Duterte Threatens to Dethrone the Jeepney as King of Filipino Roads, The New York Times

MANILA — In Alvin Ocampo’s 18-year-old jeepney, the dashboard is held together with yards of peeling electrical tape. The only concession to Manila’s stifling heat is a fan screwed to the ceiling. And unless you count the padlocked metal grate in place of the driver’s-side door that Mr. Ocampo installed after a gang of glue-sniffing teenagers robbed him of a fistful of pesos, the vehicle has no safety features to speak of.

Nevertheless, on a recent Friday afternoon in December, scores of passengers climbed aboard Mr. Ocampo’s jeepney, one of thousands of locally produced passenger trucks that are icons of Manila’s traffic-clogged and pollution-choked streets.

Loneliness and the Love Doll, NBC Left Field

I produced and reported this short documentary, shot by Sutton Raphael, about Nakajima, a man who was searching for companionship and found love in his sex doll. 


For Isolated Philippine Town, a Planned Road is a Lifeline and a Worry, New York Times

PALANAN, Philippines — There is no road to Palanan.

The town, 190 miles northeast of Manila on a stretch of rugged Pacific coastline, is separated from the crowds and chaos of the rest of the Philippines by a three-day trek through tropical jungle, a seven-hour ride on a wooden pump boat or a 25-minute flight on a three-seater Cessna.

Cloistered in the foothills of the Sierra Madre, Palanan’s farmers cross fields on the backs of loping water buffaloes. Children in plaid uniforms walk to school along beaches of white sand. A few motorcycles with sidecars, brought in on boats, rumble through the carless streets of the dusty town center. Carved canoes slide down broad rivers, and narrow outrigger boats bob along the shore.

A version of this article appears in print on September 25, 2017, on Page A8 of the New York edition

The Kill List, NBC Left Field

I produced and reported this documentary with Ed Ou counting the human cost of Duterte's war on drugs. 22 mins. 


On the run from Duterte's Drug Crackdown, The New York Times

MANILA — Every morning before dawn, Rosario Perez checks to make sure her sons are still alive. The three brothers, all in their 20s, sleep at the houses of friends and relatives, moving regularly, hoping that whoever may have been assigned to kill them won’t catch up with them.

They are not witnesses on a mob hit list, or gang members hiding from rivals. They are simply young men living in the Philippines of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“How could I not send them to hide?” said Ms. Perez, 47, after peeking in on two of her sons and phoning the third. “We can barely sleep out of fear.”

Nearly a year into Mr. Duterte’s violent antidrug campaign, in which more than 4,000 people accused of using or selling illegal drugs have been killed and thousands of other killings are classified as “under investigation,” fear and mistrust have gripped many neighborhoods of Manila and other cities.

Residents are cobbling together strategies to hide and survive. Many young men are staying indoors, out of sight. Others have fled the urban slums, where most of the killings occur, and are camping out on farms or lying low in villages in the countryside.

A version of this article appears in print on June 5, 2017, on Page A4 of the New York edition

Saturday Profile: The General Running Duterte's Anti-Drug War, The New York Times

In April, a Filipino lawyer filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court requesting indictments against General dela Rosa, as well as Mr. Duterte and other administration officials, for crimes against humanity.

“I did not expect it,” General dela Rosa said of the backlash against the slaughter.

Senator Antonio Trillanes, a leading opponent of the Duterte administration, described General dela Rosa as Mr. Duterte’s foot soldier, “operationalizing the thoughts and intentions of President Duterte.”

Under General dela Rosa’s command, the police have killed more than 2,600 people in antidrug operations, police statistics show. At least 1,400 more people have been killed by unknown assailants in relation to drugs, and 3,800 more are awaiting investigation.

A version of this article appears in print on June 3, 2017, on Page A4 of the New York edition

At 100 or So, She Keeps a Philippine Tattoo Tradition Alive, The New York Times

BUSCALAN, Philippines — She wakes up every morning at dawn and mixes an ink out of pine soot and water. She threads a thorn from a bitter citrus tree into a reed, crouches on a three-inch-high stool and, folded up like a cricket, hand-taps tattoos onto the backs, wrists and chests of people who come to see her from as far away as Mexico and Slovenia.

