Sen. Villar draws flak for alleged edited photos of COVID-19 equipment donation

Katrina Domingo and Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 01 2020 08:50 PM | Updated as of Jul 01 2020 10:54 PM

MANILA - Sen. Cynthia Villar on Wednesday drew flak for posting allegedly manipulated pictures of a donation event, supposedly showing she was present in the turnover of medical equipment in a Las Piñas hospital.

On June 30, Villar's staff sent a press release via email, along with pictures of the event that showed several hospital workers receiving equipment for the Las Piñas General Hospital's COVID-19 Laboratory. Villar was not in the pictures.

The same photos were posted on the senator's official Facebook page, but already with facemask-wearing Villar taking the spot of a woman wearing a blue scrub suit.

ABS-CBN reached out to Villar's camp but has yet to receive an official response from the senator's team.

The photos of Villar on Facebook are "manipulated," Jimmy Domingo, a senior lecturer of Photojournalism in the University of the Philippines, confirmed to ABS-CBN News.

"May give away... Madaling mabuking kasi sa apat na pictures na 'yun, pare-pareho itsura niya," Domingo said in a phone interview.

(There is a give away... It was easy to flag because she looked the same in all pictures.)

"'Yung iba naman, makikita mo 'yung pixels. Kapag may tinanggal at dinagdag, makikita mo mag-iiba 'yung pattern ng pixels," he said, noting that he has been analyzing the photos that have gone viral on social media.

(In other photos, you can look at the pixels. If there was something removed or added, you will see a difference in the pixels.)


Manipulating photos of politicians in press releases is a "big issue" because it gives the public a "falsified" and "manipulated" sense of reality, Domingo said.

"A photograph is a representation of reality... Ang importante diyan is the integrity of the story and the image," he said.

(The integrity of the story and the image are important.)

University of Santo Tomas Journalism program head Felipe Salvosa II said editing in news photos "should be minimal."

"If you want to pass a photo as newsworthy, it should be truthful," Salvosa said in a separate phone interview.

"Kung phinotoshop mo 'yung isang tao na wala naman talaga doon, it is not truthful anymore," he said.

(If you photoshopped a picture to make it seem that a person who is not there was present, it is not truthful anymore.)

Politicians should realize that there is a "big repercussion" in using photoshopped images in press releases, Domingo said.

"In the long run, baka akala ng tao na ito yung totoo. Imagine living in a manipulated reality," he said.

(In the long run, people might think it is true.)

Villar's photoshopped images are also like double-edged swords that may prompt netizens to accuse the senator of violating physical distancing policies, said Domingo.

In some of the photos, Villar was standing close to some hospital staff. Villar is also a senior citizen, a sector identified by the Department of Health as vulnerable to COVID-19 and are therefore disallowed to go out in areas under general community quarantine.

"Sa social media ngayon, maraming panahon 'yung mga tao. Mga police sila sa internet... Malaki itong issue kasi senator siya. Di ba, dapat model siya ng pagpapalaganap ng katotohanan?" Domingo said.

(People have a lot of time on social media nowadays. They are the internet police... This is a big issue because she is a senator. Senators are supposed to be models in the propagation of truth, right?)

While the pictures are only about a simple event, its consequences should not be downplayed, added the photojournalist.

"Hindi issue kung maliit o malaki ['yung event]. Wala namang one percent disinformation or 99 percent disinformation. It's black and white," he said.

(The issue is not about whether it was a big or small event. You cannot say that it is 1 percent disinformation or 99 percent disinformation. It's black and white.)


The public, especially journalists, should be more discerning in using and sharing photos from politicians, UST's Salvosa said.

"Politicians will release whatever will make them look good. It is up to the journalist to verify," he said.

Villar's edited pictures can hopefully "trigger more discussions about misinformation and disinformation as far as pictures are concerned," Domingo said.

"Dapat madiskubre ng mamamayan 'yung marami pang manipulated photos," he said.

(The public should be more aware of other manipulated photos.)

"These can be considered as weapons of mass destruction because information is power. If you are misinformed, powerless ka (you are powerless)," he said.

As of 7:26 p.m., the photos from Villar's Facebook page have been taken down.