The president’s war on drug

In June 2016, 71-year-old Rodrigo Duterte was inaugurated as the President of the Philippines. Among his election pledges were: “Forget legislation on human rights. You drug dealers, pistol holders and layabouts have better disappear– because  I will kill you. I will dump all your bodies into Manila Bay and fatten up all the fish with you”. 

Like in a national tv speech, when he said to the people: “Feel free to call us or the police or do it yourself, if you have a gun. You have my support.”

He has kept his election pledge. Since then over 7,000 people have been killed. On 24 April 2017, a Philippine lawyer complained about Duterte to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. He accused the president of crimes against humanity.

Indblik Sunday 7 May 2017

Ten days before the funeral 

Her name is Nercy Galicio. She was born on 11 July 2000. Now she is dead.

It is Thursday night on 20 April. Nercy must be brought to the mortuary, so that the family can subsequently bring her home in an open coffin.

Her 22-year-old sister, Grace Galicio comes along during the transport of the deceased. Almost all her life she has slept on the floor with her younger sister Nercy by her side.

Right up until last Monday, when the sisters woke up next to each other for the last time on the chipboard that Nercy Galicio had covered with wallpaper of the cartoon figure Hello Kitty.

Grace Galicio explains that she called Nercy when her younger sister did not arrive home Tuesday night, and that the police replied the call and said that the owner of the phone was dead. Murdered by two shots in the head and one in the right side off her torso.

She was found in a roadside lying on her right side with her long black hair down before her face and a hand extended.


Grace Galicio has put her feet in Nercy’s Hello Kitty flip-flops when she walks down an alley in the dark. Down to a gate. Behind it her sister is loaded onto the hearse. A pack of dogs is sneaking around in the shadows. They bark. The sister holds her hands up before her mouth. Cries almost soundlessly with eyes open.

The hearse drives slowly out of the gate. Up across a small bridge, past a lake with fish farming and through Manila to reach the mortuary.

”Eusebio 24 hours” is the text on the luminescent sign in front of the shop. As if the mortuary was a corner shop.

The undertaker Eusebio opens the door. He is dressed in a white singlet. Two men are carrying Nercy Galicio from the garage and in behind a green curtain in a room painted blue. They lay her on a couch under a fluorescent lamp. It i around 28 degrees hot. The room is not cooled down. She has a blanket over her body. The face is uncovered. The left side of her forehead has fallen slightly inward, but otherwise you cannot see that she has been shot. She looks like a wax doll after the shot wounds have been covered by a brown cream, and the mouth by lipstick. An employee with Eusebio puts Hello Kitty-socks on her. The sister Grace Galicio decided that. Her own toe nails have been varnished with Hello Kitty figures. It was something the two of them had together. She smiles, when she mentions it. The smile exposes her dental braces. Ordinarily, she works at a dentist’s. The sister shows a photo on the phone of Nercy with their little niece. Nercy was beautiful. Had a childish expression. She kept a diary. The last time Nercy wrote in her diary was the day before she disappeared.


In the police report the murder of Nercy Galicio is dated to around 23.10 on 18 April 2017. Just like in so many other murder cases in the Philippines the murderer is unknown. At best, the perpetrator is recorded as a masked man on a motorbike. A 14-year-old girl is an example of this. Her name is Jezell Mallari. According to the police report she was shot dead the day after Nercy Galicio by two men on a motorbike.

In June, the newly elected Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte declared war on narcotics. He announced to kill drug addicts and drug dealers. In a speech on 4 June he said, “if you know someone who is a drug addict, just kill them”.

Since then, more than 7,600 people have been killed, according to Philippine police’s own data. 2,555 of them in police actions. According to Amnesty International the rest was probably killed by assassins and people who take the law into their own hands. In August Duterte stated: I don’t care about human rights, believe me”.

And during a press conference in September 2016, the president said: “Hitler massacred three million Jews to death. There are three million drug addicts. I would be pleased to kill them all. If Germany had Hitler, so do the Philippines…” whereupon he pointed at himself.

Nine days before the funeral 

Nercy Galicio has been brought home to her own neighbourhood. She lies in a beige dress embroidered with pearls behind the coffin glass.
The coffin stands on a carpet in the middle of the slum of Manila, in the neighbourhood of Navotas to be exact.

It is covered by a home-made blind in pink Hello Kitty fabric, of course, and her entire white coffin is covered by stickers with the cartoon figure.
On the coffin lid the family has placed some of her favourite things: oranges, a chocolate drink, and the framed diploma from the bible school Born Again that she received when she had completed a course.

It was handed out to her the day before her disappearance. Grace Galicio explains that Nercy held the diploma up in front of her smiling her smile and said: “See, I did it. This is what you dreamt of on my behalf, right?”

