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‘They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals’ - The New York Times duterte

You hear a murder scene before you see it: The desperate cries of a new widow. The piercing sirens of approaching police cars.

The thud, thud, thud of the rain drumming on the pavement of a Manila alleyway — and on the back of Romeo Torres Fontanilla.
The last six years of President Benigno Aquino III’s term saw the Philippines go from being the “sick man of Asia” to “Asia’s rising tiger.” His prudent fiscal policies and good governance initiatives gave the country one of the world’s fastest growth rates. At the same time, Manila cracked down on corruption by arresting several senators, the country’s former national police chief, and even Aquino's predecessor, former Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as well as some of her key government allies. International investors and the global media hailed Aquino’s efforts, the results of which seemed to represent a turning point in Filipino political culture by placing the issue of bureaucratic corruption at the center of the nation’s discourse like never before.

Tigas, as Mr. Fontanilla was known, was lying facedown in the street when I pulled up after 1 a.m. He was 37. Gunned down, witnesses said, by two unknown men on a motorbike. The downpour had washed his blood into the gutter.

The rain-soaked alley in the Pasay district of Manila was my 17th crime scene, on my 11th day in the Philippines capital.

During his speech, Duterte also took the chance to address criticism directed at his crime fighting ways when he was Davao City mayor.

I had come to document the bloody and chaotic campaign against drugs that President Rodrigo Duterte began when he took office on June 30: since then, about 2,000 people had been slain at the hands of the police alone.
Although Duterte has secured enough support from the Philippine public to take the highest office in the country, he does not, however, have the approval of Philippines’ political elite. While current President Benigno Aquino’s implied warning of a return to dictatorship with a Duterte victory can be seen as a political move to endorse presidential candidate Mar Roxas as Aquino’s preferred successor. But the comment will not be easily forgotten, even as the fever pitch of the campaign trail dies down. It will be hard for Duterte to shake off nicknames like “dictator in waiting” and “Dirty Harry,” especially after his latest “shoot-to-kill” comment and vows to reintroduce capital punishment. The political opposition will no doubt evoke these titles to weaken and discredit his presidency.

Valenzuela

Quezon City

Manila Bay

Pasig

MANILA

Makati

Pasay

Ninoy Aquino

International

Airport

5 miles

Laguna de Bay

Valenzuela

Quezon City

Manila Bay

Pasig

MANILA

Makati

Pasay

Ninoy Aquino

International

Airport

5 miles

Laguna de Bay

Valenzuela

Quezon City

Pasig

MANILA

Manila

Bay

Makati

Pasay

Ninoy Aquino

International

Airport

5 miles

Quezon City

Pasig

MANILA

Makati

Manila Bay

Pasay

Ninoy Aquino

International

Airport

5 miles

Over my 35 days in the country, I photographed 57 murder victims at 41 sites, each represented by a yellow dot on this map.

At the same time, he vowed to forge on with the restoration of the Filipinos’ lost and faded values— love of country, subordination of personal interests to the common good, concern and care for the helpless and the impoverished.

I witnessed bloody scenes just about everywhere imaginable — on the sidewalk, on train tracks, in front of a girls’ school, outside 7-Eleven stores and a McDonald’s restaurant, across bedroom mattresses and living-room sofas.

The former mayor of Davao City used his first press conference since capturing almost 40 percent of the votes in the May 9 general elections to set the record straight about his policy on killing criminals.

I watched as a woman in red peeked at one of those grisly sites through fingers held over her eyes, at once trying to protect herself and permit herself one last glance at a man killed in the middle of a busy road.
Dealings should also be transparent from start to finish as he has always abhorred secrecy, he said, and those who would dare defy him could say goodbye.

Not far from where Tigas was killed, I found Michael Araja, shown in the first photo below, dead in front of a “sari sari,” what locals call the kiosks that sell basics in the slums. Neighbors told me that Mr. Araja, 29, had gone out to buy cigarettes and a drink for his wife, only to be shot dead by two men on a motorcycle, a tactic common enough to have earned its own nickname: riding in tandem.

Duterte’s controversial plan to use extrajudicial killings as a way to end crime within six months of his presidency earned him a lot of attention and votes. While the rest of the world cringed at his tough-talking rhetoric and foul comments about women during the campaign, many Filipinos cheered. It is troubling that such a blatant disregard for human rights received overwhelming support from the Philippine public.

In another neighborhood, Riverside, a bloodied Barbie doll lay next to the body of a 17-year-old girl who had been killed alongside her 21-year-old boyfriend.

