Michael Desvarro, a cigarette vendor, is also killed by four men on motorcycles along A. Bonifacio Ave., Brgy. Hagdan Bato Libis, Mandaluyong.

SEASON OF FEAR: No silent nights in war on drugs

SEASON OF FEAR: No silent nights in war on drugs

By Kristine Angeli Sabillo

The stench of decaying food and human waste jolts us as we search for our first crime scene in the back alleys of Quiapo in Manila. It is 10:25 p.m. on Dec. 21.

From Palanca bridge, we make our way down a narrow street called Muelle de la Quinta along the putrid Estero de San Miguel. The place reeks of urine, but we ignore it and continue to walk, keeping an eye out for blood on the road.

The bodies have already been picked up by the undertaker, sources say, but we want to get video footage of where the supposed gunfight happened.

It’s on the other side of the estero, a man tells us. We go back up the bridge and then down again on the other side, into a dimly lit alley.

We turn our camera lights on and we see the blood immediately—puddles of dark red beside dried yellow leaves.

Two men were killed here earlier in the evening after an “encounter” with policemen who had just finished conducting antidrug visits in the neighborhood.

It has been more than an hour since we began our graveyard shift and left the busy streets of Makati City, where shoppers and office workers bask under the bright lights and glitter of Christmas decorations, seemingly oblivious to the spate of killings that has hit poor neighborhoods in the metropolis.

It’s the winter solstice and this night is the longest of the year, just a few days before Christmas.

Since President Duterte assumed office on June 30, more than 6,000 people have been killed—more than 2,000 shot dead in police operations and the rest murdered by unknown assailants. Continue reading

A sense of Wanda

For days, I contemplated writing about the death of Wendell Gumban, a student leader I met when I was still in UP. A friend suggested that I connect it to the peace talks. After interviewing his parents and listening to the speeches of his friends, I knew that I just had to write about his life.

A sense of Wanda

By Kristine Angeli Sabillo

When everyone was asleep, Wendell walked to the waterfall. He lay down his weapon, shed all his clothes, and took a dip in the rock pool.

He would later tell a friend a secret—that sometimes he would swim naked at night, float on his back and stare at the dark sky, “mesmerized by the light of the moon.”

Could he have imagined, while he was still living in Manila as a university graduate, that he would end up living deep in the rainforests of southern Mindanao? Living—and dying? On July 23, 2016, Wendell Gumban died in a firefight with the military; he was 30.

Communing with nature was only one part of Wendell’s life in the countryside. Most of his time was spent hiking to far-flung barrios of lumad, the indigenous people of Mindanao, and teaching them how to plant rice and vegetables, how to read and write.

The middle child of a middle-class couple, the University of the Philippines graduate and Philippine Collegian managing editor was invariably described by friends and acquaintances as intelligent, hardworking, brilliant.

To his parents, he was Weng, simple and “kind but (inconceivably) brave.”

To his friends, he was Wanda or Shala, the student leader who defied stereotypes.

To the lumad, he was Ka Waquin, who left the comforts of the city to live with them. Bespectacled, lanky, and fair-skinned, he was not your typical tibak (activist).

He was Weng, Wanda, Waquin. UP graduate. Gay. New People’s Army rebel. Continue reading

Intense: Typhoons getting fiercer

INTENSE: Typhoons getting fiercer

By Kristine Angeli Sabillo

Tears fall from the eyes of Anelyn and Nalvin Abdulsali as they recall events from three years ago. “Pablo” was supposed to be just another storm.

At that time, the brother and sister were looking after boats moored in Cabugao Island, a picturesque feature in Boston town, Davao Oriental. The day before, their father had already asked for provisions and relief goods from the local government in preparation for the typhoon (international name Bopha), which was expected to make landfall farther north. Authorities had tried to convince him to stay in town with his relatives, but he insisted that he and his family seek shelter in the mountainous part of the island.

They were cooking rice, Anelyn says, when the typhoon’s strong winds hit land. Before they could run for higher ground, large waves pummelled the island and pulled them toward the water. Continue reading

The Big One could kill 34,000

When my editor assigned me this piece, he told me to “scare the bejesus out of everyone” like that great piece of writing from the New Yorker. I got in touch with several people who recalled their 1990 Luzon earthquake experience. Then I went over the very detailed study projecting the damage of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Metro Manila. The aim was to encourage Filipinos to take earthquake drills and disaster risk reduction more seriously. 


The Big One could kill 34,000

By Kristine Angeli Sabillo

When a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Baguio on July 16, 1990, five-year-old Klaridelle Reyes was sleeping on a couch. She woke up to a cacophony of voices and loud footsteps. She could hear people shouting, running to safety.

Kyle Yan, a 16-year-old student at Saint Louis University, was also napping on that cold afternoon when the quake struck. He awoke in the commotion and then waded through piles of books and personal belongings that had fallen to the floor during the first few seconds of the quake.

Outside, buildings were starting to crumble, landslides blocked roads and mines collapsed on hapless workers.

By the time the two of them reached the streets, they were homeless.

Continue reading

Philippine poverty after five years on Aquino’s watch

Most of my teenage life was spent under the administration of Arroyo who was in power for 9 years. By the time I was working, it was Aquino’s turn to distance himself from the poor performance of the previous administration. But what really has happened to the country, especially the poor during his watch? Below is my contribution to Inquirer.net’s special report for the President’s 6th and final State of the Nation Address.


Philippine poverty after five years on Aquino’s watch

BY Kristine Angeli Sabillo

WHEN President Benigno Aquino III officially kicked off his presidential campaign in 2010, his main slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (If there are no corrupt officials, there would be no poor people)” was unveiled.

While his earlier advertisements banked on his family’s legacy — his father, the late Ninoy Aquino Jr.’s fight against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and, his mother, Corazon Aquino’s presidency, which was brought about by the success of People Power and the restoration of democracy — “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” showcased his own promise of a reform-oriented government.

Before his mother’s death in 2009, the then Senator Aquino did not have plans to run for higher office. But the large turnout at the elder Aquino’s funeral catapulted him to the forefront of the presidential campaign.

Continue reading