The woman, Maria Fang-od Oggay, will finish 14 tattoos before lunch — not a bad day’s work for someone said to be 100 years old. Moreover, she has single-handedly kept an ancient tradition alive, and in the process transformed this remote mountaintop village into a mecca for tourists seeking adventure and a piece of history under their skin.

A version of this article appears in print on May 16, 2017, on Page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: Tattoo Tourists Seek Out The Etchings of an Elder.

Philippines Moves to Shut Mines Accused of Polluting, The New York Times

CLAVER, Philippines — The Philippine mining town of Claver is busy with bakeries, fruit stands, pool halls and karaoke bars. In the mountains nearby, bulldozers cling to treeless slopes, scooping out red soil and leaving gaping pits. On the horizon, cargo ships wait to bring nickel ore to China.

Many here are afraid that none of this will last.

“If the mines go, then the jobs are gone too,” said Jayson Reambonanza, 31, who drives a dump truck for one of the area’s many nickel mines.

The Philippines, which exports more nickel ore than any country in the world, is in the midst of a wide crackdown on mines accused of violating environmental protection laws.

A version of this article appeared on Page A1 of the international edition and Page A10 of the New York edition. 

Follow-up report: Philippines Rejects Environment Chief who took on Mining Interests

As H.I.V. Soars in Philippines, Conservatives Kill School Condom Plan, The New York Times

While the rate of new H.I.V. infections has been falling across the Asia-Pacific region in recent years, in the Philippines it is soaring. The biggest increase is among gay or bisexual men under 25.

“The Philippines has the fastest-growing H.I.V. infection rate in Asia, along with Afghanistan,” said Steven Kraus, director of Unaids, the United Nations H.I.V./AIDS agency, for Asia and the Pacific. “Right now, the Philippines runs the risk of letting the infection get out of control.”

A version of this article appeared in print on March 1, 2017, on Page A6 of the New York edition.

In Philippine Drug War, Death Rituals Substitute for Justice, National Geographic

Thousands of people have been killed in the violent anti-drug campaign launched by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. In this dispatch with photographer Adam Dean, we look at grief and the Filipino way of death as the poor communities most heavily targeted by the campaign struggle to cope at a time when the killings are committed with staggering impunity. 

A version of this story appeared in print in the June issue of National Geographic Magazine

Duterte's Free Birth Control Order is Latest Skirmish With Catholic Church, The New York Times

The Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, signed an executive order calling for the full and immediate enforcement of a 2012 law that would give six million women free government-distributed contraception and reproductive health services. 

A version of this article appeared in print on January 28, 2017, on Page A3 of the New York edition. 


On Patrol With Police as Philippines Battles Drugs, The New York Times

MANILA — Officer Kathlyn Domingo walked through a maze of narrow alleys, ducking under jumbles of electrical wires and hanging laundry to the open doorway of a flimsy two-story house made of found wood and rusty nails.

Tough, earnest and carrying a .45-caliber pistol with a pink grip, Officer Domingo, 30, patrols one of Manila’s most destitute slums, Santa Ana. Last month, I spent a night on patrol with her and some colleagues, to see, from their perspective, the Philippines' deadly crackdown on drug dealers and users.

More than 2,000 people have been killed by the police — and at least an additional 1,000 by vigilantes — since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in July and promised to rid the country of the drug scourge. Officer Domingo prefers to focus not on the violent nature of Mr. Duterte's campaign, but on the 750,000 people who have surrendered to the police and presumably given up a life of drugs and crime.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 22, 2016, on Page A4 of the New York edition. 

My interview with WNYC's The Takeaway about the article: http://www.wnyc.org/story/patrol-president-dutertes-war-against-drugs/

The Bar Girls of Angeles, KCRW's UnFictional and The GroundTruth Project

The typhoon came to be known as Yolanda. After it hit the Philippines in 2013, thousands of people died and millions were displaced. And, amid all that damage, the ripple effects of Yolanda's destruction transformed Filipino society in strange, unexpected ways – like the way it fed into the country's sex trade.

This week, stories of the aftermath of Yolanda, and the women who are selling their bodies to rebuild what the typhoon destroyed.

