Collateral Damage in Duterte’s War on Drugs

This is a guest post written by Tokyo-based documentary photographer James Whitlow Delano. His work on the families affected by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte is currently on display at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Delano will be speaking at the school on October 23 – stay tuned here for details. 

In the slums of Metro Manila, three generations of the Dela Cruz family live in a two-story plywood hut, raised on the posts over a stagnant, contaminated estuary, polluted with raw sewage and so much plastic and Styrofoam that in some places no water can be seen at all. There are – well, there were –  eleven family members in all. The shell of the makeshift house is fitted with discarded corrugated tin and plastic.

The Dela Cruzes are no better or no worse off than their neighbors.

In the early morning hours, as Toto and his 15 year-old wife Jasmine slept with her newborn Hazel between them, four armed men wearing black masks came for Toto. Two of the assassins held guns to Jasmine’s head while the other two dragged Toto by the hair onto a wooden porch, shooting him a total of four times in the face and mouth. As he died, Jasmine cradled him and cried out, “Pa, not yet…Not yet please…We have a baby”.

Metro Manila’s massive slums are dumping grounds for the multigenerational poor, who make up the vast majority of the victims in Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs, which, according to Human Rights Watch, has led to an estimated 12,000 deaths.

The impoverished and powerless trapped in squalor believed that in Duterte they had finally found their savior –  a champion after generations of politicians’ broken promises. Instead, Duterte has unleashed masked assassins in a spasm of slaughter, creating a siege mentality in the slums and delivering assassination with impunity and without pause.

For every life lost in the drug war, there is a family left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Justice for families is not possible because assassins operate with impunity. Assassins know who they are and where they live, but the families do not know who the killers are.

The vast majority of those left to raise fatherless children are women. Even if the killing stopped tomorrow, the damage done to thousands of families will affect them and Filipino society for the rest of their lives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “the silence of the good people is more dangerous than the brutality of the bad people”. This project attempts to help families break their silence and to tell their stories.

Slums in Metro Manila, Philippines
House where 15 year-old widow, Jasmine Dorana met her partner, John “Toto” Dela Cruz, 16 years old. He was pulled out by the hair, shot and killed on this front porch by masked assassins. Bangung Bayan C4, Navotas, Metro Manila, Philippines 
A group of young boys sniffing glue on a street corner in Payatas, a community of people who sustain themselves by picking through a mountain of garbage for recyclable materials. The community has lost several young men to extrajudicial killings and this activity could be a death sentence (their faces have been obscured for their safety). Payatas, Metro Manila, Philippines
Jazmine Durana, a 16 year old widow and single mother, takes in a light breeze on a muggy night on a bridge over the Navotas River where she likes to meet friends. Jazmine, who has a third grade educaiton, is trying to move ahead in her life after her husband “Toto” Dela Cruz was killed by masked gunmen as a part of Duterte’s war on drugs. She has moved out of the Dela Cruz family house and back in with her parents, two brothers and one sister in a two room house. 
The indentation on the wrist of 24 year-old Julius Soriano shows signs that his hands were bound before he was shot to death during a police operation in Caloocan, Metro Manila, Philippines
A son at his father’s wake is accompanied by his grandmother. Market 3 slum, Navotas, Metro Manila, Philippines
Jocelyn Banting, a 14 year-old widow, lives and works as a sex worker in a bar next to the Market 3 slum in the Navotas Fish Port complex. Her partner Alan Uba was gunned down in President Duterte’s “War on Drugs”. Tondo, Manila, Philippines. 
21 year-old Ginnalyn Soriano encounters the body of her 24 year-old brother Julius, whose corpse is being carried away in a body bag after he was executed. His body showed signs that his hands had been bound before he was shot to death during a police operation in Caloocan, Metro Manila. Philippines
Ginnalyn Soriano and her youngest brother Jonas bid a final farewell to elder brother Julius whose corpse showed signs that his hands had been bound before he was shot to death during a police operation in Caloocan, Metro Manila. Philippines
84 year-old Remy Fernandez holds two of her seven grandchildren that she is raising because her son, Constantino de Juan, a Methampetamine user, was killed by masked men and the mother is in prison due to a drug arrest. Payatas, Metro Manila, Philippines
Family members of Junmar Abletes, killed in an extrajudicial killing by black-masked assassins resist an attempt to close his coffin at Navotas Cemetery in Metro Manila. Family members insist that Junmar was no longer a drug user but was targeted nonetheless. Navotas, Philippines
The bodies of two slain young men have been laid out at daybreak on a lonely stretch of road at the edge of Metro Manila with signs hung around their necks in Tagalog that translate roughly to “no more hold up robbers”. Payatas. Metro Manila, Philippines 

All images are the copyright of James Whitlow Delano. Find more of Delano’s work on social media and the internet:


Borderland / La Frontera

Global Rainforest Crisis Project



Everyday Climate Change


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