Night Crawlers: Documenting the war on drugs

NEW YORK — It was the most controversial photo taken by award-winning photojournalist Raffy Lerma. Known as Night Crawlers, Lerma is among the photojournalists who are documenting Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on illegal drugs.

The image was on the cover of Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 24, 2016 with the caption: “A weeping Jennelyn Olaires hugs partner Michael Siaron — a pedicab driver and alleged drug pusher, who was shot and killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen.”

“People began talking about the photo, they were the ones who called it ‘pieta,’ to be honest, I never” said Lerma. “It was about this yung Michael Angelo sculpture, but it’s also that Pieta. It’s Italian for pity.”

When the image went viral, even President Duterte had something to say about it during his 2016 state of the nation address.

“Kung ayaw ninyong mamatay, ayaw ninyong masaktan, huwag kayong umasa sa pari at human rights, hindi nakakapigil yan ng kamatayan, so huwag ninyong gawin tapos andyan nakabulagta and you are portrayed in a broadsheet na parang mother mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ, ayan yang mga yan magkadramahan tayo dito.”

“Nagulat ako, nakakalungkot, nakakalungkot na kailangan pa niyang sabihin yun sa family who is grieving, give them na lang sana yung dignity na yun. The photo reached the person who had to be reached, which is the president.”

The photo is once again making the shares online – after Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao recently slammed the photo as the “fakest fake news.”

Defenders of the President claimed that the Philippine Daily Inquirer got it wrong for allegedly reporting that it was the police who killed Michael Siaron – and not drug syndicates.

A Rappler fact check called Tiglao’s claim — a lie.

“I never said Michael Siaron was killed by police, I never wrote that, I said he was killed by unidentified riding in tandem vigilantes – one of the thousands of unexplained deaths,” said Lerma.
Lerma admitted though — that he labeled it as extra-judicial killing in an opinion piece he wrote last year.

“I placed it extra-judicial killing, why? Hindi ko babaguhin yung sinabi ko, hindi ko babawaiin na I never said it was police, but the fact that the government is promoting the killing, say it in his speeches; that’s why I wrote it.”

Lerma vows to continue documenting the casualties of the war on drugs/

“We are not pretending that by documentation, by doing this and documenting this will stop the killings eventually this drug war, but now, it’s more focused on let’s document, document, that may be someday there will be accountability,” he said.

The Manila Times column came wth a footnote saying that the Inqurier photo did not blame the police, and that the pedicab driver was killed by two men riding on a motorcycle.

It also defined extra judicial killings as executions by the police or other state agents of suspected criminals without the sanctions of a court.

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