“They are slaughtering us like animals,” said a bystander who was afraid to give his name.

Many of the following images depict graphic violence.

While not denying that the maritime dispute with China is a threat to national security, Duterte has confirmed he wants closer ties with Beijing. This suggests he will resurrect policies from the Arroyo administration, rather than continuing the more popular approach of his direct predecessor. Duterte has signaled that joint exploration of oil and gas in the disputed waters is an option, which is a surprise considering Arroyo’s 2004 Joint Seismic Marine Undertaking agreement with China was widely considered to be a sell-out of Philippine territory. Following this deal, Arroyo secured Chinese funding for the controversial North Luzon Railway, a contract that later became included in the corruption charges filed against her. On a similar note, Duterte said he would “shut up” about China’s reclamation activities if the Asian superpower provided critical transport infrastructure in return.

‘Riding in tandem’
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Neighbors said Michael Araja, 29, was killed by two men riding by on a motorbike, like so many of the other victims.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
A common tactic
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Frederick Mafe, 48, and Arjay Lumbago, 23, were riding together on a motorbike when they, too, were killed by a pair on another motorbike.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Back-alley killing
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Crime scene investigators hunched over the body of Romeo Torres Fontanilla, known as Tigas. His killers: two men on a motorbike.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone, a place gripped by fear and death.

The President vowed to address the country’s pressing problems— rampant corruption, criminality, illegal drugs, and the breakdown of law and order— but pointed out that these have been stemming from the deeper issue of the people’s loss of of confidence in the government.

What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness: police officers’ summarily shooting anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to “slaughter them all.”

He said in October, “You can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more.

He also warned them against playing around with government contracts and projects that have already been approved and awaiting implementation.

On Saturday, Mr. Duterte said that, in a telephone call the day before, President-elect Donald J. Trump had endorsed the brutal antidrug campaign and invited him to visit New York and Washington. “He said that, well, we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Mr. Duterte said in a summary of the call released by his office.

Taking note of disapproval for his methods that have been described as “unorthodox and verge on the illegal,” Dutere said he has seen the devastation crime has wrought.

Beyond those killed in official drug operations, the Philippine National Police have counted more than 3,500 unsolved homicides since July 1, turning much of the country into a macabre house of mourning.

A self-confessed “man of many flaws and contradictions,” the Philippines’ new president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, now has the tough job of uniting the country. However, the tougher job will be convincing everyone that the Philippines is not regressing and his policies are indeed fit for a modern democracy.

A father’s funeral
Jimji, 6, cried out in anguish, saying “Papa” as workers moved the body of her father, Jimboy Bolasa, 25, for burial.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Some bodies were found on the streets with their heads wrapped in packing tape.

The familiarity of the Duterte brand and its hardline approach, which has been credited for turning Davao City from a crime hotspot into one of the Philippines’ safest metropolises, is certainly one of the reasons he has maintained his popularity for almost three decades. It is no surprise that Duterte’s children also cleaned up in the elections. With his daughter back in the mayor’s seat and son Paolo Duterte winning the vice mayoral post, the Duterte dynasty in Davao City will live on. Duterte has successfully sold his family brand to the rest of the country. It seems Filipinos want a change, at whatever the cost.

Others were left with crude cardboard signs labeling victims as dealers or addicts. That is what happened with the two men in the video below, which was captured by a security camera outside Santa Catalina College, a private religious school for girls.
Duterte will inherit a P83.9 billion ($1.77 billion) AFP modernization program, of which Aquino has already spent P56.79 billion on “big ticket” items. With modernization linked to protecting the country’s claims in the South China Sea, Duterte’s openness to explore other options with China may mean investment in external security will receive less attention.

More than 35,600 people have been arrested in antidrug operations the government calls Project Tokhang. The name is derived from a phrase meaning “knock and plead” in Cebuano, Mr. Duterte’s first language.

In affluent neighborhoods of gated communities and estates, there is, indeed, sometimes a polite knock on the door, an officer handing a pamphlet detailing the repercussions of drug use to the housekeeper who answers.

Known to Filipinos as Rody, Duterte led a populist campaign that appealed to a rising anti-establishment sentiment fed up with the usual suspects ruling the country. His strong family roots to Cebu and Mindanao in the south set him apart from past presidents. But if his resume is anything to go by, it seems Duterte is all for the status quo of powerful family dynasties. While promoting himself as a challenger to the country’s poorly performing political elite, he had already built his own tight clique in Mindanao’s capital.

