UNDAS PHOTO ESSAY | Are they having a big pictorial in heaven?


LET’S leave behind, for now, the debate on whether or not Maria Ressa deserved the Nobel.

It’s time to focus on an indispensable aspect of newsgathering, one that has its abundant share of heroes, often unsung, but heroes just the same: photojournalism.

The weekend saw the death of yet another great Filipino photojournalist, Romy Gacad, who joined a list of at least eight others who died during the pandemic, though not all of Covid-19 causes.

Gacad, who would have cringed if he were called “icon,” was as best as they come, doing work in crisis and in “peacetime” that spanned several eras in recent Philippine history. As a wire service (Agence France-Presse) photographer, he had first-row access to some of the biggest events, but also up-close exposure to danger of all kinds—including all types of natural and man-made disasters, violent political events like coups and rallies.

Equally iconic photojournalists Alex Nuevaespaña, Nonoy Espina and Recto Mercene

Like the other photojournalists who died before him in the past nearly two pandemic years – Manny Goloyugo, Noli Yamsuan, Ed Santiago, Sonny Yabao, Jun Aniceta, Alex Nuevaespana, Gacad never shirked the big news when it unfolded before his eyes, seizing the moment and producing some of the best visual reportage of events. We add to this list the journalist Nonoy Espina, a gifted writer first but who accompanied most of his work with startlingly beautiful photos. He succumbed to cancer weeks after contracting Covid a few months ago.

Photo by Noli Yamsuan

And of course, just last October 2, we lost the BusinessMirror’s much-loved Recto Mercene, another prolific writer who was best known for his feats as a photojournalist – as “the other man who shot Ninoy Aquino” with that iconic image that went around the world, of the returning opposition senator at the tarmac, moments after his assassination.

As for Romy Gacad, he remained humble through the end, like the other greats who preceded him in the crossover. He was generous with advice to struggling young practitioners, helpful to coworkers, and most important, kind and compassionate to the people he encountered in his coverage—the sort of soul whose heart betrays itself in all the photos he shared with the world.

Photo by Sonny Yabao

According to a heartbreaking account by photojournalist Joe Galvez on his Facebook page, Gacad replied to his request for collaboration on a book sometime in August this year, while recovering from treatment for liver disease. Joe recalled: “Despite his critical stage at that moment, Romeo Gacad, the iconic Filipino photojournalist we all loved still managed to reply to me from his recovery bed to share his story about his fight against cancer. I was deeply humbled by his reply to me. It was the kindest reply one could ever get from a man whose life then hangs by a thread.”

Photo by Manny Goloyugo

Now, going back to the headline of this short essay: Are they having a big event in heaven that entails a mega-pictorial requiring nearly a dozen greats of Philippine photojournalism? One can only guess. And sigh…at our own immeasurable loss over here.

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