They called themselves the Chinese Mafia Crew or CMC, once one of the most feared gangs at the Bataan Shipping and Engineering Company (Baseco) compound in Manila’s Port Area. CMC is the younger version of infamous gangs, sons of crooks who settled in Baseco and Tondo, the nearby district that became synonymous with the underworld.
There were 30 of them at one point, distinguishable by the tattoos on their torsos or arms and legs. They knew how to rap, and they knew how to dance, but they whiled away the hours sniffing cocaine, if not hanging out in the streets drinking. They made a living pushing drugs, picking pockets or stealing.
Even their name was stolen: “Chinese Mafia Crew” belonged to a local hip-hop group that played in Baseco around 2002. CMC members idolized the group’s members and fancied their name, so they appropriated it for themselves. Their elders pinned their hopes on them, and they were once heralded as the gang to watch out for. They were to be the next generation of hoodlums.
That is, until 2004 when a fire razed a huge part of the 52-hectare Baseco compound, destroying homes and property. CMC members were not spared. But they decided to use the tragedy as an opportunity to rebuild not just their houses, but their lives as well.
Marked by their past, these gang members are now trying to turn from their old ways, hunting for decent work and trying to erase the stigma that came with the tattoos they wore when they were dangerous men. It is not going to be easy. Decent jobs are hard to come by for men like them who barely reached high school. But they are searching nonetheless and hoping to resist the lure of the underworld.
These images follow them as they search for another chance outside the circle of crime, violence and drugs that have become part of life in Baseco, one of Metro Manila’s biggest slums.
Vicente Jaime “Veejay” Villafranca (b. 1982 Philippines) was amongst seven Filipinos to be accepted in the first Asian documentary workshop of the Angkor Photography Festival. After freelancing in 2006, he worked with a number of news wire agencies before focusing on his personal projects.
His project on the lives of former gang members in one of Manila’s dangerous slums, garnered the 2008 Ian Parry Scholarship grant in London.
Veejay’s work has been exhibited in Asia and Europe alike and he is represented by Getty Global Assignments in London and Asia Motion in Cambodia.
His ongoing projects evolve around the religious Filipino traditions and fanaticism and also the tremendous impact on the changing climate conditions on communities in the Philippines.