In poorer districts, the police grab teenage boys and men off the street, run background checks, make arrests and sometimes shoot to kill.

Government forces have gone door to door to more than 3.57 million residences, according to the police. More than 727,600 drug users and 56,500 pushers have surrendered so far, the police say, overcrowding prisons.

Duterte comes from the margins of the Philippines’ ruling establishment. To win the election, he had to confront a formidable set of rivals with superior political machinery, resources, and family ties. But in the end, Filipinos gravitated toward Duterte’s strongman aura and uncompromising rhetoric against crime, drugs, and corruption. Duterte’s bluster may have helped him get elected, but now he must deal with the challenge of meeting his voters’ expectations.

At the Quezon City Jail, shown in the middle photo below, inmates take turns sleeping in any available space, including a basketball court.

Mass arrests
Inmates at a Manila police station watched as more drug suspects were processed after their arrests.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Overcrowding
The basketball court at the Quezon City Jail has become a sleeping area.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Hiding their shame
Four men arrested for possession of drugs covered their faces from my camera.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

My nights in Manila would begin at 9 p.m. at the police district press office, where I joined a group of local reporters waiting for word of the latest killings. We would set off in convoys, like a train on rails, hazard lights flashing as we sped through red traffic lights.

The first President from Mindanao also said he would be the leader of the entire nation, not just one class or group.

I kept daily diaries and audio recordings of these overnight operations, working with Rica Concepcion, a Filipino reporter with 30 years of experience.

We joined the police on numerous stings. We also went on our own to the places where people were killed or bodies were found.

While the Philippines is Southeast Asia’s oldest democracy, it has gained a reputation as one that has been captured by political dynasties. Political scientist Benedict Anderson called it a “cacique democracy,” a country where power is passed from one oligarch to the next. Running for public office is indeed a family affair in the Philippines. Prominent surnames like Aquino, Roxas, and Marcos are linked to an influential elite with traditional connections to wealth and power.

The relatives and neighbors we met in those places often told a very different story from what was recorded in official police accounts.

“Nanlaban” is what the police call a case when a suspect resists arrest and ends up dead. It means “he fought it out.” That is what they said about Florjohn Cruz, 34, whose body was being carted away by a funeral home when I arrived at his home in the poor Caloocan neighborhood just before 11 p.m. one night.

His niece said they found a cardboard sign saying “Pusher at Adik Wag Tularan” — “Don’t be a pusher and an addict like him” — as they were cleaning Mr. Cruz’s blood from the floor near the family’s altar, shown in the middle photo below.

Late-night execution
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Funeral parlor workers carried away Edwin Mendoza Alon-Alon, 36, who was shot in the head outside a 7-Eleven store.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Killed at home
The blood of Florjohn Cruz, 34, stained the floor in his family’s living room, next to an altar displaying images and statues of the Virgin Mary, among other items.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Discarded
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Erika Angel Fernandez, 17, was one of three women among the 57 victims I photographed. She was killed alongside her boyfriend, Jericho Camitan, 23.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

The police report said, “Suspect Cruz ran inside the house then pulled a firearm and successively shot the lawmen, prompting the same to return fire in order to prevent and repel Cruz’s unlawful aggression.

His success in maintaining peace and order has been overshadowed by concerns of human rights violations and lack of due process, and he has been linked to the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group tagged behind the summary killings of crime suspects.

His wife, Rita, told me, between pained cries, that Mr. Cruz had been fixing a transistor radio for his 71-year-old mother in the living room when armed men barged in and shot him dead.

The family said Mr. Cruz was not a drug dealer, only a user of shabu, as Filipinos call methamphetamine.

On May 9, the Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte, the controversial and tough-talking mayor of Davao City, to be its next president. Thanks to rhetoric that resembled that of a U.S. presidential candidate, the Filipino elite and international media took to calling Duterte the “Donald Trump of the East.” Duterte was a political outsider only a few months ago and had a slim chance of even remaining in the tight presidential race. But economic dissatisfaction, rising crime rates, and popular frustration catapulted his fringe candidacy to victory.

He had surrendered months earlier, responding to Mr. Duterte’s call, for what was supposed to be a drug-treatment program. The police came for him anyway.

As my time in the Philippines wore on, the killings seemed to become more brazen.

