Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte came into office June 30 with a stern promise to drug dealers: “These sons of whores are destroying our children. I warn you, don’t go into that, even if you’re a policeman, because I will really kill you.” In less than three months of the drug war, some estimates placed the number of dead at 3,200, killed by police and vigilantes.

My fixer and I are at Manila’s police headquarters on United Nations Avenue when the tip comes in around 2:40 a.m. It’s a “drug-related” homicide, the cop says. We jump in the van and drive off. Our driver, Dong, has his hazards on, and we weave between trucks and taxis, running reds and narrowly avoiding traffic. Dong crosses himself and clutches the rosary beads swaying from his rear-view mirror.

Thirty minutes later we’re there, in a small, maze-like barangay (ward) in Caloocan, next to a main-road shopping mall. The van searches through low-lit alleys until we reach a cop car whose red-and-blue lights are flashing. Some men wave us through and there he is, lying still, face sideways, covered in blood and shot around half a dozen times.

He is heavy-set and dressed only in shorts and sandals. His hair is matted. His blood streams toward us. A cock crows and clothing sways from washing lines in the breezeless air, which is hot and wet. A girl, dressed in pink and cut-off jeans shorts, cries beside me. “Noy,” she says.

Two grieving women are sitting a few feet away. They are crying. There are cameras in their faces. Local news teams plead with them to speak. One tries to leave. A cameraman grabs her arm. She stomps her feet like a distressed child and runs into the house beside the body, which is being taken away on a gurney. No witnesses have been interviewed, no questions asked. The house’s windows are grated and its roof is corrugated. A dog barks and a baby screams.

An older woman throws buckets of water at the blood, which is spattered over concrete steps. He must have stumbled down them before he died. The blood runs down the alley into a trough. Then the woman who stomped her feet, who is tall and skinny with long, dyed black-and-blonde hair, reemerges and stoops to brush it toward us with a coconut broomstick. She is silent. Ten cameras are still on her. The stream of blood becomes a long, wide river. Cameramen begin to walk on it to get a better shot.

After around five minutes she washes the last of the blood away. Now it just looks like it rained. The journalists up and leave and she looks at them blankly, realizing they got what they came for. She just stands there, and with the sweeping finished, all I can hear is the sound of her quietly sniffing. She wipes away more tears. It has been half an hour since we showed up.

Then the fixer tells me: There are two more bodies.

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Sean Williams
Sean Williams is a Berlin-based freelance writer and journalist. His work has appeared at newyorker.com, The New Republic, The Economist, Esquire and many others.