Controversial Front Pages in the Philippines

A quick study of controversial, hot-topic front pages from mainstream Philippine broadsheets. Passing glances at headlines and cover photos, perhaps on your commute to work or as you browse lazily through a convenience store on an off-day, can inform, build upon, or challenge the narratives we carry in our head. The power of the front page is the power to direct public thought.

Sunday, September 24, 2017 — The Philippine Star

I remember this broadsheet cover becoming something of a meme in local news. The headline was of the Philippine government stating that there were no skeletons in the closet regarding the countries’ human rights record, but the accompanying photo made Duterte look almost like a guilty gradeschooler trying to hide behind his hand.


Thursday, April 4, 2019 — The Manila Times

This headline made the rounds in some social media circles because of Duterte’s seeming admission to the failure of his own drug war. The choice of photo, however, and even in spite of the accompanying small caption, makes the President appear to be weeping over this state of affairs — further perpetuating his cult of personality and his image as a compassionate, down-to-earth father figure for the Philippines. The photo works with the article in amplifying Duterte’s justifications for ramping up the drug war during the time, though a segment at the end discusses the harmfulness of plainly releasing a narco-list sans any real investigation.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016 — Manila Standard

This appallingly inappropriate headline from the Manila Standard came at a time when Leila de Lima was under heavy scrutiny from the administration. Not much has to be said about the headline — the choice of words says plenty, and further adds to the disrespect that was being dumped upon de Lima at the time.


Sunday, August 21, 2016 — The Manila Times

Adding to the image destruction of Leila de Lima in the media, The Manila Times released this headline together with the accompanying image below, further hammering in the game of personality politics that was forming around the Leila de Lima issue. These constant portrayals of her built public resent toward her image, which was made more palpable given the Philippines’ conservative culture.


Wednesday, April 29, 2019 — Philippine Daily Inquirer


This particular headline came towards the end of the case of Mary Jane Veloso, who had been sentenced to death in Indonesia on charges of drug running. Hours before her execution, Veloso was given a reprieve by Indonesian courts — but not before the Inquirer had run this headline and article that portrayed her as having already been executed.

The article appears to have since been removed from the PDI’s archives.


Monday, April 22, 2019 — The Manila Times

This actual, real-life front spread from the Manila Times featured the alleged oust-duterte plot matrix presented by House Speaker Salvador Panelo — a matrix that looked as if it had been made on MS Word. The matrix linked key members of the opposition and the media in a supposed ouster plot, but its ridiculous presentation cast its own credibility out the door. Many were mad at the fact that such a matrix had been given front page treatment, further calling into question the credibility of the Manila Times.

The ouster matrix is one of a number of unofficial, potentially-harmful documents given significant air time by the media. Others include Dutere’s narco-list, which snagged media attention when the President first released it.


Sunday, July 24, 2016 — Philippine Daily Inquirer

This photo made headlines toward the start of Duterte’s drug war. Supporters of the drug war claimed that the victim had been killed by members of a drug cartel and not by the police, while those critical of it claimed that, regardless of who had done the killing, the administration had set a horrifying precedent for things to come, and that the poor would be its first victims. This heartbreaking, compelling photograph bared front and center the horrors of the drug war, at a time when the gulf in political positions was beginning to deepen and widen.


Thursday, May 2, 2019 — Manila Standard

What is problematic with this headline and its accompanying picture is the narrative it tries to build around the administration regarding its actions plight to workers, and how that narrative is incongruent with reality. The article paints the administration as being in support of workers, an idea that is strengthened with the coupling of the headline with the cover photo. This paves over the very real discontent felt by these workers and worker unions, who the article portrays as acting in contrary with their goals.


Friday, February 1, 2019 — The Manila Times

While further investigation proved the above headline to be accurate, at the time that it was written, the only evidence authorities had to go on were a couple of mangled body parts that they hadn’t yet identified. Publishing such a headline, with an accompanying photo of armed military men, could lead to deteriorations in relationships between foreign countries, aside from being misrepresentative of the facts that were available at the time the article was written and published.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014 — Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Philippine Daily Inquirer released this, perhaps unintentionally, shady spread on the 31st of December, 2014. Typhoon Seniang, the December storm of 2014, had swept through Mindanao and the Visayas, leaving 31 dead, 7 missing, and 40,000 stuck in evacuation centers. Instead of focusing on the tragedy, however, the PDI had decided instead to use a photo from Marian Rivera and Dingdong Dantes’s wedding, which he had attended as a guest of honor on the 30th. Public sentiment saw the President as being an unattached elitist. The tragic headline, juxtaposed with a photo of President Aquino at the lavish Marian-Dingdong wedding, further cemented that image. These portrayals would eventually contribute to President Duterte’s election in 2016. Duterte had won in part thanks to his ‘down-to-earth,’ ‘man-of-the-people’ image.


Environmentalist, culture conservationist, essayist. Development studies graduate. A collector of stories.