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.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

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.

28 Replies to “The trouble with Raffy Lerma’s “Pieta” photo”

  1. 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.

  2. 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 off…

    You can see the mess they did in the Bilibid Prison. The Drug Lords have taken over the Bilibid Prison; making it a Five star Hilton Hotel; a Shabu Mfg. Co.; and a Command Center in the distribution of this illegal Shabu Drug. The Drug Lords, inside the Bilibid Prison, were living like Kings…while the poor Filipinos , outside, are living in squatter shanties. The Bilibid Prison became an illegal arsenal of high powered arms …full of advanced communication devices…
    This was under the watch of : Aquino, De Lima, PDEA, the Police, Prison Guards, High Prison officials, etc…millions and billions of Pesos, were confiscated, inside the Bilibid Prison…it became a Bank, inside a Prison!

    There was even a rumor, that Mar Roxas , received 50 million pesos for his Presidential bid, from the Shabu Drug Lords…

    And, Jessie Robredo, was murdered by Gen. Pagdilao; because Robredo, was investigating this unholy alliances of: Aquino, De Lima and the Chinese Triad Drug Mafia crime syndicate…

    The evil woman: De Lima, even went there, rubbing elbow, with one of the Drug Lords.

    And, we fools are concentrating about the Human Rights of a Drug Trafficker, who was murdered, by people, we don’t even know…

    We should concentrate on eliminating these scums in our country. If war is there; we must go to war, to drive away/eliminate the Chinese Triad Drug Mafia crime syndicate and their cahoots!

    The Roman Catholic Church, did not even stop the German Nazis in murdering Jews. They were even an accomplish, to let German Nazis, escape Justice, and settled these German Nazis in South America…Churches should practice what they preach !

    1. It is obvious that whoever owns the “Inquirer” has no intention to provide news to the public in good faith …

      The intention is to put the “Duterte Administration” down , hoping (perhaps)that the so called YELLOWS would once again be in power.

      I am wondering why the Vice President (who joined the yellows) is not actively trying to find out who killed her husband , instead of spending her very precious time protesting A DEAD PERSON’S BURIAL in the LNMB .
      A member of the previous Government (yellows) was a suspect , isn’t it ?

  3. 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.

  4. 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 do with what the news article talked about? The visual only influences people to put the two together and make people think that Du30 was responsible for the killing of the guy in the picture and the likes of him. They omitted the context of that picture and that is what made their photo deceptive. I’ve never seen them publish a news article that talks about the culpability of Noynoy with a dramatic picture of a suffering widow crying over the coffin of a dead SAF44 cop while their news article talked about criticisms of Noynoy being elsewhere talking about something else. Then an Inquirer Lifestyle Feature article last July 31 by Pocholo Concepcion stated that Mr. Lerma disagreed with how Pres. Duterte called them out during the SONA. Lerma said: “Sorry Mr. President, totoong tao sila. Sino ba tayo para batikusin sila? This is real life… they have every right to grieve for their loved ones… Ikaw rin iiyak kung mangyari sa pamilya mo yan. Ikaw nga, nung nanalo ka (as President), umiyak ka sa puntod ng parents mo. I mean, give these people some dignity.” Notice another sly way of seemingly using emotion to mislead the public from what the President was pointing out to something totally different. The President never said that the slain person’s partner had no right to grieve! The issue the President was pointing out was the over-dramatization of the moment and the way the photo seems to portray an image of Mary and the dead body of Jesus Christ. The President never said anything about Olaires not having any right to grieve! Oh my gulay! What a big fat red herring! They might as well have argued on the issue that it is okay for Ghandi to eat 100% beef burgers because his argument had nothing to do with what the President was pointing out about his picture and the way it was presented by the broadsheet!

    1. @riyal:

      We are in the digital age of , pixels technology. I can take a photo of you; and can make you look like: Satan the Devil, for my own selfish purposes !

  5. 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.

    1. Inquirer Magazine and News . Both are PROPAGANDA Machines of: Aquino, the Chinese Triad Drug Mafia crime syndicate, De Lima, and the Drug Lords…

      They are paid from the profits of Shabu Drug Money ! Maybe, these Drug Lords, even contribute to the Roman Catholic Church !