Duterte’s consolidation of power in Davao City dates back to 1988, when he first served as mayor for three consecutive terms before being forced out of office after reaching the constitutional limit in 1998. After doing a brief stint representing Davao City in the House of Representatives, Duterte ran for the city’s top post for a fourth time in 2001 and was re-elected consecutively until hitting the three-term limit again in 2010.

Police officers appeared to do little to hide their involvement in what were essentially extrajudicial executions. Nanlaban had become a dark joke.

“There is a new way of dying in the Philippines,” said Redentor C. Ulsano, the police superintendent in the Tondo district.

To set the tone for his economic, financial and political policies, he cited two quotes.

He smiled and held his wrists together in front of him, pretending to be handcuffed.

‘Buy-bust operation’
Open Location
Officers at the scene of Ronald Kalau’s death. The police report said Mr. Kalau drew a .38-caliber handgun when officers tried to arrest him as he bought methamphetamine. Neighbors said the police gunned him down in a house that was being used as a drug den.
The 71-year-old has also vowed to bring back the death penalty, a policy that was abolished a decade ago.

Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Busy nights
The Tondo neighborhood of Manila.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
‘Nanlaban’
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Roel Scott, 13, inspects the bloodied spot where his uncle, Joselito Jumaquio, 52, was killed by the police. Witnesses said they heard a woman shout “Nanlaban,” which means “fighting it out,” before they heard the gunshots.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Mr. Cruz’s 16-year-old nephew, Eliam, and 18-year-old niece, Princess, said they had watched from a second-story porch as the plainclothes officers who had killed their uncle emerged from the house.

They should reduce requirements and the processing time of all applications, and remove redundant requirements.

Eliam and Princess said they heard the beep of a text message and watched as one of the men read it from his phone.

“Ginebra’s won,” he announced to the others, referring to Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, the nation’s most popular basketball team, which had been battling for the championship across town. The teenagers said the men celebrated the team’s victory as their uncle was carried out in a body bag.

Roel Scott, 13, is one of the boys in the photo above, at the spot where his uncle, Joselito Jumaquio, was slain by a mob of masked men. Mourners often place candles in the blood of the victim to honor them.

Duterte also said the Philippines would honor treaties and international obligations.

Roel said he was playing video games with Mr. Jumaquio, a pedicab driver who had also surrendered himself to the authorities, when 15 of the masked men descended quickly and silently over the shantytown called Pandacan.

But as a lawyer and a former prosecutor, he “knows the limits of his power and authority” as President.

Witnesses told us the men dragged Mr. Jumaquio down an alley and shouted at gathering neighbors to go back into their homes and turn the lights off. They heard a woman shout, “Nanlaban!” He’s fighting it out.

Two shots rang out. Then four more.

When it was quiet, the neighbors found the pedicab driver’s bloodied body — a gun and a plastic bag of shabu next to his handcuffed hands. The police report called it a “buy-bust operation.

While Duterte has indicated salary increases for police, soldiers, and troops, it is yet to be known whether he will pursue the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines with as much energy as Aquino. President Arroyo, who critics accused of being too cozy with the Chinese, ignored external defense and instead focused on quelling domestic terror threats during her term of government. In contrast, the Aquino administration had to respond to increased tension in the disputed waters caused by incidents with Chinese patrols boats in Reed Bank in 2011 and the two-month military standoff in Scarborough Shoal in 2012, among others.

I also photographed wakes and funerals, a growing part of daily life under Mr. Duterte. Relatives and priests rarely mentioned the brutal causes of death.

A painful farewell
Family and friends attending the funeral of Mr. Jumaquio, who witnesses said was killed by a gang of masked men.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Stacked like firewood
Bodies were stacked up at a funeral parlor as the families of victims like Danilo Deparine, whose body lay on a metal stretcher on the floor, struggle to pay for burial.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
From joy to sadness
Benjamin Visda, 43, had left a family birthday celebration to get something from a convenience store when he was snatched off the street and killed, according to relatives.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Maria Mesa Deparine lost two sons in a single week in September.

But tens of millions of ordinary Filipinos benefited little from their country’s economic success. Aquino’s anticorruption efforts targeted his political rivals and were largely ineffective. Not a single high-profile figure accused of corruption has been put in jail. One of them, Senator Juan Ponce the country’s elite, and the national crime rate soared. Aquino stumbled when it came to upgrading the country's infrastructure as well. He delayed major projects, such as an extension to Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and made Manila the most congested city in the world.

Both had turned themselves in to the police. Both were found dead under bridges.