Winner of a 2017 regional Edward R. Murrow award for news documentary

Rodrigo Duterte, scorned abroad, remains popular in the Philippines, The New York Times

MANILA — Virgilio Mabag figures there is a good chance that his meth addict brother will become a casualty of President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly campaign against drugs in the Philippines.

“I told him to prepare himself to die,” Mr. Mabag said.

But Mr. Mabag, 54, who runs a neighborhood volunteer association in a sprawling Manila slum, still enthusiastically supports Mr. Duterte, saying that his policies will make the country safer and more orderly.

“I’m delighted,” said Mr. Mabag, who was wearing a Duterte T-shirt. “This is the only time I’ve seen a president like this, who says exactly what he wants to say.”

The rest of the world may have trouble understanding this, but Mr. Duterte still commands ardent support in the Philippines.

A version of this article appears in print on October 14, 2016 on Page A6 of the New York edition. 

When half a million drug users surrendered in the Philippines, authorities sent some of them to Zumba, PRI's The World

It didn't work. And some of the people who surrendered hoping for mercy and rehabilitation are turning up dead. 


In the Philippines urban planning needs to outrun the next big storm, Next City

For many of the world's nations, climate change is a political abstraction. The Philippines is not one of them. Eight of the top 10 cities most vulnerable to a warmer, wetter planet sit inside the Pacific Ocean archipelago; its seawaters are rising up to five times faster than the global average. 

Over time, 13.5 million Filipinos living along the island nation’s coastlines will have to migrate due to these rising seas and increasingly severe storms. Where these migrants end up, however, is often no safer than the place they came from.

One of the world's biggest fisheries is on the verge of collapse, National Geographic News

I was a contributing reporter for this story by writer Rachael Bale and photographer Adam Dean on overfishing in the South China Sea. 

I also contributed to the follow-up report on giant clam poaching: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/wildlife-giant-clam-poaching-south-china-sea-destruction/

A version of the article appeared in the March issue of National Geographic Magazine.

The war on drugs in the Philippines is leaving hundreds dead in the streets, BBC/PRI's The World

It's just past 10 p.m. on a Friday night in the Philippine capital of Manila, and a crowd is gathered around police tape. At the center is a man named Redentor Manalang, who is slumped over the back of his sidecar motorcycle, a gunshot wound to his head. The unknown assailants sped away on their own motorcycle before the police got there. They left a blood-splattered cardboard sign next to his body. It reads: "I'm a drug pusher. Don't copy me."

I spend a night on the crime scenes of Manila for The World

The candidate that's ok with rape and death squads may be the next president of the Philippines, VICE News

Duterte is a controversial figure who has risen in popularity by billing himself as an anti-establishment outsider who would upend traditional Philippine politics — an everyman who offends polite sensitivities, but is attuned to the frustrations of people deeply disaffected with politicians they view as more interested in enriching themselves than addressing the needs of Filipinos. That's helped propel him to 33 percent in polling released last week, ahead of Mar Roxas, supported by the current administration, with 22 percent.

It would be easy to compare him with another presidential candidate who has risen to the top of the polls by saying outrageous things, Donald Trump. But not even the American tycoon can match Duterte for the shock value of his statements. Trump, for example, never threatened to personally kill anybody. Duterte had no problem doing that.

During a rally on May 1, 2016, the mayor of Davao rambled affably into a microphone, dropping lines like, "They must stop fucking the Filipino."

Follow-up report on his win: Mayor jokes about rape, brags about death squads, gets elected president of the Philippines, VICE News

On his policies: The Philippines' death squad-loving new president has some surprisingly progressive plans, VICE News

Duterte's first month as president: The Philippines' new president Duterte promised bloodshed — and hundreds are now dead, VICE News

The Mastermind, The Atavist Magazine

I did additional reporting and research in the Philippines for Evan Ratliff's 7-part story, "The Mastermind" on The Atavist Magazine about Paul Le Roux, a brilliant programmer and vicious cartel boss who became a prized U.S. government asset. 

Le Roux, a South African national, operated his international crime syndicate for years out of the Philippines. I chased down case files, looked into assassinations, interviewed victims and tracked down policemen, witnesses and survivors of Le Roux's sweeping, crazier-than-fiction criminal activities. 