  6. 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.

    1. That or people are looking for stories that confirm their bias, even if some journalists’ stories indicate otherwise.

  7. 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.


  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 boat real hard.

    Note that PDI’s successive follow-up articles also obviously show they are doing tit-for-tat rebuttals of the GRP articles here regarding that picture. Likely the reason they are SOOOO Defensive.

    I guess, no one wants to be in GRP’s cross-hairs these days.

  12. 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 picture or anything else about this, is up to you.

    More important perhaps is what you wanna do about this, depending what you want out of it.

    1. I’m not doubting Lerma’s side. I don’t disagree that what appears on the photo was what actually was at the business end of his camera.

      What I am doubting, as I’ve been saying ad infinitum, is the broader context surrounding the situation within which he pointed his camera and shot the photo — the overarching context; the bigger scheme of things, dude.

      Try to get over that heritage of smallness that resides in the DNA of your Filipino mind and step back and regard that bigger picture.

      1. And perhaps that bigger scheme of things isn’t so big as some of us think it is, dude?

        Let me fix what you said:

        I don’t disagree that what appears on the photo was what actually was at the business end of his camera.

        What Lerma showed on his end of the camera is what he showed. Beats me why you included the word “business” before end, but…that’s you.

        I somewhat appreciate the unsolicited advice, albeit I’m not the one under discussion. 😉

  13. 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 the damning evidence also portrayed by a EJK document being shown worldwide.

    4.Several clergies led by Father DOM Damaso were calling for the faithfuls to raise their public outcry on the streets to demand justice due to the horrible spate of EJK incidents that is gripping the nation.

  14. 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?

  15. 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 article featuring the cameraman himself. Now we’ve come to the age where Journalists not only report the news, THEY ARE the news. Yeah, just like the Luneta bus-hostage journalist-orchestrated fiasco.

    Why don’t we go all the way and just be ruled by Journalists, and have them run the country?

    Look at the Pieta. For any of you who’ve been to the Vatican and seen it yourself, it’s almost not about Jesus and Mary anymore – it’s all about how great Michelangelo is, and how priceless the work of art is. Talk about missing the point!

    Journalists bask in the glory of their work. In fact, many use it as a stepping stone to enter politics. Who knows, Raffy Lerma will be running for public office soon. Yeah, maybe someone with a zoom-lens camera has the foresight to make a difference in this country. Why not.

  16. 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 people already saw the emails and the issue was already trending on Twitter.

    Next, her office claimed the emails were fake. Wrong again, because people already saw the cached messages on BOTH the Yahoo and Google search engines.

    Next, her spokesperson claimed the Yahoo group was a public group, therefore it had nothing to hide. Fail again, because people already saw that the Yahoo group was switched to private after it was exposed.

    Then, Robredo denied she was close to Loida Lewis and claimed they haven’t communicated since 2013. This was really dumb, considering one of the most talked about messages in the leaks was Loida’s email instructing someone to call her office in the US to help with Robredo’s legal defense against Bongbong Marcos.

    Hay naku. As my dad says, Leni’s eyes might be bigger than her brain.

    But she sure can act. Buking na buking na, nagsisinungaling pa rin. Parang si Leila de Lima.

    #Lenileaks is taking down the mainstream media along with Leni Robredo and Loida Lewis. A whole shipload of yellows is sinking in just one storm. The more they lie, the dumber they look.

    The moral lesson: don’t lie unless you’re absolutely sure you can get away with it.

    As for the small fraction of the mainstream media that still has some credibility left, like Manila Bulletin, I hope you can see what an opportunity this is for you.

    #Lenileaks has a lot of valuable factual information. Go through it, and do honest, non-jaundiced reporting on the contents.

    Don’t just report Robredo’s generic denials. Show what was written in the emails. Show how they planned to turn the anti-Marcos protests into an oust-Duterte movement. Investigate the true link between Loida Lewis and Leni Robredo. Get the truth out there. If you do this right, you’ll be the number one news website in the Philippines in a matter of weeks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.