The trouble with Raffy Lerma’s “Pieta” photo

Below is an image of the July 24, 2016 front page of the Philippine Sunday Inquirer. Some statements have been issued asserting the authenticity of the photo splashed in full width on the masthead of this edition. These statements follow two articles we published highlighting disturbing aspects of this spread: Hector Gamboa’s On Deceptive Media and Photojournalism and my own Sensationalised photo of ‘extrajudicial killing’ victim splashed on Inquirer front page.


The photo used in the above spread was taken by noted photojournalist Raffy Lerma who, in an article published on the Inquirer with the title A NIGHT OF ANGUISH AND TORMENT: The story behind the viral photo wrote an account of the steps he went through to take this and other photos of the same subject and scene from various angles. The point he was making, it seems, was primarily around how his work supposedly faithfully captures the event and the essence of the circumstances surrounding it in order to tell an important story.

In a post published on his Instagram account, Lerma shared what is supposedly a statement issued by Joe Torres, chairman of the Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP) backing the “authenticity” of his work…

After looking into the photographs in question and after holding conversations with some of the journalists who have been covering the night shift, we assure the public that there is no reason to doubt the truthfulness and the integrity of the photographs.

We are convinced that the photojournalists, especially those covering the police beat in Metro Manila, have been relentless in doing their job to bring out the right information that will benefit the public.

There is no truth to insinuations of manipulation of photos or staging or setting up of the scene of the crime. Those who think they know better than those who are on the scene – including the police, the first responders, and the bystanders – are only deceiving themselves.

We stand by our photojournalists.

Unfortunately for Lerma and the PCP, in focusing on defending the authenticity of these photos using a definition of “authenticity” that is both narrow and taken outside of the context of the bigger messaging approach taken by the Inquirer in the manner it laid out its July 24 Sunday front page, the point Gamboa and myself were making in our articles was missed by a mile.

Filipino Netizens were quick to liken Lerma's photo to Michelangelo's Pieta which depicts the body of Jesus Christ being held by his grieving mother after his crucifixion.
Filipino Netizens were quick to liken Lerma’s photo to Michelangelo’s Pieta which depicts the body of Jesus Christ being held by his grieving mother after his crucifixion.
While one can understand Lerma’s position when discussing the photo on its own, the fact is his work was made part of a bigger frame or context consisting of the other elements that accompanied it on the front cover of that Inquirer 24th July edition.

It is the overall authenticity of the message encompassing not just the photo itself but the whole context behind and surrounding it that we are bringing to question on the basis of the overall circumstances of its production.
This is why the circumstances around how this scene came to be set up for this photo shoot is relevant and, within that sphere of relevance, falls the contribution of possible police impropriety in the management of the crime scene.

In short, whether deliberate or not, there is evidence of inadvertent (to give Lerma the benefit of the doubt) collusion between the police and the “photojournalists” at the scene. Lerma and the editors of the Inquirer may plead “not my responsibility” as far as police conduct is concerned, but in the overall scheme of things, the authenticity of the work and the intent of the Inquirer is suspect as a result of this collective play.


Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of

Leave a Reply

28 Comments on "The trouble with Raffy Lerma’s “Pieta” photo"

newest oldest most voted
Notify of

I don’t get it though.. There’s police lines, barricades, and “protesters” with signs surrounding the event…no police to be seen either.

And one photo shows there was no “construction spotlight”, but what rather looks like some photography spotlight illuminating the grieving woman and dead person.

So let me get this straight.. the police let “photojournalists” into a crime scene to take photos before they can analyze. Totally believable here.

There is no conclusion yet, who killed this Drug Trafficker. Was he killed by vigilantes, or fellow Drug Traffickers? The problem here is: Aquino, De Lima, their Shabu cahoots, and their propaganda media , use this photo, for their propaganda on “Human Rights” and “Extra Judicial Killings”… Of course, they could just blame it on the “vigilantes”…while the victim’s fellow illegal Drug Traffickers, or his illegal Drug Sources, are free of blame ! We should not politicize the photo. We know the War on illegal Drugs is Nasty…all kinds of bad characters are there, ready to blow someone’s else head… Read more »
a yellow tard

pres duterte is right. he might lost the trust of the people if they won’t speak out what they want. do they want to speed up death penalty and prosecute drug lords and corruption in the Philippines? what about the communist party in the Philippines? they won’t concede to peace talks just to become a normal citizens, they want power to take over the Philippines. if the people want these, just keep quiet. if the people want a change then speak up as one people power.

