Duterte hits ‘Pietà’ image of slain drug suspect

Paterno Esmaquel II
Of priests and human rights groups, President Rodrigo Duterte says in his first State of the Nation Address: 'Hindi nakakapigil 'yan ng kamatayan'

'I'M A PUSHER.' A woman hugs her husband who was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in Manila on July 23, 2016. Another photo of the same scene was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 24, 2016. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte criticized a broadsheet for publishing the photo of a slain drug suspect and his wife in a scene that resembled Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Duterte did not name the broadsheet in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25.

The broadsheet that published this as its banner photo on Sunday, July 24, was the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The image was taken by photojournalist Raffy Lerma.

Below it was the banner story titled, “Church: Thou Shall Not Kill,” which was about a Catholic movement against extrajudicial killings. (READ: Manila bishop on killings: Crime can’t stop crime)

Lerma’s photo evoked images of Michelangelo’s Pietà, a sculpture dating back to 1499 that shows Mary carrying the dead body of her son, Jesus Christ.

Duterte himself acknowledged the resemblance in his SONA on Monday. 

E tapos nandiyan ka, nakabulagta, and you are portrayed in a broadsheet na parang Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. E ‘yan ‘yang mga ‘yan, magda-dramahan tayo dito,” Duterte said in his SONA.

(Then there you are, sprawled, and you are portrayed in a broadsheet like Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. These people, we’ll be doing dramatics here.)

Duterte’s warning

The President said, “Let us be clear with each other. I am for the comfort and the welfare of the Filipino.”

He continued: “Kayo namang hindi pa bungog diyan, hindi pa pumasok ‘yang mga droga, e kung ayaw ninyong mamatay, ayaw ninyong masaktan, huwag kayong umasa diyan sa mga pari, pati human rights. Hindi nakakapigil ‘yan ng kamatayan. So huwag ninyong gawin.”

(As for you who aren’t crazy yet, who haven’t gotten involved in drugs, if you don’t want to die, if you don’t want to get hurt, do not count on those priests, even those in human rights. They cannot stop death. So do not do it.)

Police say nearly 300 drug suspects have died since Duterte took office. Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) show at least 293 suspects were killed from July 1 to 24, 2016 only. This number includes those killed in police operations and excludes those slain in apparent extrajudicial killings around the country.

Several media groups report a higher death toll. ABS-CBN News, for example, has recorded 544 deaths since election day.

Because of this, Human Rights Watch on Tuesday, July 26, urged US Secretary of State John Kerry to tell Duterte to investigate the recent killings of drug suspects in the Philippines.

The Catholic Church has also warned against rising “vigilantism” in the country. (READ: Manila bishop on killings: Crime can’t stop crime) – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.