Photo essay on PH drug kills wins Pulitzer Prize
A scathing photo essay by an Australian freelance lensman on President Duterte’s brutal war on drugs has won for The New York Times the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography.
The essay titled “They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals” by multiawarded photographer Daniel Berehulak documented 57 murder victims over 35 days in his coverage of the violent drug crackdown in Metro Manila.
The Pulitzer board, which is made up of past winners and distinguished journalists and academics, cited Berehulak’s “powerful storytelling through images published in The New York Times showing the callous disregard for human life in the Philippines brought about by a government assault on drug dealers and users.”
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday that Malacañang respected the Pulitzer board’s decision, criteria and selection process.
Even so, Abella noted “the Western press has been highly critical of the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drug traffickers and violators.”
‘New level of ruthlessness’
In his photo essay that the Inquirer ran in its Dec. 9, 2016, issue, Berehulak compared the killings in the Philippines with those of wars and conflicts in other countries he had covered.
“I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone, a place gripped by fear and death,’’ wrote Berehulak, who won the Pulitzer Prize in feature photography two years ago for his coverage of the Ebola epidemic also for The New York Times.
“What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness: police officers’ summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to ‘slaughter them all,’” he added.
Berehulak, who has won numerous photojournalism awards, expressed dismay that many Filipinos supported Mr. Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs.
“It was alarming to have a leader calling for the death of thousands, actually millions of addicts. It was alarming to see that rhetoric mimicked in the streets,” he said.
No EJKs, says Dela Rosa
Some groups have estimated that up to 8,000 suspected drug offenders had been killed since Mr. Duterte assumed the presidency nine months ago, but the Philippine National Police has insisted the drug-related killings had reached only about 2,000.
Sought for his reaction to Berehulak’s haunting portrait of the bloody drug crackdown, PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa denied for the umpteenth time that policemen had carried out extrajudicial killings (EJKs).
Any killing, Dela Rosa added, was done only in self-defense.
“We never tolerated and we never allowed or gave instructions to our people to kill Filipinos just like that,” Dela Rosa said. “If they (policemen) need to defend themselves in the performance of their duties, then by all means they have to preserve their own lives.”
The PNP chief was interviewed by journalists during his visit to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Parañaque City, where relatives of some EJK victims had sought refuge.
A banner once hung at the shrine reminded the faithful of the Sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
“We know that priests are critical about our war on drugs, but I take it positively. We are for the preservation of life,” Dela Rosa said.
3 Pulitzers for NYT
The New York Times won a total of three Pulitzers for breaking news photography, feature writing and international reporting. The Washington Post was also honored with a Pulitzer for its hard-hitting reporting on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The Daily News of New York and ProPublica, a Web-based platform specializing in investigative journalism, won the prize for public service journalism for coverage of New York police abuses that forced mostly poor minorities from their homes.
Other winners included an international consortium of more than 300 reporters on six continents that exposed the so-called Panama Papers detailing the hidden infrastructure and global scale of offshore tax havens used by the high and mighty. —REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, PHILIP C. TUBEZA, THE WIRES
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.