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Despite Killings, Duterte Still Enjoys Support In Philippines


In the Philippines, next week marks one year since President Rodrigo Duterte took office. When elected, he promised a brutal war on drugs and drug dealers. A year later, more than 7,000 people are dead, killed in encounters with police and so-called vigilantes. But support for the president remains high, among most anyway. Michael Sullivan reports from Manila.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: There's a whole bunch of bars across the street from Manila's prestigious De La Salle University, and they're pretty packed after dark. The clientele - mostly students, mostly middle to upper-middle class and many enthusiastic supporters of President Duterte.

CLARISSE SANTIAGO: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: Eighteen-year-old Clarisse Santiago is studying interior design. She says the 72-year-old Duterte is a man of his word who does what he says and the one who's dealing with all the illegal things happening in the Philippines.

DANIEL BERNARDO: He's like a father for every Filipino. I believe in his integrity. And he is a game changer. He is not a traditional politician. So Duterte is someone that is so different.

SULLIVAN: That's Daniel Bernardo. He's 31 years old and a Ph.D. student in political science. The war on drugs - the extrajudicial killings - don't bother him at all.

BERNARDO: It's like a pest in your house. If you see a cockroach, if you see a mosquito, what would you do? You would kill it. For me, if you're a drug user, if you are a drug pusher or if you're a drug lord, it's not a sickness. It's like you are sick in the society. You need to disappear.

SULLIVAN: If that sounds cold, there's a reason. Jose Manuel Diokno is the dean of De La Salle University's school of law.

JOSE MANUEL DIOKNO: It's because we have a very weak legal system. And people are fed up, and they want to see results. And they seem to don't mind the shortcuts as long as they get results.

SULLIVAN: He says that frustration helps explain Duterte's high approval ratings a year later - but not so much with the poor.

DIOKNO: There's less of the poor who are supporting it because they are feeling the brunt of the extrajudicial killings.

SULLIVAN: I've been visiting this neighborhood, Arellano, since the drug war began. And one of the people I've been talking to regularly is Cindy Medrano. She's 26 and a mother of two.

CINDY MEDRANO: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "It's safer now because the addicts are either lying low or gone. But at the same time," she says, "it's scarier than it used to be, too."

MEDRANO: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "We're not scared of the addicts. We're scared now of the police," she says, "and how they're harassing us, just barging into our houses and violating our rights." Cindy's got a brother who's a year older. He was in jail around the time when the drug war started - for picking a fight, not for using. But when he got out of jail a few months ago, he made a quick trip home to see his mom. Then he left for the provinces.

MEDRANO: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: "He went away because he was scared that he'd be a target of a police operation," Cindy says. "He said he wouldn't come back as long as Duterte was president. I don't want to be killed, he said."

MEDRANO: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: And for poor families unlucky enough to lose a loved one, there's an added financial burden, paying for it. This happened to the Mallaris, another family I touched base with often in Arellano. Marcelina Mallari's son Robert was killed by police in an alleged drug-related shooting. The cops sent the body to a funeral home before the Mallaris even knew what had happened. Then the family got the bill, daughter Gina says.

GINA: Fifteen thousand. No service - just to clean the body.

SULLIVAN: They charged you 15,000 pesos just to release the body.

GINA: Yes.

SULLIVAN: And then you took it to another funeral home and had a proper funeral.

GINA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SULLIVAN: Fifteen thousand pesos. That's about $300, a month's salary for some. And that's not the worst part because not only does Gina know the cop who killed her brother. The family has also been told by someone on the inside that it was a mistake - that the cops were after another guy and that her brother was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Gina says the family is reluctant to do anything about it.

GINA: We're scared. If they want to, they can kill you anytime, anywhere.

SULLIVAN: And, Gina says, the Mallaris still have young men they need to keep safe, her son and her nephew.

GINA: That's the reason why we decide to be quiet, not rock the boat anymore - because we force the justice.

SULLIVAN: So you've given up on justice because you fear retribution.

GINA: Yes. Yes. We don't have a choice.

SULLIVAN: A few hundred yards north, on the other side of Arellano, I go to see Sylvia Garcia. Her son Aristotle was killed in an alleged encounter with police back in September. Like almost everyone else, she says her neighborhood is quiet. And, like them, she says it's because almost everyone is afraid of the cops. But then she smiles and tells me her news. The cop who shot her son - killed two weeks after Aristotle's funeral in a drive-by by two guys on a motorcycle, vigilante style




SULLIVAN: You were happy?

GARCIA: Of course.

SULLIVAN: In the absence of justice, it's better than nothing, she says. But she'd still rather have her son back. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Manila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.