Recent scholarship on Raffy Lerma’s Pietà is generally optimistic about the potential of the photograph to unravel state power and challenge normative perceptions of liberal democracy vis-à-vis populism. Contrary to these readings, I follow Vicente Rafael in speculating on “the limits of photographic intervention in the drug war” by suggesting that the Pietà, an image that is supposedly emblematic of liberal resistance, unwittingly reiterates Rodrigo Duterte’s necropolitical order. This gesture is an attempt to fulfill Jacques Rancière’s desire for a radical politics where we can freely question the very critiques that aim to expose and unravel Duterte’s aesthetic regime. My essay critically examines the aesthetic and affective dimensions of Lerma’s photograph, arguing that aesthetic representations of what Giorgio Agamben calls “bare life” became a point of “dissensus” that does not necessarily challenge the state. Rather, I suggest that the photograph might have furthered Duterte’s “affective politics of fear” as it legitimized the Drug War in the eyes of the political majority. I look at how this image was able to induce various affective intensities and responses such as fear and optimism from both the political minority and the political majority. These affects contributed to the aestheticization of Michael Siaron and Jennelyn Olaires (the subjects of the photograph). The aestheticization of bare life arguably reduced these aforementioned subjects into a mere point of contention between the majority and the minority. I also argue that Duterte’s administration was able to subvert the religious dimension of Raffy Lerma’s Pietà by portraying the Drug War as a messianic act that is necessary to save the majority. Finally, I explore how populism was able to subvert the idea of the Messiah and the notion of salvation into a fathomable concept for the majority where it is justified to sacrifice thousands of lives for true political change.


affective politics, bare life, dissensus, Pietà, Raffy Lerma

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declares Kritika Kultura as a CHED-recognized journal under the Journal Challenge Category of its Journal Incentive Program.

International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)