The local church has paid for her autopsy. It cost around DKK 2,000. The family does not have that money. Her mother and father work with a little street cleaning. The mother explains that she earns DKK 250 a month.

Nercy Galicio is 1 out of 10 siblings. The family are believers in a country where the Catholic Church does not believe in contraception.

Around Nercy’s coffin about 50 people are seated on plastic chairs listening to Nercy’s favourite song from a loudspeaker, and a hip hop song. The young people are singing to her coffin with their necks craned: “Thank you and forgive me”.

When she is not serving bacon chips, Grace stands silent amidst the noise near a house wall looking at the coffin. She has a creased terry cloth in her hand. A few times she wipes it swiftly past her eyes.

One of the friends explains that Nercy had got a boyfriend, no one knew him, and that… Then the friend is interrupted to judge from the attitude by the leader of the group of girls. She sends a look that needs no translation. Shut up, the look means.

There are things here, which are not said…


Eusebio must open the gate to his mortuary again tonight. In the middle of Nercy’s ceremony a man is killed in the neighbourhood.

He lies on his back, half on the pavement, half on the heavily trafficked road. The feet are naked, jutting out into the road. His white blouse is coloured red by bloody stripes. Behind the main is dark night and barbed wire.

A skinny white cat comes shooting from the dark. It jumps over the man’s arm and sniffs at his face.

The police have put a yellow plastic cord around the area, their cars are blinking blue and red. The men from Crime Laboratory are taking pictures of the body from several angles.

A little girl, around four years old, is sitting quietly in the central reserve, her elbows resting on her knees and her hands under the cheek. Like approximately 50 other spectators she is observing the work of the police.

The little girl watches when one of the policemen – wearing gloves, but otherwise just in a short-sleeved police uniform – takes a firm grip of the body’s shoulder and turns it onto the side in a tough pull after which he empties the pockets. The police are looking for ID.

The policeman places himself standing astride on the man and pulls his trousers down over his hips exposing his read underpants. It happens in the middle of the street without any sealing off against gazes from passers-by.

A policeman takes a grip of the man’s armpits, and another one in his legs, and they swing him over into a black body bag and into a car.

The whole episode takes 10-15 minutes. Then it is over. The police remove the yellow plastic band. They drive off. No further investigation of the crime scene.

Only a puddle of blood remains on the pavement. A woman arrives to Eusebio’s mortuary driving a motor bike, she is a maternal aunt of the killed man. She says that he was 30 years old, was last seen alive five hours ago, and named Alvin Valladares. He is laid on the same couch behind the green curtain where Nercy Galicio lay 12 hours earlier.

The aunt’s friend ushers her gently forward towards the curtain, she must identify Alvin Valladares. She walks lightly stooped in behind the fabric. Gasps when she sees him. He was shot directly through his left hand. A man at the mortuary says that Alvin Valladares probably held his hand up in front of his face to protect himself.

The aunt says to a local reporter that Alvin Valladares was studying to become a craftsman and would finish his education next week, and that she believed that he was out of his earlier problems with drugs. Reportedly the police found methamphetamine in his pockets. Whether it was planted by someone, is not known.

Out on the other side of the fabric curtain in the garage lies a living person in a bunk bed. The wall is decorated by a pair of naked breasts in a pin-up calendar. Here, the living and the dead sleep together.

Six days before the funeral 

The atmosphere has changed around Nercy’s coffin at one o’clock PM. A little girl, around eight years old, is selling cigarettes individually from a plastic cup.

The street is also a home at night. There are too many children for too few houses. A baby is lying on a piece of cardboard, while grown woman is resting next to it and fanning the warmth away.

Little boys play men. An about 11-year-old boy is swinging on his plastic chair, and with a sprawled calmness and a firm wrinkle on his forehead he scratches his head with the cigarette in his hand. Takes a slow drag.

Booze has come on the table. Some youngsters play cards. They gamble. That is prohibited. But at funeral ceremonies nobody clamps down on a violation of the rules. They have been here since eight this morning, and it continues like that for a week. Those days neighbours can donate money for the upcoming funeral.

Her corpse will lie on display here in Navotas, out to the river, where the houses at best are small sheds. At worst, they are a mixture between torn parasols, plates of corrugated sheet, concrete, and car doors.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say that Duterte’s war on drugs is not a war on narcotics, but a war on the poor. The killings mainly take place in impoverished areas, where the big instigators walk free.

Based on 110 interviews, Amnesty International in January 2017 assessed that the national police in some instances pay assassins to kill.

In Amnesty International’s 66-page long report to persons explain for instance that they have taken orders from the police and that they get around USD 100 per kill.

