Archive for April, 2012


The National Geographic Magazine published this article on post-EDSA 1 Philippines on July 1986. Written by Arthur Zich and photos by renowned photojournalist Steve McCurry, the article rides on the “People Power” euphoria and dismisses the continuing revolutionary struggles by the New People’s Army and the Moro National Liberation Front as “threats” to the supposed “new democratic order” under Corazon Aquino.

We all know how that ended up.

The magazine apparently used only one photo on the NPA (page 92) that McCurry took. Some  photos can be viewed in his website.

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Reading Natgeo

Screen cap of the multimedia presentation of a photographer's coverage of the Nepalese revolution.

Screen cap of the multimedia presentation of a photographer's coverage of the Nepalese revolution.

The National Geographic Magazine is one of those mags I really like to read and look at. The photography is superb, the writing crisp and tight.

The politics behind this magazine, of course, is liberal-democratic, which is to say, shamelessly capitalistic and biased against societies and regimes that are/were proclaimed to be socialist, anti-capitalist or (erroneously, of course) communist. It seems revealing that the organization behind the magazine calls itself the “National Geographic Society”, even as it covers peoples and societies beyond its (US) national borders. It is based in the US capital, Washington D.C.

Though the group says its aim is “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources,” it has, time and again, yielded its pages to political stories, like that of war, famine, political conflicts–from the American, liberal-democratic, viewpoint. Thus, it does not surprise us when the magazine features political conflicts like wars of national liberation, or anti-fascist wars, and presents those who pursue liberation wars with a hint of sympathy. Examples would be its coverage of the Palestinian cause, as well as the Apartheid-era South African cause.

On the other hand, it treats with contempt and distrust nations who were/are labelled “socialist”, from the Stalin-era USSR, Maoist China (1949-1976), as well as North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam (before the neoliberal “reforms” of the ’80s)–even as these countries, before being labelled “socialist”, experienced successes in their bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Of course, the magazine covers with contempt and distrust such ongoing upheavals as that of Nepal, India, and the Philippines. In these countries, revolutions are led by communist parties–their upheavals are aimed not only at achieving national liberation from foreign domination and control, but also wresting political and economic power from the bourgeoisie to install a regime of proletarian “dictatorship” (Simply put, a dictatorship of the proletariat is a dictatorship of the working class — a dictatorship of the majority).

Like most US cultural imports, the National Geographic Magazine has an intractable, almost fundamentalist, view of capitalism, socialism and communism that cannot be subverted. That is this magazine’s tragedy.

For me, however, it is instructive to read and look at their coverage of national liberation wars, whether or not led by socialist or communist parties, like that of the National Geographic Magazine. It instructs us on how the prism of liberal-democratic ideology views the socialist experiments and revolutions, and to what extent it distorts objective reality or represses essential truths to suit its ideology.

As an example, read the Natgeo stories on Nepal’s revolution here and here.

Screen grab of McCurry's website, with a photo, apparently, of New People's Army members before a flag of the Communist Party.

Screen grab of McCurry's website, with a photo, apparently, of New People's Army members before a flag of the Communist Party.

Renowned photographer Steve McCurry, who worked for the premiere photographer agency Magnum, covered the Philippines for seven months in 1986, just before and after the February uprising that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

In his website, McCurry briefly described his time in the country. Many of the photos later came out in the July 1986 issue of the National Geographic magazine.

McCurry wrote in his website:

I spent seven months in the Philippines and was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

I was one of the first to enter the Malacanang Palace after Marcos fled.  I called my illustrations editor, Elie Rogers, from Imelda Marcos’s bedroom and saw first hand her sumptuous wardrobe.  Looters were grabbing things.  Some were so loaded down they could hardly walk.

On the desk, I saw a communique from the White House warning Marcos against using force.  The palace was strewn with fast-food chicken and noodle containers from a final meal.  In the chapel, I saw the palace staff praying.

His photos and writeup can be viewed here.

I have yet to get hold of a copy of the NatGeo issue where McCurry’s photos came out.

(Update 11 April 2012: I did manage to get hold of a copy of the Natgeo issue. The magazine printed one photo of NPAs that McCurry took.)

Filipino photojournalist Gil Nartea makes a nostalgia trip to the New People’s Army of the 1980s, with his photo exhibit (at the Fred’s Revolucion bar in Cubao, Quezon City, PH) and article in the popular online site Rappler.com.

For a photojournalist, it was a time to make sure that the revolution will be photographed, to paraphrase that popular poem.

I would go up the densely forested areas of the mountains several times, armed with 2 Olympus film cameras, roaming the red areas of the NPA, the small isolated barrios uphill, where basic social services are non-existent and government military troops, doctors and school teachers are rarely seen.

Interestingly, Gil Nartea now works as a close-in photographer for Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Read the entire writeup here.

Here is the accompanying photo slideshow to the writeup: