School pageant organizers sorry for EJK-themed photo shoot

MANILA, Philippines – The organizers of a school pageant at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) apologized on Wednesday, February 15, after their extrajudicial killings-themed photo shoot sparked outrage online.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the organizers of the Mr and Ms PUP Engineering pageant said sorry to those who were offended by the theme.

They said they only wanted to raise awareness of the extrajudicial killings being linked to the Duterte administration's war on drugs.

"We take full responsibility and humbly admit that we failed to give its full context," they said. "We are not in any form 'normalizing' nor tolerating the increasing number of deaths but instead took initiative to use our pageant as a platform to spread social awareness about extrajudicial killings."

The photo shoot featured the pageant's candidates sprawled on the ground, as if killed, with cardboard signs similar to those left next to bodies of victims of extrajudicial killings. The cardboard signs had the candidates' "flaws" or "insecurities" written on them.

"The concept of the photo shoot is to show everyone that the candidates were 'killed' by their flaws – that they were judged by other people for something they need to work on about themselves but was not given a chance," the organizers said.

"We initially intended the hashtag #EmbraceYourFlaws to be a stand against bullying on both physical and mental disabilities and differences, however, the context in which it was placed may have caused a different interpretation from social media users. Seeing it from their perspective, we admit that indeed it appeared as insensitive and not carefully thought out, and we apologize for failing to properly present our message," they added.

The Facebook album with the candidates' photos has since been deleted. It had drawn comments from people who criticized it as being in bad taste.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs began on July 1, 2016, there have been 7,080 deaths recorded. Of this figure, 2,555 were killed in police operations, while the rest were victims of vigilante-style or unexplained killings.

The spate of killings in the country has been condemned both here and abroad, including by the United Nations, the European Parliament, the United States, and the International Commission of Jurists. (READ: Cops are paid to kill in PH war on drugs – Amnesty Int'l–