excerpt from the New York Times, december 7, 2016
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.
Over my 35 days in the country, I photographed 57 murder victims at 41 sites.
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. [...] “They are slaughtering us like animals,” said a bystander who was afraid to give his name.
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. 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.”
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.
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. 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. At the Quezon City Jail, inmates take turns sleeping in any available space, including a basketball court.
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. 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. The relatives and neighbors we met in those places often told a very different story from what was recorded in official police accounts.
As my time in the Philippines wore on, the killings seemed to become more brazen. Police officers appeared to do little to hide their involvement in what were essentially extrajudicial executions.
“There is a new way of dying in the Philippines,” said Redentor C. Ulsano, the police superintendent in the Tondo district. He smiled and held his wrists together in front of him, pretending to be handcuffed.
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.
Daniel Berehulak is an Australian freelance photojournalist based in Mexico City.
Daniel is a regular contributor to The New York Times, photographing history-shaping events including the Iraq and Afghan wars, the trial of Saddam Hussein, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the catastrophic 2015 earthquake in Nepal, government impunity in Mexico, and most recently the so-called war on drugs in the Philippines. His work focuses on those affected by the most drastic events in our world.
His work has been recognized with two pulitzer prizes, six World Press Photo awards and he has twice been named Photographer of the Year from Pictures of the Year International (2014 and 2015). He was also named Photojournalist of the Year in the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism 2016 contest. His work has also been recognized with two Polk awards, (2015 and 2017) and three Overseas Press club awards amongst others.
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