Ms. Deparine said it took her three weeks to collect loans and donations totaling 50,000 pesos, about $1,030, to pay for the burial of her baby, Aljon, who was 23. We went with her to the funeral home where she pleaded with the owners to reduce the fees for his brother, Danilo, 36.

Danilo’s body, on the floor in the middle photo above, had already spent two weeks in the morgue, where the dead are stacked like firewood, with nothing separating them. The funeral directors agreed to a cut rate of 12,000 pesos, about $240, for a one-day wake instead of the usual week.

Recalling his campaign slogan of compassion and real change, he said his words were not just meant to gain the voters’ approval but to set the direction of his government.

Ms. Deparine left, unsure whether she could come up with the sum, or whether Danilo would end up in a mass grave with other victims of the president’s drug war.

The killing disrupts every aspect of life. Family members told me that Benjamin Visda, in the coffin in the above photo, had stepped out of a family birthday party to grab something at a sari sari and was eating cake when eight men grabbed him. Within 20 minutes, his body had been dumped outside a police station.

The police called this, too, a buy-bust operation, and said that Mr. Visda, while handcuffed, tried to grab an officer’s gun — Nanlaban — so they shot him. The video below, also taken from a security camera, shows him being loaded alive onto a motorcycle, sandwiched between two masked men.

Antonio Fuentes Trillanes, a retired Navy officer-turned-senator notorious for leading coup attempts has already warned that a possible military intervention should not be ruled out. One must take seriously the history of military coups that have dogged Philippine political history since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. The administration of Corazon Aquino was subjected to at least seven coup attempts between 1986 and 1992. Most recently, President Joseph Estrada’s removal in 2001, and several attempts to remove Arroyo during her presidency, demonstrates a long practice of military coups in contemporary political affairs.

The same night Florjohn Cruz was killed, we found ourselves a few streets away an hour and a half later, at another home where a man had been murdered. It was raining that night, too.

We heard the wrenching screams of Nellie Diaz, the new widow, before we saw her — shown in the middle photo below — crumpled over the body of her husband, Crisostomo, who was 51.

A threatening message
View Location
This unidentified body, like many others, was found with his head wrapped in packing tape, his hands tied behind his back and a cardboard sign that read, “A pusher who won’t stop will have his life ended.”
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
A widow’s grief
Nellie Diaz hunched over the body of her husband, Crisostomo, a drug user who had surrendered but still ended up dead.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Visiting the dead
On Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day, the Barangka cemetery in Manila was busy as relatives visited graves.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Mr. Diaz grew up in the neighborhood, and worked intermittently, doing odd jobs. His wife said he was a user, not a dealer, and had turned himself in soon after Mr. Duterte’s election. She still thought it unsafe for him to sleep at home, and told him to stay with relatives. But he missed his nine children, and had returned days before.

Duterte took his oath of office before Supreme Court Justice Bienvenido Reyes, with his children Sara, Paolo, Sebastian, and Veronica sharing the stage with him.

Mr. Diaz’s eldest son, J.R., 19, said a man in a motorcycle helmet kicked in the front door, followed by two others. The man in the helmet pointed a gun at Mr. Diaz, J.R. said; the second man pointed a gun at his 15-year-old brother, Jhon Rex. The third man held a piece of paper.

J.R. said the man in the helmet said, “Goodbye, my friend,” before shooting his father in the chest. His body sank, but the man shot him twice more, in the head and cheeks. The children said the three men were laughing as they left.

Too many tears
Relatives overcome with grief at the site where the bodies of Frederick Mafe and Arjay Lumbago lay sprawled in the middle of a street.
Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
Related Coverage

41 Murder Scenes.

57 Bodies. 35 Days in Manila. A Photographer’s Perspective.

In this podcast, the Times photographer Daniel Berehulak talks about his reporting on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Rodrigo Duterte’s Talk of Killing Criminals Raises Fears in Philippines

Mr. Duterte boasted of killing criminals when he was mayor of Davao, and investigators say they have evidence of government-linked death squads.

Rica Concepcion contributed reporting.

Contrary to what was earlier announced, Duterte’s barong for his inauguration was unadorned save for a Philippine flag on his left breast. He paired it with beige slacks.

Produced by Craig Allen, Rodrigo de Benito Sanz, David Furst, Jeffrey Marcus, Sergio Peçanha and Jodi Rudoren.

Rica Concepcion contributed reporting.

Produced by Craig Allen, Rodrigo de Benito Sanz, David Furst, Jeffrey Marcus, Sergio Peçanha and Jodi Rudoren.

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