Article on Jun's "Children of the Crossroads"

Children of war in Jun de Leon’s lens

Manila Times Article May 9, 2015

In war, even if battles are won, there are no victors. There is no honor or glory when the most innocent become victims of war. Through his lens, Jun de Leon tries to capture the haunted faces children caught in the middle of conflict.

From thousands taken during his seven-day excursion in war-torn Maguindanao, 46 eloquent photographs were featured at Children at the Crossroads, de Leon’s latest exhibit that ran from April 24 to 27 at SM Aura in Taguig City.

Portraying the heart-wrenching stories of remarkable resiliency, inviolable spirit and quiet hope, the photographer calls on the public to open their eyes and become witness to the atrocities of war.

To achieve his goal, Leon partnered with writer/editor An Mercado Alcantara, and his son, Tim, who put the entire journey to film.

Earlier this year, they had set out to ground zero (Mamasapano, Maguindanao) where they gained exclusive entry into the 45th Infantry Battalion camps, the evacuation centers, and even Camp Abubakar and Camp Afghan, the largest Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) camp in the region.

The trip took place weeks after the widely publicized Mamasapano Incident, which resulted in the death of more than 60 people, including 44 police officers of the PNP Special Action Forces.

At the exhibit launch, Norombai Utto, the valedictorian of Hadji Salik Kalaing National High School,Tukanalipao, Mamasapano, Maguindanao spoke, before the attentive crowd:

“Sana araw-araw graduation na lang, para walang military operation at para walang mamatay. Mag-invest tayo sa edukasyon, hindi sa giyera [I hope every day there’s a graduation, so there wouldn’t be any military operation, and no one would die. Let us invest in education, not in war],” he shared.

He continued, “Para sa mga taong may pananagutan sa atin at sa nangyayari ngayon sa ating bayan, ito po ang aking pakiusap: Itigil na po ninyo ang giyera. Sa halip na kaguluhan ang inyong suportahan, sana po ay sa edukasyon at kaalaman kayo mamuhunan, at hindi takot ang magiging pundasyon ng kapayapaan sa ating bayan [For those who are responsible for what is happening in our country, I have one request: Stop the war. Instead of supporting conflict, invest in education and knowledge. Do not let fear be the foundation of peace in our country.]”

Also present at the momentous occasion was Corporal Julhaib Ajijul, the last man standing at a close-range encounter between the AFP and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in March, which killed five of his comrades, and proud father of an honor student who received three medals when he graduated.

“Marami na ako pinagdaanan na laban before makarating sa Maguindanao. Galing kami sa gulo at sanay na. Sana ang gobyerno makamit na ang kapayapaan, para wala nang giyera. Sawa na kami sa giyera, sa Pilipino versus Pilipino [I have been through many battles before Maguindanao. We (the military) are used to conflict. But we hope that the government may finally end war and choose peace. We are tired of fighting, Filipino against Filipino],” the war hero voiced out.

And this is what the photographer wants his viewers to see: a soldier who have seen his fellowmen die on the battlefield, and of a child who sees hope despite living in the crossfire.

“I don’t have an agenda,” explained de Leon, regarding the purpose of his exhibit. “I’m not pro-peace or pro-war. I just want people to think. I want them to think, before they say anything, or press that keyboard.”

Children at the Crossroads is supported by the United Nations Development Program.

After the SM Aura leg, the exhibit will soon be on display in different parts of the country at select SM Malls.