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Is Mar Roxas using a government vehicle?
By Elson T. Elizaga

Hilux pickup truck with plate SKD 417

One quick look at this photo and we know that Manuel "Mar" Roxas II is using a government Toyota Hilux pickup truck for his political campaign. The plate number SKD 417 is red. The posters are yellow. The words are “Roxas” and “Daang Matuwid”.


Or is he? Plate numbers can be replaced, and then there’s Photoshop.

I first saw this picture in Facebook, and my reaction was to ask for the names of the photographer, the truck owner, and the place. I also wanted to know the date the picture was taken. But I got no information. I was just told that the photo came from a Facebook group supporting presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte.1

So, curious as usual, I just looked at the photo. And looked again. And again.2 I'm a photographer. So, sometimes I can tell if a photo contains anomalies. This one has several, and they can be classified into two: concealment and publicity.

Concealment: The five people look like your average jewelry shop thieves. They are able-bodied men wearing bull caps. Bull caps, we know, are usually used by criminals to protect their faces from surveillance cameras. The men in the photo are not looking at the camera. One is squatting behind the truck, wearing a black T-shirt. He is looking to his left, apparently avoiding the photographer.

So, they’re all in hide mode. And, yet, consider:

Publicity: The truck is parked on what appears to be a public road. So, they are visible to anyone nearby. The yellow posters are flat but they are placed diagonally on the back of the pickup truck so that they protrude and become visible. Why are the posters not hidden from public view?

And why is one man in the foreground -- let's call him the carpenter -- hammering a poster under direct sunlight? Most people would prefer working in a shade because it’s cool. The shade in this picture is wide.

The carpenter is not concealing the poster that he's holding. The poster is not upside down. The photographer, who is most likely less than four feet away, can clearly read the text.


So, what is the whole picture telling us? I have no conclusion. But I have a theory, which I would dump immediately if contrary evidence is available to me: The people and objects in the photo are arranged.

A police sharpshooter once said it is natural for targets of surprise attack to stare at the source of danger for about three seconds before deciding to fight or flee. But in this photo, all five men hide their identities at the exact moment the picture is made. Everyone looks relaxed. So, the photographer and the men are friends. They had talked for awhile, and then cooperated.

Again, just a theory.

Other people have a different view: The photo circulated in social media in late February 2016. On March 3, 2016, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) reported that “Lawyer Paola Alvarez, the spokesperson of the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, said supporters of Roxas and Robredo have been using red-plated government vehicles in putting up posters of their candidates.”

Alvarez further said,"It (the use of government vehicles) only exposes the kind of governance under the Daang Matuwid ... It is a platform of deceit, conditioning Filipinos that this administration has been clean and efficient, when in reality it is corrupt and worse than the past administrations.”3

The PDI report, however, does not state if Alvarez has collected data on the black HILUX truck, or whether she has consulted the Land Transportation Office. We don't know if she has received the original photo and has talked to the photographer and the truck owner.

A hasty accusation of Roxas at this point is insufficient. Roxas is rich. He can afford to hire private groups. But people who dislike Roxas might be using government resources to sabotage him. Or they might be Roxas' people exposing their own activity. There are other possibilities.

As for the camp of Duterte, I have reason to be cautious. They are easily excited about dramatic, unconfirmed information. Last year, some followers of Duterte quoted numbeo.com to show that Davao City is the 9th safest in the world, and then they accused Roxas of lying about his Wharton degree. Research made by the PDI and rappler.com have shown these information to be false.

Which makes me wonder how the Davao death squads identify. Who do they ask for information? How do they separate fact from fiction?  How do they verify data before they shoot? End


1 The photo is in the Facebook group Citizens Against Crime, Poverty and Corruption (CACPC).

2 I enlarged and brightened a section of the photo. The section seems to show a distorted, blurred reflection of a man in my desktop computer, but it looks different in my cellphone. I initially suspected the reflected figure is the photographer, but he seems too far away from the carpenter. It could be anything.

Reflection on the back of TOYOTA HILUX with plate number SKD 417

3 Duterte camp, group slams 'shameless' use of gov't resources for Roxas-Robredo campaign (Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 3, 2016)

Just for fun. Here's a reenactment.

Published online March 6, 2016. Revised September 23, 2023 10:15 AM. Text copyright © 2016 Elson T. Elizaga.

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