I could not, for a long time look away. And when I finally did, I could still see their blank stares in my inner mind's eye. Yet, I was not even there. I was in the comforts of home, in a compound in Metro Manila. I was not in the makeshift evacuation camp in Maguindanao where hundreds of innocent civilians try to seek shelter as they fear a looming war between warlord clans.
I was just staring at every piece of Jes Aznar's Under the Lord's Shadow, a photo essay on Maguindanao. The black and white photographs are brilliant, brazen testimonies of the remorseless fury of conflict and its impact on the lives of ordinary people.
One particular photograph pierced right through. The imprint wouldn't go away. The woman's weary expression is as dark as the hijab she is wearing. Beside her is a little girl and a little boy. An oversized old shirt on the little girl and on him, a striped sando and maong shorts. They are sitting in a crude, tattered temporary shelter -- sticks of bamboo put together to serve as walls with a floral Persian carpet hanging on one side and a plain one behind them to protect them from the elements. A worn-out mat on the cold damped earth is luxury. There is no food. No heaps of extra clothes.
There's just the three of them, sitting in a row -- the woman, the young girl and the little boy. The girl, with straight, shoulder-length hair, rests her hand on the woman's lap. The boy's eyes are portraits of deep, profound pain.
Two pairs of children's slippers are neatly arranged outside the mat -- this is the only semblance of order in their lives. And all because they and many others like them happen to be under the Lord's shadow.