MANILA, Philippines—Carrying an old film camera, Bacolod businessman Medardo Marquez was passing by a village of shanties in Binalbagan town in his home province of Negros Occidental 10 years ago when he chanced upon children blissfully at play.
“I was really attracted by how oblivious they were of their situation. They didn’t even know they were poor. For outsiders, we feel pity for them. But they were just playing with whatever they had,” said Marquez, a photography enthusiast.
“I told them, ‘Whoever can show me the most teeth, will get a tootsie roll.’ That was the moment I captured (the shot),” said Marquez, who took to photography as a hobby while managing a hauling business.
The result: A black and white photo of three children in a moment of laughter, unmindful of their bad teeth and bare backs.
“They probably have teeth now,” joked the 55-year-old father of two who, in the age of digital photography, still relies on his trusty film cameras.
For capturing “Calidad Humana” (human spirit or compassion) in one photo, Marquez was declared the new winner of the Chilean Embassy’s “Smiles for the World” photography contest.
Marquez took the place of confessed photo plagiarist Mark Joseph Solis.
“Children are among the best examples of ‘calidad humana’ because of their spontaneity, innocence, warmth, sincerity,” Marquez said Thursday in accepting his prize.
“But children are like unpolished gems. We have to go through [life] to learn things. Day by day, we have circumstances that come to us as a learning experience.”
He added: “If we have a challenging situation, we either choose to be angry or sad or we could be at peace with ourselves and be happy.”
Marquez originally took second place behind Solis. But Solis’ win was voided when the 22-year-old graduate student of the University of the Philippines admitted stealing the work of Children at Risk Foundation’s founder Gregory John Smith.
Smith took the photo in Brazil and posted it on the online photo sharing site Flickr. Solis claimed the photo of a smiling boy he submitted was taken at a seaweed farm in Zamboanga City.
Solis later admitted it was a fraud and asked for the Chilean Embassy’s forgiveness.
Apart from the UP’s investigation of Solis’ possible infractions of university regulations, Malacañang is also looking into his entry in the 2011 “Say Peace” photo contest, which was also supposedly taken by another photographer.
Marquez—a UP engineering graduate—said it might be best for Solis to deal with the matter himself and not be barraged by angry comments online.
“There are so many bashers on the Internet. The best thing is to leave the person to his own inner demons, to his own conscience,” Marquez said.
“He (Solis) is still young. There’s always hope as long as we’re alive.”
The previous third place winner, 22-year-old freelance photographer Hannah Maria Reyes, won second prize for her photo of tattooed Cordillera women. She won $600 and a new mobile phone.
Third prize went to Arnold Jumpay, 46, a freelance photojournalist from Capiz province. His photo of four women in Banaue, Ifugao province, was previously adjudged fourth best among over 500 entries. Jumpay received $400 and a new mobile phone.
‘Light from heaven’
Perhaps the plagiarism incident could best illustrate “calidad humana.”
“It’s really incredible to see how a negative incident has turned into this,” Chilean Ambassador Roberto Mayorga said. “We started with this Calidad Humana project two years ago but very few people were informed about it.”
He added: “This situation of plagiarism turned into a really incredible situation. Thousands of people became aware of the Calidad Humana project. It seems some light is coming from heaven.”
He said the circumstances surrounding the plagiarism incident may well be embodied in the Spanish concept: “Los intrincados caminos del Señor.”
“It’s the mysterious, the intricate ways of the Lord—how He can convert negative things into the positive,” Mayorga said.
Spreading the word
Mayorga has accepted Solis’ apology. He said Solis would be placed under a yearlong program supervised by the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) to help out in the Calidad Humana project.
The program includes events showcasing Philippine culture—from music and art to literature and sports—to raise awareness of the uniqueness of the Filipino spirit.
“We will all do our part to redeem him in a long process,” Mayorga said. Solis will be involved in programs for poor children in Metro Manila barangays (villages).
Marquez will serve as the envoy of the Embassy’s Calidad Humana Project aimed at spreading the Filipino brand of “humaneness” to other countries, Mayorga said.
“You Filipinos have a unique personality compared to other countries. After visiting 60 to 70 countries, I can’t compare that. It’s unique. If you don’t cultivate it, you might lose it, like what happened in other countries,” said Mayorga.
“My family goes every Saturday to poor barangays in Caloocan City. At least 40 times we have visited there. And nothing has happened to the embassy car,” Mayorga said. “If you go to other countries with these poor villages, (there will be) no more car.”
Besides his $1,000 cash prize and a new mobile phone, Marquez will fly to Chile and Brazil to talk about the kindness of Filipinos.
Marquez said that in his travels he would talk about “the brand of calidad humana that is uniquely ours.”
“…[L]ike our desire to share the Bayanihan spirit, our kindness, concern for others … These qualities are innate in Filipinos. Let us not lose that because that’s our only treasure,” he said.
In Mayorga’s words, such a trait is like “a flower that needs a little water every day.”
“You have to take care not only of the richness here (pats his pocket) but the richness you have here (pats his chest),” Mayorga said.