By Zack Sibeck and James Towney
Above, families mourn the victims of the latest drug war in the Philippines. Photo by Getty Images.
Russian Television Correspondent Marina Kosareva is guided through a sweltering, dank alley in a Manila slum and then into a windowless basement room that is so dark, she can just barely see the outline of a masked gunman sitting across from her. Some call him a vigilante. Others say he is a killer. She was there to interview him for her documentary on the Philippines drug war.
“There was a point during the interview that the guy moved his gun from one pocket to another,” Kosareva said. “We think he did that to show us that he was for real.”
Kosareva arrived at the killer’s house with only her cameraman and translator.
“We did this all without security,” she said. “We were in the red-light district, thinking that we might be shot here because no one knew where we were.”
Kosareva spoke to the War Reporting class about her six-week trip to the Philippines last year to cover the country’s drug war.
The government of newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte is cracking down on drug addicts and dealers. Almost four thousand people have been killed for dealing drugs since Duterte was elected last June. The drug problem is with shabu, which is similar to meth and easy to make. Families of the victims blame vigilantes for the killings, who they say are either plain-clothed police officers or others paid by the government. The gruesome deaths occur mostly at night with the bodies left in the streets and the victim’s faces wrapped in duct tape with signs pinned to the body condemning drug use. Some people now turn themselves in and go to prison rather than risk being killed.
“The situation in the rehab and detention facilities is terrible,” she said. “They’re like sardines in there. They don’t know who to trust. Should they speak and give evidence or is it better for them to just be there behind bars?”
Kosareva interviewed President Duterte about the alleged corruption in the police force and mass vigilante killings.
“I didn’t want to hear only one side of the story,” she said. “We interviewed the president, and then 12 hours later, we interviewed the killer.”
“They needed us because we’re talented killers,” the unnamed gunman told Kosareva. “I’m stuck in the whole thing, tied hand and foot. I like being this kind of man. I can’t live without it now.”
Kosareva never imagined herself to be in such a dangerous place. She studied acting in Hollywood and moved back to her homeland of Russia where she became a television reporter and personality.
“I didn’t study journalism, I ended up in this profession completely by accident,” she said. “I never though about being a journalist let alone a war correspondent. I’m a coward. But some how I keep finding myself in these situations.”
Kosareva says she will return to the Philippines to work on another story about mining. Her most recent documentary is Project Duterte: Law enforcement or mass terror? The Philippines’ war on drugs.