Sample breaking news two-way, Philippine elections, BBC/PRI's The World

I speak with host Marco Werman of The World about the Philippine elections and the tide of populist frustration that president-elect Rodrigo Duterte rode to power. 

I've also done live-to-air and recorded two-ways and phoners on various breaking news events with the BBC World Service (Outside Source, Newsday, World Update), NPR News (Here & Now, Weekend Edition, Morning Edition and All Things Considered), Deutsche Welle, CBC News radio and TV, Sky News and others.

Rediscovering Heritage: Manila, Monocle, Issue 92, Volume 10

Once a colonial city of art deco and beaux arts buildings, Manila was heavily bombed during the Second World War. Few buildings survived and much of what remained was torn down in favour of large scale developments as the city's population swelled to an estimated 12 million. Manila went from being the "Pearl of the Orient" to a traffic-clogged, infrastructure-poor city saddled with a protracted housing crisis. Yet the Philippine economy is growing at at a fast rate and Manila is in the midst of the property boom that goes along with it. More than 480,000 sq m of office space was built last year, including seven new commercial projects in the CBD in the fourth quarter alone. Residential properties are also on the rise. While most developments in the city tend to be towering skyscrapers a few developers have parked the bulldozers and are instead finding value in Manila's heritage buildings.

A Catholic monk in the Philippines defies his church to help people with HIV, PRI's The World

Paul Bongcaras is a Catholic monk of the Society of the Divine Word in Cebu City, Philippines. He spends his days living an ascetic life in a Catholic seminary. His nights, however, are spent among sinners. 

This story was funded by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

End a miserable marriage? Hire a hit man, Rappler

The Philippines is the only country in the world where divorce is illegal. For some people, this means the only way out is murder. I interview a professional hit man about when he's contracted to kill someone's husband or wife. This audio story was part of larger investigation into corruption in the Philippine annulment industry. In Filipino with English subtitles.

The family who opened a cafe for their autistic son, BBC World Service and BBC News

Twenty-one-year-old Jose Canoy is autistic, and his family decided that he would not do well in mainstream school. But they did not want him to stop learning. So they set up a special café in their home town of Manila in the Philippines, as a place for him and other young adults with autism to learn practical skills. Today, the Puzzle Café is run by Jose's older siblings. 

The audio story also aired as a "pick of the week", and a text version with photographs ran on the BBC site: http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-ouch-33705431

Original show is here, my report starts at minute 33'50": http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02wknjq

Love in the time of exile, Esquire Philippines

When the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos fell, my stepfather, heir to the military dynasty that protected Ferdinand and Imelda's power, escaped into exile with them. My mother — a journalist who saw her brother and husband jailed for political dissidence, her nephew shot through the chest at a protest rally, people she knew killed and tortured — cheered in the streets. Today, they're the sweetest couple you'll ever meet. It's a story about politics during a dramatic chapter in Philippine history, and finding love in the time of exile.

Generation 25, Strategies for Growth

At 24 years old, Kevin Cotongco has never left the Philippines. He’s never been on an aircraft and the furthest he’s ever travelled is an hour outside Manila. In the summer of 2015, however, it seems the world is coming to him.

After two years at a vocational school studying information technology, Cotongco logged onto a jobs site. He filled out a couple of applications and was immediately hired as a back-end developer, helping to build a CMS platform for a Korean firm. It was a process so quick and seamless that Cotongco doesn’t remember having the period of anxiety that plagues jobseekers of his age in Europe and the United States.

In fact, Cotongco doesn’t even remember the global economic crash of 2008, nor did he register the agonisingly slow recovery that followed. As a web developer in Manila, Cotongco entered the labour force during a period of sustained, robust economic growth that the Philippines hasn’t seen since the 1950s. 

Why contraception might be a way out of poverty for Filipino families, BBC/PRI's The World

The Philippines has of one the highest birth rates in Asia. That may start to change because the government recently won a long battle with the Catholic Church over birth control. Now the government will fund free contraception and sex education. It could make a huge difference for millions of people in the Philippines. Aurora Almendral recently spoke with one woman in Manila about what it may mean for her family. 

