The bloody reign of Rodrigo Duterte
Monsoon rain drenches the body of a man shot dead by unidentified gunmen in a Manila alley. Human rights monitors attribute many of the approximately 5,000 deaths in the drug war to vigilantes operating with police backing – a charge authorities deny. When Duterte was mayor of the southern city of Davao, more than 1,400 people died in vigilante-style killings. He denied involvement.
Janeth Mejos watches as the body of her father, Paquito, shot dead in a police operation, is carried from their Manila home. Police say they have killed more than 2,000 suspects, mostly in self-defense, since the drug war began. But some bereaved families have told Reuters their loved ones were unarmed and pleading for mercy when police opened fire.
A police investigator in Manila takes notes near a man killed in what police said was a shootout. Found in his pockets, said police, were sachets of crystal methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug known as shabu, imported in large quantities from China. This fits the pattern of many police reports: A suspect pulls a gun, police return deadly fire and shabu is found on the victim's corpse.
Shot to Hell
A gun is placed inside an evidence bag at a Manila crime scene, where police say they shot dead two men speeding from a checkpoint. Drug suspects almost never survive violent encounters with the Philippines police, a Reuters investigation found. The cops’ near-perfect 97 percent kill ratio bolsters evidence that officers are summarily gunning people down.
Funeral workers in Manila remove duct tape from the head and wrists of a man who police say was murdered by vigilantes. These killings have a familiar style. Vigilantes often arrive on two or more motorbikes with no license plates, their faces hidden by helmets and masks. One team seals off the street; another identifies and assassinates the target. Police say they have nothing to do with such killings.
Line of Fire
Seventeen-year-old Ericka Fernandez, shot dead by unidentified gunmen, lies in a Manila alley. A children’s rights group in Manila says 23 minors have been killed by vigilantes or in the crossfire of police operations. Duterte’s government wants to open up another front in the drugs war: It is pushing to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old, which critics fear could put more children in the firing line.
The body of another victim, shot dead by unknown gunmen, bleeds out behind a police line in Manila. Reuters found widespread flaws in the data Duterte is using to justify his deadly crackdown. Police say they are investigating all drug-war killings, but admit that most cases go nowhere because witnesses are too scared to come forward.
The body of a man, his head swathed in duct tape, lies in a Manila gutter after what police said was a vigilante-style execution. The handwritten notice tied to his head reads, in Filipino: “I am a chronic thief and pusher. You better change!!!” Duct tape and crude signs are the hallmarks of vigilante killings in Duterte’s drug crackdown. To avoid a similar fate, hundreds of thousands of users have turned themselves in.
Funeral workers prepare to enter a Manila house where police and witnesses said five drug suspects were shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Duterte once urged supporters to open funeral parlors, vowing: “I’ll supply the bodies to you.” But the families of most drug-war victims are poor and often struggle to pay funeral costs.
Manila pedicab driver Norberto Maderal was killed in this living room by police who said he had pulled a gun and “tried to open fire” during a drug sting operation. But Maderal’s nephew Joemari Rodriguez told Reuters he had heard his uncle pleading for his life. “He was begging them, ‘Sir, please!’” said Rodriguez. Then came two shots.
The body of Florjohn Cruz, who was shot dead in what police say was an anti-drug operation, is dressed by a worker at a Manila funeral parlor. Police crime-scene investigations and autopsies are opaque and perfunctory, fueling suspicion among bereaved families that guns and drugs are planted on suspects.
Funeral workers arrange a curtain behind the coffin of a man found dead in Manila with a sign accusing him of pushing drugs. After such killings, bodies are taken to police-accredited funeral parlors, which act as both official morgues and crime labs. Police perform most autopsies there, before the undertaker embalms the body for the family to bring to the wake.
Vale of Tears
Kasandra Kate, 12, weeps over the coffin of her father, Verigilio Mirano, during his funeral at a Manila cemetery. Mirano's family said he stopped using drugs when Duterte became president but was killed by masked gunmen less than three months later. Asked how long the drug war would continue, President Duterte’s office told Reuters: “We have only scratched the surface.”
Duterte’s War: “The Punisher”
Photographs by Damir Sagolj, Ezra Acayan and Erik De Castro
Text by Andrew R.C. Marshall
Audio editor: Darren Schuettler
Design: Troy Dunkley and Charles Szymanski
Photographs edited by Adrees Latif
Text edited by Peter Hirschberg and Reginald Chua