Davao City

Patricia Evangelista launches book in Davao, epicenter of Duterte drug war 

Herbie Gomez

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Patricia Evangelista launches book in Davao, epicenter of Duterte drug war 

READING. Journalist and book author Patricia Evangelista reads from her acclaimed book, 'Some People Need Killing,' during its launch in Davao on Wednesday, May 1.

Herbie Gomez/Rappler

The Davao launch of 'Some People Need Killing' takes place two days before World Press Freedom Day and marks the author's first visit to the epicenter of the Duterte drug war since her book was published in 2023

DAVAO, Philippines – Journalist Patricia Evangelista, author of Some People Need Killing, spent some time listening to 70-year-old Clarita Alia’s story before launching her celebrated book in Davao, the city where it all began, on Wednesday, May 1.

Alia’s four sons – Richard, Christopher, Bobby, and Fernando – were stabbed to death apparently on mere suspicion of involvement in various crimes such as rape and theft, offenses that have been associated with drug use, during the tenure of former president Rodrigo Duterte as mayor of Davao.

To win the presidency in 2016, Duterte leveraged his persona as “The Punisher,” and “Duterte Harry” – a sly nod to Dirty Harry, the nickname of a fictional character played by Clint Eastwood in a popular action movie series from the 1970s and 1980s. Dirty Harry is known for bending rules and taking justice into his own hands.

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A MOTHER’S COPY. Clarita Alia, whose four sons were killed during ex-president Rodrigo Duterte’s tenure as Davao mayor, shows her copy of journalist Patricia Evangelista’s book. Herbie Gomez/Rappler

“I’m speaking out so that people will be aware, and not just for my own sake, as my children are dead. I’m not afraid because what I experienced before was genuine. Now, they’re targeting my grandchildren,” Alia told Rappler as she proudly held up a copy of Evangelista’s autographed book.

On Alia’s copy, Evangelista wrote in capital letters, “Para kay Nanay Clarita. Salamat sa mga kuwento, at saludo sa inyong tapang.”

(For mother Clarita. Thank you for the stories, and salute to your courage.)

Alia was among the Dabawenyos who listened to Evangelista talk about her best-selling book which made it to the 2023 top picks of The New York Times, TIME, The Economist, The New Yorker, and even former US president Barack Obama.

The book details the vigilante-style killings during the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs.

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NARRATIVES. A crowd intently listens as journalist Patricia Evangelista narrates her experiences during the bloody drug war of the Duterte administration in Davao City on Wednesday, May 1. Herbie Gomez/Rappler

The Davao book launch took place two days ahead of World Press Freedom Day, and marked Evangelista’s first trip to the Southern Mindanao city, often referred to as the epicenter of Duterte’s contentious war on drugs, since the book was published by Random House in 2023.

The country witnessed a haunting pattern of thousands mysteriously killed one by one or in batches after Duterte, a newly elected president in mid-2016, promised a boom in the funeral industry. Even during his presidential campaign, he promised to fatten the fish of Manila Bay by dumping thousands of criminals’ corpses there. 

What ensued were mostly impoverished street-level drug peddlers brutally killed or whose deaths were explained by authorities as resulting from alleged resistance during arrest, the usual and predictable narrative during the Duterte administration.

LISTENING. Book author Patricia Evangelista listens as she entertains questions during the Davao launch of her acclaimed book, ‘Some People Need Killing.’ With her is Davao-based journalist Carol Arguillas, whose group organized the book launching in the Southern Mindanao city. Herbie Gomez/Rappler

Asked for her message to Duterte if he asked her to autograph a copy of the book given to him earlier by Davao-based journalist Carol Arguillas, Evangelista said, “I think if the President (Duterte) requests one, I will be delighted to give it to him.”

Arguillas, who handed a copy of Evangelista’s book to Duterte in January, said she was told by the ex-president that it lacked a “dedication.” Arguillas is the prime mover of the Mindanao Institute of Journalism (Minjourn), which publishes the online news site Mindanews, and organizer of Evangelista’s Davao book launch.

Book, Publication, Adult
DUTERTE’S COPY. Former president Rodrigo Duterte flips through the pages of Patricia Evangelista’s book, ‘Some People Need Killing’ after a press conference in Davao City on January 6, 2024. The photo was taken moments after Duterte received the book from MindaNews’ Carolyn Arguillas. Manman Dejeto/Rappler

Evangelista said, “Years ago, in the early days of the [drug] war, when people were raising concerns about human rights violations when it comes to the killing of drug dealers and addicts, the (former president) said something. He said, ‘I’d like to be frank with you. Are they human? What is your definition of a human being?’”

“In the course of this book, I tried to define what a human being is, and my definition is very simple: it’s everyone…. I would like to tell him (Duterte) this is what a human being is. And I would like to say I hope he feels their loss as we all do.”

Patricia Evangelista launches book in Davao, epicenter of Duterte drug war 

Hearing this, Davao-based lawyer Danny Balucos asked Evangelista how she would rephrase her message to Duterte within the context of Davao City’s tourism catchphrase, “Life is here,” a question that sent the crowd laughing. 

Evangelista replied, “I would say, ‘Mabuhay (long live), I hope you live.’”

LIGHT MOMENT. Journalist and book author Patricia Evangelista shares a light moment with a Davao crowd on Wednesday, May 1. Herbie Gomez/Rappler

Balucos told Rappler that Evangelista’s effort to launch her book in Davao came as a “pleasant surprise,” and he saw it as a “milestone in Davao City.”

Maria Victoria “Mags” Maglana, a convenor of the civil society group Konsensya Dabaw and one of those behind Evangelista’s book launch, said the event was a fitting activity to create a space for conversation about the killings given that the Duterte drug war was “tested and refined” in Davao.

“The narrative has always been that violence is needed to deal with illegal drugs. We have to counter that narrative. It did not rid the country of illegal drugs. Many were hurt, and many became victims. We have to change that narrative,” she told Rappler.

Maglana, incidentally, dared to challenge the reelection bid of one of Duterte’s sons, Paolo, in the congressional race in Davao’s first district in 2022 but failed to unseat him.

People, Person, Crowd
MODERATOR. Civil society group leader and academic Mags Maglana serves as a moderator during Patricia Evangelista’s book launch in Davao. Herbie Gomez/Rappler

Mennonite Pastor Luis Daniel Pantoja, president and chief executive officer of the Davao-based PeaceBuilders Community Incorporated, said the book launch was a “spiritual experience for me because we’re talking about lives; we’re talking about human beings that have been sacrificed in a false belief.”

Pantoja added, “It’s like a cult – sacrificing human beings for a false belief, [and] desecrating human lives.” – Rappler.com

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.