NGO’s have pointed out that the President’s war on drugs discourage drug addicts from seeking rehabilitation. They are afraid that their name may come on the police watch lists of drug addicts and that the lists have the same effect as the Star of David on the Jews’ clothes had during World War II.

President Duterte is a product of democracy. He is elected by the people and still has popular support. For instance, from street traders Madjeeb Madid and Allan Cauvitongan, they sell Viagra and copy watches in the street in Manilla’s red-light district, respectively, and they approve the President’s project.

Allan Cauvitongan says this, while he pretends to cut his throat with his finger:

“Before, drug addicts were stumbling about everywhere in the street. It was dangerous. Now, they are gone. It has become safe again. I say: Stop human rights!”

Human rights organisations say: Don’t stop human rights, the President evades the underlying problem which leads to excessive drug abuse and drug dealing: that 12 million Philippines are living in extreme poverty. This means that they cannot afford three meals a day.  When you lack money, you find your way. One of the possible ways can be to deal in drugs.

 Three days before the funeral

Grace Galicio is serving cordial next to Nercy’s coffin. Around her the neighbours are playing bingo. Instead of tokens they use small pasta arcs. The ceremony has lasted five days by now, the flies have begun swarming around tables and coffin.

Grace wants to show where she and Nercy slept. She turns down an approximately one-and-a-half metre wide alley. In each side, there are small houses and a swarm of children. Paper, scissors, stone and basketball also works in the Philippines.

The entrance door to the family’s home is a half metre wide gate. You must bend to get to the only room in the shed – a small bamboo bunk surrounded by crowing cocks and hen in cages and piles of clothes and things. The bamboo bunk stands directly on the wet soil. A child is lying on it sleeping with a baby bottle in its mouth. There is a small TV set in the shed, no windows.

From here, Grace climbs up two fragile ladders, up on the bed loft below the ceiling, where she and her sister used to sleep.

Nercy lay outermost right up against the poster that represents Jesus at the last supper.

They have made their own small Hello Kitty universe up here on the bed loft with Hello Kitty blankets and curtain. And dresses on hangers and a Hello Kitty musical box, Grace winds it up and holds it out between her palms.

Among Nercy’s hairbands lies her diary. Grace mentions again that Nercy wrote in the diary the day before she disappeared. She wrote: Oh Lord, I hope that you can forgive me. I want a new life, I no longer want this type of life. It has been very hard (…) I open myself to you with all my heart. I hope that you can forgive me and my sins. I hope that you will give me a chance to start over”.

The family denies that Nercy was taking drugs. Their eyes lower when the talk falls on her boyfriend and his possible relation to drugs. Mourners don’t ask many questions to the police. This is a place where one must fear the police. During the bingo play at Nercy’s coffin, the photographer gets wind of something mystical under way at Police Station 1.  When he arrives, the following scene takes place:

In the official prison cells 70 people are crammed together in rooms intended for 40 people. But there is also another type of cell.

The Commission on Human Rights, an institution established by another Philippine President in 1986 has been at the police station and revealed that what looked like a bookcase in the police office is in fact a door to a secret prison cell of approx. three-square metre. Inside the cell 12 living people are crammed together. The room has no windows, no electric light.

None of them are charged with a crime. They tell The Commission on Human Rights that the police have arrested them and they demand money of their families for a release. The police seemingly earn money on keeping people captured in a secret room. The photographer was there. He saw it. He photographed the room.

But if he had not been there, who would have believed a person who told that he had been caught by corrupt policemen for no reason and had been thrown into a concealed cell behind a door designed as a bookcase, whereupon the police demanded money to let them out again?
The following day, President Durterte explained in local media that he would look into the case. The secretly imprisoned people are referred to in the article as suspect drug abusers. It is in this society that Nercy’s family must have faith that Nercy’s right killer is arrested and is put on trial.

The funeral

The time is 13.45, and it is time to say farewell. Grace has had pink T-shirts printed for the immediate family: “We love you and we will miss you” is printed on the T-shirts under a picture of Nercy.

Her coffin is loaded onto a car at 14.40.

Today, the family’s mourning is load. Behind the family walks a procession of crying friends and neighbours. In front of them drives a local Hello Kitty moped club that wants to honour Nercy by acting as a caravan. They do this with Hello Kitty insignia and decorated mopeds.

They move like this for an hour and a half, until her coffin is pushed into the grave. She will be lying in the lowest storey in a concrete complex with six storeys of coffins. Each coffin has its narrow concrete chamber. Nercy Galicio was liquidated. We don’t know by whom, and we don’t know why the murder was committed in a display of power with not only one, but three shots.

Maybe it is not considered important at all. Because she is dead in a country in which the President has given all people a license to kill. 

‘I hope that you will give me a chance to make a fresh start.’

Nercy Galicio – in her diary