The Killa in Manila: Duterte’s War On Drugs Is Dirty—But Popular


QUEZON CITY, Philippines—The area where squatters live on National Irrigation Authority land is a warren of narrow alleys, shacks improvised from corrugated zinc sheeting and found wood, and dimly lit sari-sari stores selling candy, chips, ice, and loose cigarettes. In “Area C” women wash clothes in metal bowls and too many teenage mothers heft babies on their hips.

Vicar is one of the “informal settlers” here. He’s also among thousands of so-called surrenderees who have turned themselves in to avoid becoming casualties in the bloody drug war that Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte launched when he took office June 30, and which has slaughtered as many as 3,800 Filipinos.

So egregious are the human rights abuses, and so attached to them is Duterte, that he refuses to accept criticism from his country’s old allies in Washington. He has called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore,” and he says he’s going to make his country a de facto dependency of China, which isn’t so finicky.

Duterte continued his broadside against the U.S. on a state visit to Japan. “I want, maybe in the next two years, my country free of the presence of foreign military troops. I want them out,” he said, indicating that he is prepared to “revise or abrogate” the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between Manila and Washington. He also condemned America for having “lived off the fat of my land.” Tokyo was aghast at the insults, not to mention the president’s poor manners—anathema to the uber-polite Japanese.

When he got back to the Philippines, Duterte suddenly announced that God told him to clean up his language. “I heard a voice telling me to stop swearing or the plane will crash in mid-air, and so I promised to stop,” he told reporters at the airport.

Here in Area C, the impact of this rough populism winds up being very personal.

“I was afraid of being killed,” the soft-spoken and nervous Vicar says. “Who would not be afraid knowing that so many are already in the ground.”

Wearing a bandana and dark clothes dusty from his $10-a-day carpentry job, he says he started using marijuana six years ago, then graduated to methamphetamines. He says surrendering was a better alternative than losing his family, which includes a 3-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son, and his life.

In Duterte’s merciless crackdown, cops from the Philippines National Police allegedly commit extrajudicial killings, drug bosses whack underlings to save their own skins, and authorities pack thousands of people into jails built for hundreds.