Photos by the Author
The Sputnik gang is the biggest in the Philippines. It’s so enormous that it’s difficult to keep track of all the smaller, weaker branches at the bottom of its hierarchy. The lowest rungs are more like local vigilantes watching over the neighborhood while their wives and sons cheer them on.
I became chummy with a particular subgroup recently. The slum I was in at the time is called Tondo. It’s in Manila, and it’s really bad. It’s surrounded by a moat, and you can tell from the people’s faces that it is tough living there. The gangs here sell really shoddy drugs for a living—mostly bad marijuana, bad shabu (heroin—for some reason they use the Japanese slang), and bad glue. The kids all carry the glue around in plastic bags and start sniffing at around noon every day. They also sell joints for 100 Japanese yen a piece (that’s about 85 cents). The weed tastes awful.
The people in Tondo eat a lot of rice and chicken. They also fed me dog, even though it’s illegal.
The divide between the rich and poor in Manila has gotten worse since the new president came into power. That said though, Tondo is apparently doing a lot better these days. In the 1960s and 70s it was a completely lawless area with dead bodies strewn everywhere. With the gangs, it’s not really about “joining” or “not joining,” because it all runs in the family. Local gangs are usually run by one big family, so the kids grow up in that kind of environment and it’s only natural for them to become a member too. Everyone is related to each other and inbreeding seems to be pretty damn common.
Gang members in their prison cell.
The machete scars on his stomach are from gang fights.