Some People Need Killing
My name is Lady Love, says the girl.
The girl is eleven years old. She is small for her age, all skinny brown legs and big dark eyes. Lady Love is the name she prints on the first line of school papers and uses nowhere else. It was her grandmother who named her. Everyone else calls her Love-Love. Ma did, when she sent Love-Love to the market. Get the children dressed, Love-Love. Don’t bother me when I’m playing cards, Love-Love. Quit lecturing me, Love-Love.
Nobody calls her Lady, and only Dee ever called her Love. Just Love.
Love, he would say, give your Dee a hug.
Dee is short for Daddy. It embarrasses Love-Love sometimes, not the hug, because Dee gives good hugs, but that she calls him Dee. Only rich girls call their fathers Daddy. Pa should be good enough for a girl who lives in the slums of Manila. But there they are, Dee and Love, Love and Dee, walking down the street in the early evening, the small girl stretching up a scrawny arm to wrap around the tall man’s waist.
Love-Love was supposed to be the third of eight children, but the oldest died of rabies and the second was rarely home. It fell to Love-Love to tell Ma to stop drinking and Dee to quit smoking. You’re drunk again, she would tell Ma, and Ma would tell Love-Love to go away.
Love-Love worried they would get sick. She worried about rumors her father was using drugs. She worried about all of them living where they did, in a place where every other man could be a snitch for the cops.
Ma and Dee said everything was fine. Dee was getting his driver’s license back. Ma made money giving manicures. They had already surrendered to the new government and promised they would never touch drugs again.
Let’s move away, Love-Love told Dee, but Dee laughed it off.
Let’s move away, she told Ma, but Ma said the little ones needed to go to school. We can go to school anywhere, Love-Love said.
Ma shook her head. They needed to save up first. Don’t worry yourself, Ma said.
Love-Love worried, and she was right.
Love, said her father, one night in August.
Love, he said, just before the bullet slammed into his head.
I meet her at her aunt’s. She is sitting on a battered armchair. I crouch in front of her and stick out my hand to shake hers. If nothing else, an interview is an exchange. Tell me your name, and I’ll tell you mine.
My name is Pat, I tell Love-Love. I’m a reporter.
I was born in 1985, five months before a street revolution brought back democracy to the Philippines. That year it seemed every other middle-class mother had named her daughter Patricia. Evangelista, my surname, common in my country, derives from the Greek euangelos, “bringer of good news.” It is an irony I am informed of often.
My job is to go to places where people die. I pack my bags, talk to the survivors, write my stories, then go home to wait for the next catastrophe. I don’t wait very long.
I can tell you about those places. There have been many of them in the last decade. They are the coastal villages after typhoons, where babies were zipped into backpacks after the body bags ran out. They are the hillsides in the south, where journalists were buried alive in a layer cake of cars and corpses. They are the cornfields in rebel country and the tent cities outside blackened villages and the backrooms where mothers whispered about the children they were forced to abort.
It’s handy to have a small vocabulary in my line of work. The names go first, then the casualty counts. Colors are good to get the description squared away. The hill is green. The sky is black. The backpack is purple, and so is the bruising on the woman’s left cheek.
Small words are precise. They are exactly what they are and are faster to type when the battery is running down.
I like verbs best. They break stories down into logical movements, trigger to finger, knife to gut: crouch, run, punch, drown, shoot, rip, burst, bomb.
In the years since the election of His Excellency, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, I have collected a new handful of words. They rotate, trade places, repeat in staccato.
Kill, for example. It’s a word my president uses often. He said it at least 1,254 times in the first six months of his presidency, in a variety of contexts and against a range of enemies. He said it to four-year-old Boy Scouts, promising to kill people who got in the way of their future. He said it to overseas workers, telling them there were jobs to be had killing drug addicts at home. He told mayors accused of drug dealing to repent, resign, or die. He threatened to kill rights activists if the drug problem worsened. He told cops he would give them medals for killing. He told journalists they could be legitimate targets of assassination.
