• The bridges in Tondo are no man’s land; it is right there that the most violent battles between warring gangs take place.
  • Members of the TBS gang. Billy (on the right) is one of the actors in Jim Libiran’s film. After taking part in the film, he establishes a small recording studio in Tondo for the gang members.
  • A prisoner in the Bulacan Jail sports club established by the Sputnik gang.
  • A cell in the overcrowded Bulacan Jail which resides around 2400 prisoners although it has a capacity of 800 seats.
  • Butchoy is posing on the street with his neighbour. He is one of the first rappers in Tondo. He opened the door of his studio for the members of all gangs on one condition: no war, just music.
  • A young man is sitting on the stairs in Bulacan Jail. Most of the arrested are accused of drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom or murder.
  • A member of Sputnik is showing his tattoos. The 39-year-old gangster has spent his last 19 years in jail.
  • The youngest member of the TBS gang.
  • The tattoos on the back of this man tell about the life of this gangster.
  • A boy at a hairdresser in Tondo. The acceptance of new members of the gang starts at the age of 8-9.
  • A man is bathing outside his home in Tondo where most houses lack running water.
  • The last unbuilt land in Tondo, an abandoned Procter & Gamble factory that left hundreds of people jobless.
Mina Angela Ighnatova

In the past, Tondo was a kingdom, known as the land of poets and rebels. Today, this is one of the most dangerous, poor and densely populated places in the capital of the Philippines, Manila, which is famous for its violent street gangs. They were formed in 1950s during the mass migration from the rural areas when Tondo was the cheapest place in town. Today most gangsters hardly know anything about the origin of gangs but many of them are popular all over the country. One of the most powerful groups, Sputnik, was named after the Soviet spacecraft. It has a lot of representatives in prisons where it rules through a rirous internal organization. TBS (True Brown style) is the most popular gang among young people in Tondo. The youngest members of the gang are 8-9 years old.

I went to Manila to meet these young gangsters at the invitation of the Tondo-born journalist Jim Libiran who had just shot his first feature film, Tribu. We knew that something else was hidden behind violence. These were the street poets. To provoke their opponent, gangsters often invent their own hip-hop songs and sometimes when they forget about hostility and violence, they just rap about their dreams and the life in the ghetto. The film did not only lead to a temporary ceasefire in the gangster war, but it also made some of the gang members turn into local hip-hop stars.

Mina Angela Ighnatova  is a photographer, a journalist and a film director. She was born in Havana in 1975. She studied literature in Sofia and in1997 she went to Paris where she graduated in Art History at the Sorbonne. She has been a freelance photographer since 2003, her work have been published in Harper’s Bazaar, De l’air, Elle, L’Europeo, Blast, Eist, One and other leading magazines. At the same time she works for the German-French TV channel, ARTE.  For several years she has been taking photographs behind the scenes of the Fashion Week in Paris.