More stories on PRI's The World

Is the Catholic Church's influence in the Philippines fading? BBC News

The Catholic Church plays a powerful role in the Philippines, but last month it lost a significant battle in its bid to prevent a government-backed family planning programme. Aurora Almendral asks if the church is losing its grip on the islands. 

More stories on BBC News and BBC World Service

Could the Philippines be Asia's next tech tiger? BBC News

The Philippines may have the fastest-growing economy in South East Asia, but it also has the slowest internet in the region. Despite this, some think they may have spotted an opportunity that could turn the country into Asia's new tech tiger. Aurora Almendral met some of the true believers.

Never abandon ship, NPR's Snap Judgment

When Captain Randy Lucero set out on the helm of a huge cargo ship, he thought the journey would be difficult. But it's the destination that proved to be hell on earth. 

I went to Tacloban soon after Typhoon Yolanda hit, VICE

Shev was the only who hadn’t heard from her family. The last time she heard from them was at 6 AM on the day of the typhoon, when her mom texted to say they were fine. That was four days ago, before media started reporting death tolls at 10,000 and she caught a glimpse of her house on some aerial footage. Nothing was left except the cement floor. Shev didn’t look out the window. She pulled a blanket over her head and put her face in her hands.

The next morning, the first thing Shev said to me when we woke up in Tacloban was that she’s not ready. After seeing how bad things were, she’s not ready to go to her neighborhood and try to find her family. But when we got into the truck to go to San Jose, her part of the city, and the part that was the most destroyed, she was right there with us.

We all wore surgical masks to block out the stench of death. It’s been six days since the storm hit and there were a lot of dead bodies baking in the sun. They’re lying on the side of the road, black and bloated with their fingers liquefying. People have draped sheets on them to cover up their faces, but there’s no one to collect them. The smell was sickening. I walked by at least a hundred dead bodies that day. I can still smell them, on my clothes and in my mask. Another journalist told me it’s a phantom scent. My mind was playing tricks on me. Of the team I’m with, I’m the only one who was here early enough to see so many of the dead, and I would complain about the stench, even when no one else could smell it. I was afraid to go anywhere without my mask. I think about their corpses every night before I go to sleep.

One year later, super typhoon's damage lingers, NPR News

A year ago, a super typhoon tore through the Philippines. It was the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history — more than 6000 people died, 4.1 million were displaced. One of the hardest hit places was the city of Tacloban. Reporter Aurora Almendral went back to Tacloban to see how the city is recovering. 

Turning a million cubic yards of post-typhoon trash into jobs, NPR News

Now for a story about a man who some call the disaster garbage man. But he prefers waste management specialist. After a major natural disaster Tim Walsh is on the scene. He's with United Nations Development Program and he has seen it all — from the tsunami in Indonesia to the typhoon in the Philippines. What he tries to do in these devastated areas is to create jobs out of the rubble. Aurora Almendral reports from the Philippines. 

An American and his dog help bring closure to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, PRI's The World and BBC World Service

It's a horrifying thought, but nearly four months after Typhoon Haiyan hit in the Philippines the bodies of the dead are still turning up nearly every day. It's hard to imagine what that's like but one thing is for sure, it makes it really hard for people to put the storm behind them. Reporter Aurora Almendral joins them on a search.

Making them care: How to sell an international story to an American audience, The Freelancer

On September 9, 2013, Muslim rebels stormed into Zamboanga, a large, mostly Christian city in the southern tip of the Philippines. The rebels laid siege to the historic downtown, the commercial and cultural heart of the city, and took hundreds of men, women and children hostage. The Philippine military aggressively responded by sending in armed troops to the city.

As one of the few American freelancers in the Philippines, I thought it was my duty to get down there and work. I got myself onto a C-130 military cargo plane and flew from Manila to Zamboanga, crowded into the hull with 150 soldiers leaning into their rifles. When we landed, I hitched a ride in the back of a rumbling military truck and was dropped off at the hotel where some local journalists were waiting in the lobby.

“We’re going to the frontline tomorrow morning. Want to come?”

I went to Zamboanga with the idea of covering the refugee situation, and I did not own a flak jacket or a helmet. “Neither do we,” one reporter said. So I went.