Hector Gamboa
The problem with the Inquirer photo was the way it was presented. Even if the photo was indeed authentic and it was for a real event, that event that the photo captured had nothing to do with the news article. The news article was describing how priests were objecting to the EJKs under Du30’s government which they seem to be blaming on the President. The news article also talked about a mass given by priests where people were encouraged to wear black. What the hell does that Pieta-like picture (that happened away from the photo’s subject event) have anything to… Read more »

Who said picture cannot lie?!

a yellow tard

is there a similar photo published in any newspaper? if none then it’s a fabricated photo ‘thou shall not kill’ you know the enquirer it’s a yellow paper.


It seems “journalists” these days are not satisfied anymore with reporting the news. They like to insert their opinion in the news. In other words, they are editorializing. No more “objectivity” for them. Being “biased” is right for them.

Estong Tutong

Context! That’s spot-on.

It’s journalistic prostitution. And Lerma’s knock-off speaks volumes on it. Michelangelo must be rolling in his grave laughing at this sloppy piece of plagiarism.


Robert Haighton

Lerma’s photo must have been photoshopped because I dont see any wound (hole) in his right hand. Supposedly a nail was hammered into that hand but looks perfectly clean (no scar, no blood, no wound) now. Or is that guy just a John Do?


This is exactly the same black propaganda of the tie a yellow ribbon BS during Edsa to incite mutiny, if nothing is done to stop these irresponsible journalist we are back to square one. Fool me once shame on you Fool me twice shame on me.


Here, the consummate achievement of decadent art is caught in miniature. The “genius of the artist” entangles perpetrators and victims in a sticky web of perverse delights, in which exploitation becomes collusion, the ripples of guilt spread outward, and the real criminal slips away. In the end, responsibility is lodged firmly with the consumer, forced – he must confess – by his own perverse desires, to buy into the values of this particularly black market.

Talking of photos, remember yesterday, I posted this link in the “Leila’s Dilemma” article’s comments (regarding overcrowded jails)… Well the very next day (TODAY), we can see the very same photos posted in GMA network news under the Latest Photos section: Inmates crowd in cramped QC jail Aug 01, 2016 12:10 PM Here’s their actual file (see it’s dated 1 day later). Well my point is, it’s quite possible the major PH news networks are watching, following and stalking us here. They know GRP is creating lots of noise. So common guys, MAKE MORE NOISE! Let’s rock the… Read more »
In short, whether deliberate or not, there is evidence of inadvertent (to give Lerma the benefit of the doubt) collusion between the police and the “photojournalists” at the scene. Probably because you think so, depending on how you want to see something. Lerma already gave his side, so ewan why (any of) you wanna doubt him. OTOH, anyone can doubt you and so on and so forth. Bato-bato sa langit. If I fill a glass with water, then is that glass part empty or part full or what? How any of see that glass, similar to how you see Lerma’s… Read more »
Breaking News! 1.Feelippino photojournalist Mr.Kit A.Cigurado wins an international award for his heart wrenching and life-like shot depicting a masterpiece. Dull-witted Netizens can’t help express, Proud to be Penoy! 2.An influential businessman Prof. A. Gandholp is leading a crusade for all businessmen and leaders of different private sectors to support the documentary “The Way of EJK Must End Now” and also to express their indignation not only through the social media but publicly as well. 3.Sen.Gary A.Palan is asking the senate to set up and summon an inquiry body to investigate the frightening rise of EJK incidents and look into… Read more »
church kills

I’m just an onlooker in a location shooting of the latest movie BOYCOTT INQUIRER.


can anyone answer these questions of mine?

Why was the woman allowed to hold the dead person while an investigation is being conducted?

as to my knowledge, that is not allowed..

Was he killed on the spot, while his lover was there?

— I am asking because the cardboard was there and also the woman which leaves the question; did they throw the cardboard or neatly put it there?

For all we know, the journalists may have BRIBED the policemen on the scene to give them all the leeway to direct the “set” esp. by allowing the lady to get in, keep all others far distant so as not to obstruct camera line of sight, and come up with their HOT-SELLING maestro, which they can use out of context for their sinister agenda. The question is: for all the traffic, attention and money INQ/PDI made out of this, did the lady in the pix receive her talent fee? And just look at that – there’s even a full blown… Read more »
jon snow
Well, now that the #Lenileaks are out, we know what really went on with this photo. As one of the leaked emails said, “It doesn’t have to be true, it just needs to look like that.” The mainstream media, especially Inquirer and Rappler, are hopelessly compromised. No one believes them anymore. The more they lied, the more they destroyed their credibility. Lying only works if the person you’re lying to knows less than you. Take Leni Robredo’s alibis on #Lenileaks, for example. First, her office pretended it wasn’t happening and refused to give a reaction. Big mistake, because hordes of… Read more »