Best Esquire Philippines Longreads of 2017
It's been an interesting year for readers. Worldwide, a (perhaps alarming, perhaps unsurprising) number of publications ceased print publication ceased print operations—which sounded, initially, like a death knell for literature. But good writing, like life, finds a way. Instead of dying out, it seemed instead that good writing experienced a renaissance, both in print and on the web. It was the year when the reading public rediscovered longform articles, making pieces like Alex Tizon's "My Family's Slave" in The Atlantic or The New Yorker's "The Desperate Battle to Destroy ISIS" cultural phenomena in their own right.
Esquire Philippines has always had literary nonfiction in its DNA. We come from the title that published such landmark pieces as Tom Junod's "The Falling Man," for example, or, longer back, "Sinatra Had a Cold" by Gay Talese. In print, Esquire Philippines had ample space for Notes & Essays (which occasionally also gave space to fiction and poetry), and of course our regular Features section was notable for the way it championed good writing on a multitude of subjects.
It's a tradition we are proud to continue in digital form. This year, our new platform meant that we could reach new audiences, amplifying the reach and impact of stories that we originally commissioned for our print edition, as well as those we had written specifically for our new home. Occasionally, we repost these stories, especially since most of them are timeless in the way that all good writing is timeless—it has nothing to do with trends, or even with the currency of tastes. The thing about these pieces, our favorites, is that it hardly matters whether they become popular or not; for many of these pieces, it's enough for them to exist. That said, we've been very pleasantly surprised to see that readers do (to use the parlance of other media) tune in for longreads.
We'll keep producing these stories in the coming year—because they're good, because you read, and because these works simply have to be. In the meantime, we are proud to show off a few of our favorites from 2017:
The First Soldier Killed in Marawi Was My Friend, Fredie Solar
Filipinos were at war for almost half the year, but most of us will have no experience of it in the slightest. We may think of the war in Marawi in abstract terms, or in political terms, or in distant imaginings. Marck Rimorin writes about the unexpectedly personal place, honoring an old friend who was the first casualty from the PNP.
"People with weaker wills would have given up at that point, but not Fredie. He was part of the PNPA Sansinirangan class of 2007, and was promptly assigned to Mindanao right after graduation. He met his wife and started his family in Mindanao, and had plans of being a police lawyer. He enrolled in the Notre Dame University College of Law in Cotabato City. He promised his family he would be back sometime in 2019, that he would ensure that the rest of his siblings finish their education, and that they will finally have a better life ahead." Read the rest here.
Into the Weird and Winding World of Bitcoin
Some of Kara Ortiga's best pieces for Esquire Philippines have been the result of her curiosity and her admirable willingness to embrace discomfort in pursuit of answers. So when she got into a car accident and received this text message:
“Meron pumasok na P1,000 pera from coins.ph… kaya gusto ko nang i-send agad sa iyo. Kinita ko ito sa Bitcoin… nagte-trade ako now ng Bitcoin-crypto currency.”
it sparked her interest in cryptocurrencies—just in time to see the value of Bitcoin reach astronomic heights. As she looked into local cryptocurrency groups, she also realized the potential for fraud. Read it here.
I Am the Son of Dead 80s Bold Star
"Here’s a confession: I am the son of a dead ’80s bold star," writes Chuck Smith. "Until, one day, I was not. But, by then, it was too late to take it back." Growing up, Smith was made to believe that he was the secret son of tragic star Pepsi Paloma, and in this essay, he writes with raw honesty about the emotional marks that kind of unusual situation leaves behind. Originally written for the June 2017 issue of the magazine, this piece found new life when we released it online. Read it here.
Winning Back Marawi
For almost half a year, the city of Marawi was a full-on battle zone. When the military finally declared victory over the ISIS-affiliated rebels in October, the war was officially over, but the city was a long way away from regaining peace.
Writer Ana Santos reports from the aftermath of war, and what I like about these pieces is that they bring the war down to a very personal, very human level: She writes from the perspective of soldiers and citizens who now face a longer battle. "Those who have survived war will tell you that victory is short-lived; that when you hold up a mirror to the initial triumphant relief, you will find questions that are too daunting and painful to answer." For those of us who have always been far away from the fighting, this is a perspective that is crucial for us to truly understand the situation in Marawi.
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
How a Tiny Shack in Payatas Became a Field of Dreams
When I first heard of Roy Moore and the Payatas Football Club a few years ago, I was skeptical: How was something so frivolous as a sports club going to help the children of Payatas? Living in poverty and working as scavengers, they had far more immediate concerns than sports, surely. How do you know what you're doing is actually working, I asked Roy. "Well, now when I ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they have an answer," he said. "They now have dreams."
A few years after that memorable conversation, Miguel Escobar revisits the Payatas Football Club and reports that it has stayed with the community and grown in many ways. "People here are used to false promises," Moore says, "used to [other] people coming down once, giving out some food, promising the world, and then not coming back. Whether it's a politician, a rich family, or a feeding program—it's the same thing over and over again. That's why it was so key for us to be based here, and to live within Payatas, with the community, to hire within the community, to build people up here." Read it here.
What Modern Christian Families Should Know About the Umbrella of Protection
When social media darlings Doug and Cheska Kramer posted this illustration on Facebook, they didn't expect the blowback that came swiftly from people who were aghast that the couple were espousing such old-fashioned, ultraconservative family values. Brothers Joel and Daniel Darwin throw the covers back from the so-called Umbrella of Protection" and show that it not only comes from a flawed source, but that it also goes against modern, reasonable Christian thinking. "This verse by Paul has history, too. It’s been used time after time—by the Americans, the French, and of course the Spanish conquistadors who washed onto our shores—to justify owning people as slaves. It’s been used to keep women from voting, or working jobs, or divorcing abusive husbands. It’s been used to justify child abuse. It’s one of the most controversial verses in the Bible, and it’s caused division and heated discourse within the Christian Church for hundreds of years." Read the rest here.
The Other Guy Who Shot Ninoy
There are iconic, history-making photographs—and there are the men who took those photographs. Recto Mercene is the photographer behind the infamous newsphoto of Ninoy Aquino being dragged away on the airport tarmac after being felled by an assassin's bullet. This rare interview contains his recollection of that day, and of the events that followed. "Tinatanong ako ni Agrava, ‘Nakita mo ba ang bumaril?’ Wala naman sa aming nakakakita yung bumaril. At the back of my mind, [I thought,] I am part of this. Nothing can take it away from me.” Read it here.
'I Survived the Ozone Disco Tragedy'
The Ozone Disco tragedy is still the country's worst fire, killing over 160 people. Writer PJ Caña says that his subject, Sherilyn Bruan, wondered why she was worthy of being featured—too many others have suffered worse than she had, she said. This piece takes Bruan from the events of that night on to show how life goes on afterward, reminding us that tragedy can be shockingly mundane—but so is the will to overcome. Read it here.