In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was buoyed into the Philippine presidency by a campaign that maximized the use of online,  digital platforms. For a candidate in his seventies with no social media accounts of his own, it was quite a feat. The  online realm is highly visual and dynamic, structured as it is by an attention economy that necessitates the creation of  copious amounts of eye-catching content. This success was propped by an organized team of advertising and PR  strategists (with seemingly predatory instincts for virality and a knack in skewing the algorithm for their client’s  advantage), an emerging breed of political influencers and commentators, and an army of part-time trolls.

"It is my job to scare people, to intimidate people, and to kill people."

After ascending to the highest political post in the country, the slew of online dominance from rabid followers continued.  Supporters shared and bolstered posts, comments, hashtags, and images in praise of Duterte, on one hand, and  attacks on actual and perceived political opponents, on the other. The armory of images, content, and abuse kept at a  relentless pace. 5,6 At around the same time, influencers, who had been supportive of Duterte during his run, were  hired in government posts and contracts.7 Here then was a form of governing that seemingly took the realm of digital  images seriously. It invested and gleefully took part in the transaction of images, regarding the online world as a critical area in which it can continue to drum up support for various issues and personalities, while also reinforcing the State’s political power.

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But perhaps this fascination with the visual can be partly attributed to the President himself. Duterte is a colorful  character that demands public attention. Part comedic showman, part ruthless demagogue, his is a persona that lends itself towards hypervisibility, routinely stealing headlines and inciting extreme emotions with his antics, speeches,  and gestures. In parallel to how his predecessor has monopolized a particular color, Duterte’s characteristic fist bump,  reproduced in numerous stickers and images and invoked in numerous photo ops, has been utilized as a sign of  political allegiance. Other personalities, perhaps wishing to ride 

the coattails of his social and political largesse, had made use of this gesture. However, any absence from the public eye similarly incites rumor and controversy. His most recent public disappearance— made stranger by the release of grainy, night-time videos as proof of life  (the person in the video donned a face mask and a face shield, and the lighting was insufficient at times, that theories  abound as to whether it was Duterte or an actor) — straddle a kind of gray area in terms of visibility, wherein political  intrigue, information blackout, and presidential responsibilities (or lack thereof) seem to come to a head. 

Duterte’s electoral centerpiece and long-standing obsession, the Drug War, is similarly disposed to a regime of  visuality. Support for it was aided by images and narratives of alleged crimes and victims of drug users, shared  profusely by social media influencers and supporters. It did not matter that some of these images provided false  information, the waves of content and attacks threatened to silence any form of disapproval or criticism.15,16 In the  conduct of the War, photojournalists played a crucial part in documenting the ravaged bodies of supposed drug  peddlers that counted as its victims. However, images of the corpses— described by Vicente Rafael as the “fearsome signs” of the sovereign’s extralegal power and indomitable will17— has not quite led to a straightforward incitement of  public outrage, as hoped. Instead, the photographs have at times inspired mere passivity, fear, or acceptance of the  project’s success.

The works collected here take a slightly different tack. By no means comprehensive, they present ruptures in populist  (and online) discourse which have legitimized images, policies, and utterances that rendered segments of the  population as subhuman. In a reversal of those traditionally determined as ‘social enemies’,19 here it is State agents,  with Duterte at the helm, that are rendered criminally monstrous. Highly political, these digital and editorial  illustrations attempt to wrest meaning away from the sway of influencers, supporters, and trolls; and do so in the very  same platforms in which these groups have dominated. The presentation of the works is an attempt to make legible  and coherent a bloody war that has mostly unfolded in disparate corners, houses, and roads, and within the vicinities  of urban poor communities, with an almost daily regularity. But the commensurate burden of transgression is shifted  away from the victims. Instead, focus turns toward a far different set of personalities as visible targets, in the hopes  that in doing so, condemnation and indignation can be further sharpened and channeled.  

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Featured Artists

Tarantadong Kalbo

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<short bio ni Andoyman>

Gilbert Daroy (INQ)

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Mako Micro-Press

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