war on drugs

A bloody trail: People we lost under Duterte


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A bloody trail: People we lost under Duterte
As we end 2021 – six months before a new administration steps in – let us remember the ones who lost their lives during Duterte's term, a period tagged by critics as having the worst human rights crisis in the country post-Martial Law

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s trail is one that is bloody.

Duterte’s violent rhetoric – publicly threatening suspected drug personalities, activists, and even journalists, among others – and problematic government policies have placed the Philippines under a climate of fear and culture of impunity.

His words do not stay as mere words. His orders are the rallying signal of his allies as they carry out his war on drugs, the fight against activists, as well as threats against the media, among others. Thousands have ended up dead since 2016, while countless others remain fearful for their lives.

As we end 2021 – six months before a new administration steps in – let us remember the ones who lost their lives under Duterte, a period tagged critics as having the worst human rights crisis in the country post-Martial Law.


Data from the government shows that 6,215 individuals were killed in police anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016, to October 31, 2021. This number does not include victims of vigilante-style killings, which human rights groups estimate to be between 27,000 and 30,000.

The extent of Duterte’s violent war on drugs is still hard to determine, as the government has enacted policies that make it hard for independent agencies to keep track of the real numbers. It also continues to sideline stakeholders such as the Commission on Human Rights, refusing to grant them access to important case folders.

In September 2020, however, Rappler was able to obtain data that showed 7,884 drug suspects had been killed by the police since Duterte assumed office until August 31, 2020.

Duterte’s war on drugs, as well as the killings in Davao City from 2011 to 2016, is now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Read Rappler’s coverage of the war on drugs in 2021:


Human rights defenders, activists, and grassroot organizers continue to bear the brunt of Duterte administration’s threats and harassment.

The government continues to blur the line between activists and communist rebels. National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and its supporters, supported by massive state resources, continue to red-tag almost anyone who criticizes the administration.

As of August 2021, rights group Karapatan documented 421 incidents of killings since July 2016. There are also least 504 recorded cases of frustrated killings, while 1,138 activists have been arrested and detained over the past five years.

Read Rappler’s coverage of the fight of activists and human rights defenders under Duterte in 2021:


Twenty-two journalists and media workers have been killed since Duterte rose to power in 2016. Based on the data, three journalists were killed in 2021 alone.

Here are the journalists and media workers killed under the Duterte administration, according to the tally of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines:

  1. Apolinario Suan Jr. – July 14, 2016
  2. Larry Que – December 2016
  3. Mario Cantaoi – January 6, 2017
  4. Marlon Muyco – February 17, 2017
  5. Joaquin Briones – March 13, 2017
  6. Leo Diaz – August 6, 2017
  7. Rudy Alicaway – August 7, 2017
  8. Christopher Lozada – October 24, 2017
  9. Edmund Sestoso – April 30, 2018
  10. Carlos Matas – May 12, 2018
  11. Dennis Denora – June 7, 2018
  12. Joey Llana – July 20, 2018
  13. Eduardo Dizon – July 10, 2019
  14. Benjie Caballero – October 30, 2019
  15. Dindo Generoso  – November 7, 2019
  16. Rex Cornelio Pepino – May 5, 2020
  17. Jobert Bercasio – September 14, 2020
  18. Virgilio Maganes – November 10, 2020
  19. Ronnie Villamor – November 14, 2020
  20. John Heredia – May 2, 2021
  21. Orlando Dinoy – October 30, 2021
  22. Jesus “Jess” Malabanan – December 8, 2021

The Philippines ranks 138th out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index for 2021 of the Reporter Without Borders. Duterte was also named by RSF as one of the global “press freedom predators.”

Read Rappler’s coverage of pressing media issues in 2021:


There were 65 lawyers, prosecutors, and judges killed from July 2016 to September 15, 2021.

The total number is collated by Rappler based on monitoring by various sources, including the Supreme Court, Department of Justice, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, and the Free Legal Assistance Group.

Their numbers vary because there are victims excluded in the counting of some groups as preliminary investigation showed their deaths were allegedly not work-related.

Read Rappler’s coverage of attacks against lawyers and members of the judiciary in 2021:


The number of slain local chief executives in the Philippines continues to increase more than five years since Duterte took office.

As of December 19, 2021, based on monitoring by Rappler, 10 mayors and 17 vice mayors were killed since July 2016, for a total of 27. Five of these killings were during the COVID-19 pandemic, four of which were in 2021 alone.

Read Rappler’s coverage of attacks against local officials:

– with reports from Jairo Bolledo, Lian Buan, Dwight de Leon, Jodesz Gavilan, and Rambo Talabong/Rappler.com

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