At the June 13 evening Talks @ Pulitzer, grantee journalist Ana Santos discussed repercussions arising out of Filipino President Duterte’s drug war, from murders in the streets to teen widows to bereaved mothers.
Her reporting on the impacts of this war, primarily seen in poor communities, has been published in The Guardian, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times, and News Deeply. The reporting is the latest in a series of Pulitzer Center-supported projects by Santos, including her 2014 Miel Fellowship focusing on the plight of Filipino women working as nannies abroad.
As a native of the Philippines, Santos is able to investigate the underreported consequences and create connections with families who are forced to pick up the pieces after a loved one is killed. The images accompanying Santos' presentation showed of family members mourning over their sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers.
“Thousands of other men have been killed, mostly poor young men," Santos told the audience. "Their bodies are found on the streets, under bridges, usually their faces are mummified with packing tape, there is usually a sign, cardboard sign left near the body: 'I’m a pusher, I’m a drug addict, I’m a thief, don’t be like me.'"
For each image of a victim and his family, Santos explained how each one died at the hands of the police or vigilanties, and gave first-hand accounts of the grief felt by widows, mothers, and siblings.
“And then of course, there are the children,” Santos said, showing images of letters written by children who have lost their parents in the drug war. “In it, they’re writing how they’re very sorry. They’re writing to their parents how sorry they were that they were bad children, or how they are sorry they could not have been better children while their parents were alive, and how they wished their parents would forgive them.”
A common trend emerging with broken families are teenage widows. In a predominantly Catholic country, contraception is not easily accessible and in places where teen pregnancy rates are highest, these killings are taking place. These are issues that primarily impact impoverished people in the Philippines, and explains why Duterte still maintains popularity among wealthier citizens.
“It’s unclear now, two years on, exactly how many people have died in this war," Santos said. "The government will tell you, oh, there’s only been about 4,000 that have been killed in police operations, but there are about 16,000 that have been killed by vigilantes. So all in all, there’s about 22,000, 20,000 people killed in this drug war.”
Families and youth are key components in the resistance movement against Duterte’s drug war, and they are sometimes organized by the church. Specifically nuns within the Catholic Church have documented killings, trained community members on how to gather evidence, led rehabilitation efforts, and offered sanctuary to families.
At rallies, protesters often mimick the cardboard signs left by masked assailants near dead bodies with their own writing. Some have pictures calling for justice for their sons and others tell the story of poverty-stricken families who can earn 25 cents by simply passing along drugs in a supply chain through a simple phrase: anyone can be a drug pusher.
Duterte is not solely focused on suspected drug dealers in his country, but also the journalists who report on it. Although he is attempting to shut down Santos’ media outlet in the Philippines, Rappler, she and her coworkers have not stopped publishing critical stories about his administration.
“What do we do? We soldier on. There’s no other way,” Santos said. "Bottom line, we're not going to stop reporting. Long after this administration goes down, we will still be reporting. The reports that we will write will live long after this president."