Collage or manipulation? Panelo and AFP’s explanation for badly edited photos of ‘communist rebels’

December 30, 2019 - 10:13 PM
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Salvador Panelo
Screengrab of presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo during a press briefing in Malacañang. (Screengrab from Radio Television Malacañang)

The insistence of presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo that the manipulated photo of the Philippine Army is a “collage” was reinforced by the armed forces who said that two photos were “merged” together.

Philippine Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said that the photos of the communist rebels and firearms were “authentic” but added that it was “merged” to show its accomplishment of an army unit.

“The photo that they showed is two authentic photos of firearms and rebels, former rebels, but they merged it together so that’s where the problem and mistake lies,” he said to ANC’s “Headstart” Monday morning.

READ: Philippine Army released a badly manipulated photo of ‘communist rebels’

“They are real surrenders. There are 306 surrenders in Masbate and this is a worthy accomplishment of the 9th Infantry Division and we stand by our units, especially in their efforts for local peace negotiations for surrenders,” Zagala added.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s mouthpiece previously said that the photo was a “collage” even if it was not disclosed to be so when the army’s 9th Division distributed it as a news release. It was Filipinos on social media who noticed something off about it.

“I was just talking to [Defense] Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. The explanation to him was, there were two pictures combined. Hindi naman minanipulate. Kinollage, pinagsama ‘yung dalawang picture,” Panelo said.

“The two [photos] were combined. That’s not manipulation,” he added.

Lorenzana, on the other hand, already ordered the matter to be investigated as he said that it undermines the efforts of the military to fight communist insurgency. He added that those who perpetuated the actions will be sanctioned.

The controversial photos

The 2nd Infantry Battalion of the 9th Infantry Division on December 28 released a photo of supposed communist rebels who have surrendered to the army. Across them was a table filled with arranged rifles.

Filipinos noticed that the “rebels” didn’t project shadows and appeared to be floating on the picture. The rifles earned the same accusation as well.

Veteran journalist Nonoy Espina noticed that one of the firearms had a tape which was labeled as “18 Jun 2019” even though the incident was supposed to happen recently.

A rebels’ foot also appeared to be digitally erased.

Major Ricky Aguilar, spokesperson of the army’s 9th Division, explained that the unit released a photoshopped picture in their “ardent desire to release timely information.”

“In our ardent desire to release timely information, we were not able to double-check the pictures we attached in our press release yesterday,” he said before.

“Our line unit’s intention is not to mislead the public, but to protect the lives of the Former Rebels (FRs) who placed themselves at risk by surrendering to the government,” Aguilar added.

Of collages and photos 

A collage, according to the Museum of Modern Art or MoMA, is a term that refers to the “technique and the resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued or otherwise affixed to a supporting surface.”

Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “a picture in which various materials or objects, for example paper, cloth, or photographs, are stuck on a larger surface.”

Meanwhile, a manipulated photo is when elements of the picture are altered with the intention to deceive. This is in contrast to the definition of an edited photo which initially aims to please aesthetically.

According to an online community, a manipulated photo is when an image is altered usually for “political or sensational purposes.”

The World Press Photo said that “staging or re-enacting events” counts as photo manipulation.

It defined staging as “deliberately arranging something in order to mislead the audience.”

“Deliberately arranging something includes setting up a scene or re-enacting a scene,” it added.