Pandemic in the Philippines: The Struggle Within

  • Photographer
    George Calvelo
  • Prize
    Honorable Mention
  • Jury Top 5 Selection

    Michael Zajakowski There were many excellent photo stories of the pandemic and how nations, states medical professionals and individuals responded. Or didn’t. This photographer’s record of the response in the Philippines is overlaid on the country’s pre-existing conditions of autocratic rule, political corruption and violence and underlying climate and health care challenges. The photographs are not elegant or beautiful, like some of the photo essays we have come to revere, but the situations photographed are precise and moving, exposing the gamut of human emotions, and the editing is precise. Among the hundreds of photo essays about communities confronting the pandemic, this ongoing project stands as a model for bearing witness.

  • Company/Studios
  • Date of Photograph
    Various dates throughout 2020-2021
  • Technical Info
    Various settings

These photos are from my ongoing documentary on the Philippine government's response to the COVID19 pandemic, and how the most affected people struggle to deal with what is left for them. Several corruption issues, human rights violations, abuse of power, politicking by power-hungry officials, and the deteriorating climate situation. These are what the Filipino people have to face. All of these as the presidential election is fast approaching.


Considered having one of the longest lockdowns in the world, the Philippines continue to implement quarantine protocols while struggling to address the damage the pandemic has brought to its people and economy. By mandating the general public to wear plastic face shields on top of wearing masks, people can't help but say that those in power are more concerned about business opportunities than about solving the problem. Children had to take part in online learning, which presented multiple problems for students, teachers, and parents. Politicians take advantage of the crisis by seemingly creating problems for them to solve, a ridiculously obvious campaign stint. Cash assistance drives initiated by the government have seen problems that only the most affected feel. Job losses, businesses closing down, the death of several loved ones, multiple severe typhoons, and climate emergencies. This is what the Filipino people continue to face.

As the country starts to feel the blow of the more transmissible COVID19 delta variant, the Department of Health tallied 14,249 new cases in a single day, based on their latest bulletin as of August 14, 2021. This brings the total number of cases to 1,727,231. More than a year of lockdown, the government’s idea of battling the virus was to beef up the presence of uniformed personnel on the streets, with an order to arrest quarantine violators and those who didn’t want to get vaccinated. A statement of the president which his staff conveniently pass off as 'jokes' that aren't meant to be taken seriously.

Despite multiple loans amounting to billions of dollars since last year, a recent report by national auditors revealed deficiencies in the Health Department’s spending for the COVID19 response fund amounting to a total of P67.32 billion. Here in the Philippines, it isn't surprising at all to hear people say that these experiences are clear signs that the election season is fast approaching.

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