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Deadly War On Drugs Overshadows Philippine President's First Year In Office


Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's first year in office has been dominated by his war on drugs. It has left at least 7,000 dead in encounters with police or so-called vigilantes. It's also left behind the families of the victims mourning for loved ones and hoping their killers are brought to justice. Michael Sullivan brings us the story of one of those families.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: There's a Tagalog word - kilig - that doesn't translate well into English - giddy, bubbly maybe. The Oxford English Dictionary calls it a rush of excitement or exhilaration - close but not quite, Filipinos say. But it's how Rachel Quebec felt when she first saw Clarence Jepadre.

RACHEL QUEBEC: (Foreign language spoken).


SULLIVAN: She's remembering the first time she met Clarence. He was quiet, she says, shy, and he courted me down by the river. I tried to ignore him, she says, because I was shy, too. Love at first sight, I ask. No, nothing happened, she insists.


SULLIVAN: And then she cracks up again. Turns out the next time she saw Clarence a few weeks later, she was already pregnant. He was 17. She was 18 - just a couple of kids of simple means with simple dreams.

QUEBEC: (Through interpreter) We dreamed we'd take Roseann to Manila Zoo and to the park and maybe the mall, just walk around and be a family.

SULLIVAN: It's good to see her laughing. It hasn't happened a lot since Clarence became another statistic in President Duterte's war on drugs. When I first met her in early October, Rachel was standing silently next to Clarence's casket, Roseann then 6 months old in her arms. A chick paced back and forth on top of the coffin, tradition to peck at the conscience of the killer.


SULLIVAN: Clarence had been stabbed nine times, then wrapped in plastic, a sachet of marijuana next to him. A piece of cardboard attached to the body said, I'm a pusher; I'm a robber; don't be like me. The police said it was vigilantes. The family said it was more likely the police. Rachel didn't say anything. She was too numb.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

SULLIVAN: These days, she and the baby live with Clarence's parents and his sisters in one tiny room on the second floor of a rickety shack reached by a rickety ladder next to a sewage canal in Manila's Malate district. They pay about $25 a month for the room. There have been at least a dozen killings in this neighborhood alone since the war on drugs began.


SULLIVAN: Rachel says she not only misses Clarence. She sees him sometimes down by the river where they courted. She says the baby sees him, too, and sometimes points to the door and says, papa, papa. It freaks people out.

QUEBEC: (Through interpreter) We believe his spirit is lingering because his case isn't solved yet. There's been no justice. Clarence can't accept what's happened to him, so his spirit just lingers here, waiting.

SULLIVAN: Clarence was a good dad, she says.

QUEBEC: (Through interpreter) When I gave birth to our daughter, he was always there. He was so happy.

SULLIVAN: Rachel says she hasn't been much good since Clarence died. She drinks too much and hasn't had much luck finding a job. She didn't finish high school and doesn't have many skills. She tried working in a bar but didn't last a week.

QUEBEC: (Through interpreter) I didn't like it there. I didn't like the way the customers touched me. I don't think I could ever get used to it.

SULLIVAN: So money is tight. But even with Clarence dead, Rachel says she still supports the war on drugs. A lot of kids are using, she says, and if it can make them stop, that will help everyone. Clarence's sister Hedielin is having none of it.

HEDIELIN: (Through interpreter) If there was no war on drugs, my brother wouldn't be dead. He'd still be here with us.

SULLIVAN: The police say they have no leads on Clarence's murderer, and Rachel - she's pretty much given up hope they ever will. For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Manila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.