Journalist Patricia Evangelista Writes Critically Acclaimed Memoir on Political Violence in the Philippines
Award winning Filipino journalist Patricia Evangelista visited Yale as an Associate Research Scholar at the Council on Southeast Asia Studies (CSEAS) in the fall of 2023. Her appointment was timed with the release of her book, Some People Need Killing: A Memoir of Murder in My Country, a harrowing account of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs,” which led to a wave of killings carried out by police and vigilantes that is under investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.
Since its October release, Some People Need Killing has garnered numerous awards, including being named TIME’s “#1 Nonfiction Book of 2023” and one of the New York Times’ “10 Best Books of 2023.” Called a “journalistic masterpiece” by David Remnick of The New Yorker, the book details the actions of political and security actors at very senior levels, including those with histories of recourse to extrajudicial action.
“I am a trauma reporter,” Evangelista said. “It means I 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.”
Evangelista was advised to leave the country ahead of the book’s publication. The urgency of her appointment at Yale stemmed from concerns of the range of reprisals she might face in an environment that is permissive of them; the Philippines has consistently ranked amongst the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.
On October 4, Evangelista spoke powerfully about her work with members of the Yale community and the broader public in a book talk cosponsored by the Political Violence and its Legacies workshop at the Yale MacMillan Center for International & Area Studies.
Evangelista was born just before the 1986 People Power Revolution ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos and returned a fragile democracy to the Philippines. “Because of that, I was a member of the freest press in Asia,” she said. But in 2016, the nation elected strongman Rodrigo Duterte, who ran on a platform promising to kill thousands of criminals. Duterte created the terrifying specter of a drug-addled nation then waged war against it. This, said Evangelista, despite the Philippines having less than half the global average of illegal drug use. The campaign targeted small-scale dealers and users from some of the poorest areas of the country.
The journalist recounted some of the heartbreaking personal stories of families torn apart by violence at the hands of vigilantes—of parents murdered in front of their children, of family members finding their loved ones’ bodies in the street.
“I am a journalist of 15 years’ standing,” Evangelista said. “I do not traffic in hope.” Having seen so many crimes go long unpunished, she asserted, she writes about the terrible things that happen simply to keep a record.
“The book I wrote is a book about the dead and about the people they left,” she explained. “But it’s also a personal story written in my own voice, as a citizen of a nation I no longer recognize as my own. The people who were slaughtered were killed largely with the permission of my own people.”
When asked why she thinks the people of the Philippines elected Duterte, Evangelista had a clear answer: he told a good story. “He didn’t just tell a story. He was the story. He embodied the story.” But, as Some People Need Killing argues, “one story doesn’t have to be the only story.”