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