The murder of Michael Siaron last month would ordinarily not have raised much comment. The sidecar driver’s body was found July 23 on the streets of Manila; next to it a cardboard sign with the words “I am a drug pusher, don’t emulate” written in all-black capital letters.
Raffy Lerma, a photographer with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, had already photographed one death that night during his 9 p.m. to-5 a.m. shift. When he received word of the second body, he raced to the scene. The image he shot there has captured the debate in the Philippines over the rise in extrajudicial killings following President Rodrigo Duterte’s election in May and the human cost of those killings.
As Rodrigo Duterte campaigned for president he advocated a simple approach to fighting criminals: “Kill them all,” he said to both gasps and loud applause.
Shooting deaths before Duterte won the May 9 election averaged about two a week in the Philippines. Immediately after his victory, one person was killed by police or vigilantes every day. Around the time Duterte took the presidential oath of office on June 30, it had risen to three a day. By July 21, not even a full month into Duterte’s term, it increased to 10 a day. In all, since Duterte assumed office, police or vigilantes have killed between 400 and 770 alleged criminals.