A searing new photo essay by The New York Times has shed light on the systematic slaughter of thousands of Philipinos – most of whom are impoverished – after the president of the Philippines called for those found to be selling or using drugs to be killed.
The President’s mission
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has long harbored a proclivity for violence, especially when used against those believed to either be selling or using illicit substances.
In April, Duterte promised in a speech that he would issue calls for the police to engage in mass killings of drug dealers:
I will use the military and the police to go out and arrest them, hunt for them… And if they offer violent resistance, and thereby placing the lives of the law enforcers and the military whom I would task for a job to do, I will simply say, ‘Kill them all and end the problem.’
In June, Duterte defended the assassination of journalists, calling them corrupt.
Just because you are a journalist, you are not exmpted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch… Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong.
In October, the president doubled down on the violence, promising that “you can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more.”
Death squads in the Philippines
Events and figures coming out of the Philippines in recent months suggest that the killings have only increased.
The Phillippine national police estimate that there have been roughly 3,500 unsolved homicides since July 1. That is in addition to the number confirmed to have been killed in drug operations carried out by the state.
The drug operations occur almost exclusively in the country’s poorest urban communities, with death squads often barging into homes to either kidnap or slaughter their victims.
A common tactic among those carrying out the killing has been to ride two abreast on a motorcycle in order to more easily ambush victims. This has reportedly become known as “riding in tandem.”
Many of those who were battling drug addiction chose to surrender to the police, in order to spare themselves the grisly fate of those who were killed. After release, those who had initially surrendered were often hunted down and killed anyway.
The rise in surrenders and arrests have led to a crisis of prison overcrowding: The police estimate that they have visited over 3.57 million homes. The police estimate that over 727,600 drug users and 56,500 dealers have turned themselves in.
That is to say nothing of the overcrowding of the country’s morgues. The dead are often stacked like firewood, while others are deposited into mass graves.
Reaction from Donald Trump
President Duterte had a recent phone conversation with American President-elect Donald Trump, in which the Philippines president claims that Trump praised his efforts to eradicate drugs in his country.
He wishes me well, too, in my campaign, and he said that, well, we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way… I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump.
President Duterte made news earlier this year in deflecting criticism from Barack Obama regarding the extrajudicial killings, calling the American president a “son of a whore.”
The staff of President-elect Trump has not commented on the conversation.