“I’m not kidding,” he said in a campaign rally in 2016. “When I become president, I’ll tell the military, the police, that this is my order: find these people and kill them, period.”
I know only a few dozen of the dead by name. It doesn’t matter to the president. He has enough names for them all. They are addicts, pushers, users, dealers, monsters, madmen.
Love-Love can name two of them. They are Dee and Ma.
It was a blow that started it, on the wrong door, just down the hall. There was a commotion, fists on wood, tenants protesting, and door after slammed door, punctuated by a man’s voice.
Negative, said the man. Negative, negative, negative.
It didn’t take long for the man to reach Love-Love’s door. Open it, shouted the man.
Inside, Love-Love crouched with her mother. It was three in the morning. Dee was fast asleep on his back, one of the toddlers tucked into his chest. The other children slept scattered around the room. The man kicked the door.
This, Love-Love thought, was how her parents would die.
Her mother opened the door, afraid the men outside would punch through the window and kill them all in a hail of gunfire. Two men burst into the room. Both wore full masks, with holes for eyes and nose and mouth.
“Positive,” one of them said, looming over Dee. Get up, he said.
Dee jerked awake. He tried to sit up, but there was a baby curled into his chest. He fell back again.
Love, he said, before one of the men shot him dead. The bullet burst out of Dee’s right temple. Blood spattered over the baby.
“Dee!” Love-Love screamed.
The baby wailed. Ma wept. She thrust out a handful of paper at the man who killed her husband. Here was proof, she sobbed, that they had mended their ways.
Ma fell to her knees. Love-Love dragged her mother up until she was on her feet. It was Love-Love who squeezed her body between the gunman and Ma. It was Love-Love who stood with the barrel of the gun just inches from her forehead. It was Love-Love, all big eyes and skinny brown legs, who cursed at the gunman and demanded he shoot her instead.
Kill me, she said, not my Ma.
The second gunman held back the first. Don’t shoot, he said. She’s only a child.
They left. It wasn’t for long. When they returned, the first gunman turned back to Love-Love’s mother and raised his gun.
“We are Duterte,” he said, and emptied the magazine.
Ma died on her knees.
Love-Love cursed at the killers. You motherf***ers, she said. You already killed my Dee. Now you’ve shot my Ma.
The gunman swung the muzzle at Love-Love’s face.
Shut up, he said, or we’ll shoot you dead too.
When they left, Love-Love found the hole inside Ma’s head. The blood had gushed through Love-Love’s fingers. Dee lay sprawled where he fell. His eyes had rolled back. Love-Love wanted to hug him, but she was afraid. He did not look like her Dee.
“Dee,” asked the girl called Love. “Are you leaving me, Dee?”
In 1945 the reporter Wilfred Burchette broke the story of a nuclear warhead exploding over the city of Hiroshima for the London Daily Express. He covered what he called “the most terrible and frightening desolation in four years of war.” Burchette marched into Hiroshima carrying a pistol, a typewriter, and a Japanese phrasebook. “I write these facts as dispassionately as I can,” wrote Burchette, “in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world.”
Like Burchette, I am a reporter. Unlike him, I’m not a foreign correspondent. I spent the last decade flying into bombed-out cities, counting body bags, and reporting on the disasters, both natural and man-made, that continue to plague my own country. I spent much of the last six years documenting the killings committed under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The fact that I’m a Filipino living in the Philippines means that for me, there’s no going home from the field. There is no seven-day shooting schedule with a pre-booked flight and an option to extend; only more corpses, every day. I do not need a translator to tell me that the man screaming putang ina over his brother’s body means “motherf***er” instead of “son of a bitch.” I understand why coffins sit in living rooms for weeks at a time, and I’m ready to refuse, with all manner of excuses, when I am offered a sandwich at a wake by a widow so desperately poor she cannot afford the twenty-dollar formaldehyde injection necessary to preserve a rotting body.