East Asia, the Philippines are considered an anomalous case. Not just for the fact to be the only country in the area of the south pacific where the majority of the population belong to the catholic faith, but also for the ambiguous situation of its interior policy, with catastrophic consequences in the economical and social life.Until the half of the ‘50s the Philippines were considered one of the emergent countries with the highest standard of development. One of the tigers of the South East Asia. In the last 20 years the country fell into the worst economical crisis ever.  The main productive sector of the country is agriculture which absorbs nearly half of the active population, although the sector is going trough a deep crisis, mainly because for the concentration of the working fields are owned by a  tight group of landlords.The economical development, started in the seventies from president Estrada and then continued during the following administrations, was based basically on construction and financial speculations, not followed  by a strengthen of the  industrial sector or a agriculture reform which could have helped the conditions of the farmers and improve the production. One of the most evident consequences of this crisis is the unstoppable migration wave of the philippine population which, from each corner of  the country (the province), move towards big cities. The capital Metro Manila have seen its population growing from 700.000 people in the 60s and 70s to over 12 millions of individuals estimated in 2002 and about 8 million people living under the edge of poverty. Entire families are camping at each corner in the old town, living on betting. They build their own barracks under bridges, in parks, a real community leave inside the big cemetery north of town. In this climate criminality and corruption are at high levels, while a slow and bureaucratic law system forces prisoners to very long periods (often for years), just to see the beginning of the trial. This photographic projects takes life on an old railway where a part of the Manila population found a shelter and created their own reality building poor houses few steps from the railway. The train passes many times a day, and during those short seconds their lives stay suspended between two realities. The inhabitants of this huge slum, which crosses the entire Manila, have renamed this place "RailWay Hotel". Here, more than elsewhere, is evident the state of poverty in which the lower classes of the Philippine population live. The Paper Tiger wants to testify the various aspects of the society and the culture of an anomalous country, conditioned by 500 years of spanish domination, which erased every single traces of the indigenous culture, imposing instead the catholic doctrine. A country rich of contrasts, between poverty and globalization.


The Manila City Jail is a prison located in the city centre of Manila. Built by the Spaniards mid nineteenth century the Manila City Jail is currently the biggest prison, also in terms of prisoner, of the city. As most jails in the country also this is evidently and increasingly overcrowded: planned for 800 prisoners, it hosts currently 3700 on a surface of little more than one hectare. The Philippine penitentiary system is based on a distinction between “jail” e “prison”: a Jail hosts those who wait to be judged, a prison those who have already been condemned by the judiciary court. The nowadays old and complicated judiciary system of the Philippines makes the procedures for a trial among the slowest in the world; almost all prisoners in Jail spend their life there waiting to be judged by a court.The Jail is divided into three sections: the North Area, the South Area and the Third Area. The “North Area” is where most prisoner belong to different “gangs”. Every gang has its own space delimited by fence, a deterrent for the not rare fights occurring between them. They live in big hanger called “dorm” ruled by own laws. One is called “Bahalana gang” (fearless), the most known gang in the city, but there also the “Sputnik”, the “Commando” and the “Batang city jail”. Once a prisoner becomes member of a gang, is not allowed to leave, with risk of death-penalty. Inside the gang the “major” represents the supreme boss, with respect from everybody , being always surrounded by body guards. The "major" and his attendants have access to some privileges compared to the normal prisoners: usually they live in the best cells, often with spouse and kids, and are served by the attendants, who themselves have command over other prisoner, and so on. The “South Area” is the area where those prisoners who are not member of any gang live, and is constituted of a big court with two big dormitories on the side, a mosque and a open air market; under a big hut a group of prisoner sing with Karaoke, while a little bit further some other plays billiard. At Manila City Jail prisoners are allowed to manage small street stalls; only the selling of alcohol is forbidden. The responsible for the rehabilitation of the prisoners, is inspector Bartolomeo Sagadal, that after the last riot in 1999, where 7 people, among which a child, died, changed the rules of the Jail to allow the tensions between prisoners to be loosened, by giving them the possibility to relax through the Karaoke or videogames. The third area is the one reserved for women. In most of these cells the bars are ornamented with curtain sown by the same female prisoners; despite the apparent calm of the female court where women are busy doing laundry and hanging it, they cause most problems: riots are frequent and the most recent evasions were undertaken by women. 


The Manila North cemetery is the biggest cemetery of Manila, on an area of 30000 mq, covering the whole north part of Abbad Santos district. The cemetery, built during the Spanish domination, has become in the last 30 years the home for many homeless. They have decided to live in the cemetery, inside tombs, creating real homes with all comforts: electricity and water, in fact, are guaranteed by a Chinese company authorized by the town hall of Manila. More than 500 families live inside of the cemetery and have transformed it in a real independent village: there are shops, small restaurants, basket fields and also a public laundry. Living with died people it doesn’t seams a problem.  Benito Quinto, taxi driver, lives with his wife and two sons, now about 5 years, inside his family tomb. At Manila North Cemetery funerals are still very frequent, especially on Sunday, when hundreds of persons crowded the entrance of the cemetery running with noisy jeeps, colored local buses full of relatives and friends of the defunct. Manila North Cemetery is still under protection of the town hall of Manila, that is trying, useless, to stop the wild occupation of tombs, but for many people by now the Manila North Cemetery represents the last possibility to find a house in this part of the world.

©2004 by Massimo Sciacca - All rights reserved

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