Filipino Documentary Photographer


Children of the Lake: Rebirth (2018 – )

In this land, grave injustices of the past remain haunting narratives that continue to influence the future.

“Children of the Lake: Rebirth” documents the lives of Moro youth following the devastating five-month ISIS-led siege in the lakeside city of Marawi in southern Philippines in 2017. The siege itself is an aftermath of countless flashpoints in the bloodied history of the Moros’ struggle against colonizers and fellow countrymen.

This project investigates not merely the aftermath of the siege, but the aftermath as well of over 400 years of loss brought by resistance to foreign rule, the Moros’ fight for the right to self-determination, and their endless quest for elusive peace in their own land. Today, I am in conversation with many of the region’s youth, some of whom displaced due to the recent conflict, to explore how their aspirations and grievances have been changing, to understand how the government’s inefficient rebuilding of Marawi is fueling silent unrest, and to see how the young are responding to the new autonomy their region has gained.

Hundreds of thousands of Moros have died since the first colonizers arrived over four centuries ago, defending ancestral lands they had ruled for millennia. Hostilities worsened when the entire Moro homeland was forcibly included to the Philippine polity when the United States granted us independence in 1946. Spaniards, Japanese, Americans, and eventually Filipinos pillaged Moro land for its untapped resources, and massacred villages that stood in the way.

Moros have been antagonized for resisting occupation, for wanting pieces of what was lost, and for fighting to keep what remains. The Moros’ history mirrors the plight of migrant settler-torn Muslim territories around the world. A shared struggle from southern Philippines, to Kashmir, Xinjiang, and Palestine.

To the oppressed, every story of oppression fortifies the resolve to resist. Defiant oral histories sprung in this environment, handed down transcending generations of disadvantaged Moros. Across centuries, this slowly morphed into a deeply shared patriotism for their identity and homeland, both called the Bangsamoro or Nation of Moros.

This patriotism manifests itself in different ways, and in 2017, it also became their greatest vulnerability. The aspirations of some Moros, coupled with their shared grievances on injustices, was capitalized on by extremists in an attempt to widen their foothold in the region. Hundreds of young Moros sided with ISIS to establish a caliphate in Marawi which led to the most devastating conflict in the country’s modern history.

Months after it ended, in 2018, I would meet Moro youth working tirelessly to help the victims of the war despite being firsthand witnesses to the conflict and its horrors. Each knew someone: a best friend, a cousin, a classmate, a fellow Moro, who took up arms and never came back.

The once-distant words “Muslim”, “terrorist”, and “Islamist” suddenly had many faces, faces of people whose lives contradicted the definitions I then held. From peace advocates to aspiring fighters, conversations with them led me to one striking constant: everything they do is “para sa Bangsamoro (for the Nation of Moros).”

How can the same seed eventually lead to vastly differing paths?

Publications & Recognitions:

Children of the Lake: Rebirth
Finalist, The Aftermath Project

Seeds of Insurgency: The youth of Marawi

A new jihad: Helping Marawi

The Doctor Healing the Wounds of War in Basilan

Images from the Bangsamoro with Martin San Diego
GRID Magazine

What we Talk About When We Talk About Mindanao
GRID Magazine

Martin San Diego: Telling the Stories of Moro Philippines
The Wildcast


Marawi City is still inaccessible to most of its residents five years after the siege ended. In this image taken September 25, 2018, eeriness swallows the once-bustling city.
“My heart and mind still can’t digest why they had to resort to such.” Two of Miriam’s closest female friends joined ISIS fighters in the siege of Marawi City in southern Philippines in 2017.
They never returned.
‘Clear’ and ‘ISIS’ markings made by government soldiers are painted outside all houses in Marawi City and in nearby comunities. These then served as the military’s basis for how far they have eliminated the ISIS fighters. But to residents, these are lasting reminders for how their city was destroyed and how their properties were stolen.
A teenager known to the military as “Abu Abbas”, shows a scar he obtained from a firefight he had with government forces in 2019. He signed up to join the remnants of ISIS after the Marawi siege.
Jalilah Sapiin receives an award for her social enterprise in Manila, Philippines on February 13, 2020. Sapiin runs projects that benefit unemployed mothers and impoverished youth in her hometown.
Sapiin lost many friends and relatives to the siege of 2017.
Ayeesha Dicali protests on a bridge leading to the destroyed downtown Marawi City, on October 26, 2018.
To date, hundreds of thousands remain displaced due to government ineffiency in the city’s rebuilding.
A displaced mother and child from Marawi City join their family vacation at a nearby town, on June 9, 2019.
Hanaan Abdulwahab takes a break with friends at a town near Marawi City, on November 25, 2018. Abdulwahab works as a cultural mapper for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, where they preserve remaining tangible pieces of Moro heritage.
Abdulwahab herself lost many of her dearest friends to the Marawi Siege in 2017.
Habiba Al Cabib, a 24-year-old development worker, photographs the ruins of her hometown Marawi City, on August 25, 2018.
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