Photo Essay Captures Horrifying Reality Of Philippines Anti-Drug Campaign

By McCarton Ackerman 12/09/16

Photographer Daniel Berehulak's images from the island nation are horrifyingly surreal.

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Photo Essay Captures Horrifying Reality Of Philippines Anti-Drug Campaign
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte via Wikimedia/PCOO EDP

The brutal anti-drug initiative led by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has led to thousands of official deaths, but shows no sign of slowing down.

Almost immediately upon taking office last June, Duterte said that anyone caught trafficking or using drugs would be killed, and also encouraged residents to assist in this operation. The New York Times captured the results of Duterte’s campaign in a photo essay that documented 57 victims over 35 days. Quotes from locals were interspersed in between the graphic images, with one bystander declaring that “they are slaughtering us like animals.”

More than 3,100 people have been killed since Duterte took office, according to Reuters. But Duterte vowed to not let up in October, declaring that “you can expect 20,000 or 30,000 more” during a public speech.

“I have worked in 60 countries, covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent much of 2014 living inside West Africa’s Ebola zone ... What I experienced in the Philippines felt like a new level of ruthlessness,” said photographer Daniel Berehulak. “Police officers summarily [shot] anyone suspected of dealing or even using drugs, vigilantes’ taking seriously Mr. Duterte’s call to 'slaughter them all.'”

Family members for many of these victims said they had heeded Duterte’s call to turn themselves in for what was supposed to be a drug treatment program, but ended up being killed anyway. With many families unable to pay for the cost of a wake, their loved ones have been buried in a mass grave.

Duterte insisted last Saturday (Dec. 3) that Donald Trump endorsed his anti-drug campaign, a statement which the President-elect has yet to respond to. The New York Times reported Duterte's comments that Trump called him the day before and told him he was conducting his campaign “the right way,” despite it previously being condemned by the United States government.

“He understood the way we are handling it, and I said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country,” said Duterte. “I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump. And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.”

Duterte offered an apology last October after comparing himself to Adolf Hitler in his War on Drugs. Speaking at a press conference in his hometown of Davao, he said that “If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have…” before adding that "Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there is ... three million drug addicts (in the Philippines) ... I’d be happy to slaughter them.”  Unsurprisingly, his comments were roundly condemned worldwide and he ultimately backed down somewhat.

“There was never an intention on my part to derogate the memory of the six million Jews murdered. I apologize profoundly and deeply to the Jewish community,” he said in a televised speech. “It was never my intention, but the problem was I was criticized, using Hitler comparing to me."

View the full New York Times photo essay here.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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