This was my first war reporting experience, and it was also my most unsellable story.

The woman who brought water then jobs to a Manila slum, CityLab

"I told her, our lives are in more danger because our water isn't safe." Herrera talked about the expensive water station, the itchy well water, the sick children. "I told her everything I was angry about," she recalls.

Caught off guard and publicly embarrassed, the woman from the water company arranged to speak with Herrera after the conference. Three days later, a water engineer showed up in Farola. After decades of waiting, the slum was finally getting water.

A history lesson on the Philippines, stuffed inside a Christmas chicken, NPR's The Salt

Rellenong manok is a deboned chicken or capon, filled with a jumble of ingredients that include some combination of minced pork, Edam cheese, chorizo, raisins, pine nuts, canned Vienna sausages, olives, ham, Oxford sausage, hard boiled eggs and even Spam.

If it seems hard to pin down how this dish got these fillings, it's because of the complexity of the Philippine culture itself. The list of ingredients reads like a map, or a history lesson, of the country's cultural influences.

From the bowels of a beast, Narratively

Goad (go-add) brings out a basket of civet droppings that could fetch a couple thousand dollars in the open market, and picks up a clump.

“A small civet shat this out,” Goad says. He can tell by the size of the poop.

He picks up another. “This is from early in the season.” There are all kinds of seeds in it, a few coffee beans and some stuff that looks like it came from a passion fruit. “These are the seeds from the fruit that the civet ate on its way to the coffee plantation.”

Another clump is furry. “This is the shit that comes out when they’ve just eaten a wild chicken.”

He picks up a loose bean and licks it. “That’s how you know if it’s real civet coffee or not.” It’s not the taste of excrement he’s looking for. Normal pulping, and even the sucking of bats, will leave a thin layer of mucilage on the surface of a coffee bean. When wet, the surface of the bean becomes slippery. A previously digested bean is rough. All the sweetness has been scraped off by the civets’ teeth, tongue, stomach acids and intestines.

"Just making a living": Cockfighting a way of life in the Philippines, NBC News

CABUYAO, Laguna, Philippines — In the Philippines, sabong — cockfighting — is a way of life. 

On a recent Sunday in the provincial city of Cabuyao, in the middle of an old arena painted turquoise and surrounded by ascending rows of wooden benches rubbed smooth from years of use, are two men, each cradling a rooster.

A buzzer sounds, and the roosters are released. They head straight for each other. There’s a tussle of red wings and feathers, and suddenly, one of the roosters starts to hobble. The white one veers away and stumbles to the ground. The referee picks up both roosters by the scruffs of their necks to see if there’s still any fight left in them. There is. Another flurry of feathers, and the white one — the one that looked dead on its feet seconds ago — deals a fatal kick to the red rooster. The fight is over after 24 seconds.

Bat hunting in the Philippines, NBC News

As he inches closer to the roost, a few bats are startled awake, launching themselves into the air with a fleshy flap of wings and a high-pitched screech halfway between a chirp and scream. The bats fly like drunken birds, flashing their webbed silhouettes against patches of noontime sky.

Most of the bats keep dozing. They’re fruit bats about the size of a child’s fist with taupe fur as soft as a rabbit’s. Carbonel grabs a couple with his bare hands. He doesn’t flinch when they bite and draw blood. “They can’t hurt you,” he says and sticks them in his pocket. With his spear, he reaches up and pierces a few more, stacking them up like chunks of meat on a kebab.

Maggi: The local seasoning from everywhereBBC/PRI's The World

When it comes to home cooking, immigrants from countries as far-flung as Nigeria, the Philippines and Poland share a common ingredient. They all share a condiment called Maggi seasoning and they all think it belongs to them. Aurora Almendral reports on the worldwide appeal of Maggi. 

Immigrant farmworkers, the hidden part of New York's local food movement, WNYC

Thanksgiving is the ultimate harvest holiday and no one knows that better than the tens of thousands of farmworkers who grow and harvest New York's produce. The reality of agriculture is that a hefty percentage of the people who plant and harvest New York's local food are immigrant workers, many of whom put themselves in danger to cross the border to work the land.