Project description

As President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal "war on drugs" entered 2017, most foreign journalists left even as the carnage continued. Clare Baldwin and Andrew RC Marshall stayed. They built on their previous year’s stand-out coverage with a series of brave, innovative investigations that exposed the killing machine responsible for thousands of deaths: the Philippine police.
Baldwin and Marshall used their mix of data analysis and shoe-leather reporting to identify a deadly police unit from Duterte’s hometown – the "Davao Boys." The report provided the only accounting of the individual killers on the frontlines of Duterte’s war. The reporters spent months tracing the unit’s lethal path through northern Metro Manila. Baldwin asked Charles Molinos, a Davao Boy present at 56 killings, why he had been chosen for the job. "Special kill skills," he replied.

What makes this project innovative?

Reuters spent four months retracing the Davao Boys’ deadly path through Quezon City, speaking to scores of police officers and bereaved families and analyzing thousands of police crime reports covering the first year of the drug war. These reports don’t specify which officers pulled the trigger but usually name officers who took part in an operation. After arriving in Quezon City, the Davao Boys were quickly involved in dozens of kills in what police described as legitimate drug busts, but relatives, human rights monitors and lawyers say were often executions.
What emerges is an intimate portrait of how a secretive anti-drug unit mobilized and killed - then vanished to await new orders. The story of the Davao Boys also highlights a larger dynamic: Many of the drug war’s key police officers hail from or served in President Duterte’s hometown, where the campaign’s brutal methods originated during his time as mayor.
The Reuters team faced great personal risk. Baldwin was greeted at one station by homicide detectives who shouted and lifted their shirts to display their guns. A Reuters stringer moved to a safe location after men in black began monitoring his home. Undaunted, our reporters returned again and again to police stations and national headquarters to prize out incriminating data and question senior officers. To protect themselves, Baldwin and Marshall often worked as a team and routinely changed hotels and cars to foil potential surveillance.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The boys from Davao and the broader Reuters investigations of Duterte's war on drugs are driving change. The Inquirer, one of the country's leading newspapers, gave them front-page splashes and ran them in full. Spurred on by Reuters' data-driven stories, Philippine journalists and university professors are building their own database of drug-war killings.

Source and methodology

Reuters spent four months retracing the Davao Boys’ deadly path through Quezon City, speaking to scores of police officers and bereaved families and analyzing thousands of police crime reports covering the first year of the drug war.

Technologies Used

We built our own database from paper records and analyzed them in SQL Server.

Project members

Clare Baldwin, Andrew R.C. Marshall, Reade Levinson, Jin Wu, Simon Scarr and Weiyi Cai

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