By Eleanor Ferguson

Trauma journalist Pat Evangelista gave a talk at the 2024 Annual Lecture on Asian Democracy at the Speed Art Museum.

As a Filipina journalist from Manila, Pat Evangelista covers disaster, conflict, and human rights issues. Her coverage of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, which according to Human Rights Watch has killed over 12,000 people in “anti-drug operations,” has been published in Rappler and Esquire.

Her book, Some People Need Killing, details the stories of some of these government-sanctioned murders.

Like 80 percent of the country, Evangelista is Catholic. Duterte had a high approval rating even amid the killings, and many supported the war on drugs even though they were afraid they could be next. The Catholic Church was something she, her fellow reporters, and survivors relied on for support. With the Church backing them, people are more likely to speak out. It’s not always the case, but she stated the Church delivered for mourning families, and many wouldn’t survive without its support.

Duterte’s presidency was, to his people, complicated. Evangelista believes people do want democracy, but they also want a “strong man,” and that many Filipinos see God as an avenger—perhaps they wanted the same thing in a leader.

“Salvage”, from the Latin root “salvos,” means to save; to rescue. In the Philippines, to salvage means to kill. The victims are “salvaged.” The term can also mean torture.

She doesn’t expect her reports to change the world but believes it’s important to keep a record.

She’s seen death and destruction, which is hell on people’s stability as human beings. Evangelista said reporters needed community: “What I learned as a reporter during the drug war … the practical is I wish I had taken better notes. The more important one I think that I learned was … and I don’t want to be cliché, community. Coming together. There is no human way you can survive the drug war [alone].”

Many reporters worked for competing organizations, but no one was left behind in the field; the journalists supported each other.

“It matters that you have each other’s back,” she said.

Even with many civilians supporting Duterte, and even with her life being put at risk for her work, Evangelista copes. How?

She stated, “[You] light your cigarette, go away to dinner, talk about how it was fucking awful, then go to sleep, wake up, and do it all again.”

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