Some difficulty with Patricia Evangelista’s ‘Some People Need Killing’

Some difficulty with Patricia Evangelista’s ‘Some People Need Killing’
Family members of the victims of Duterte's "war on drugs" hold on to their copies of Patricia Evangelista's book. —PHOTOS BY RAFFY LERMA

More than two months have passed, and I still catch myself thinking of Patricia Evangelista’s book launch at Aldaba Recital Hall at the University of the Philippines Diliman. The event was dubbed as her homecoming, Evangelista being an alumnus of UP’s Department of Speech Communication and Theater Arts. 

She and her book, “Some People Need Killing: A Memoir of Murder in My Country” (published by Random House), were coming home as heroes after David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, described it as a “journalistic masterpiece,” after it was recognized by The New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2023, after it was longlisted at the inaugural Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction, and after it was named by former US president Barack Obama in his annual favorite books list. A few weeks after the event, it would march on to win the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. 

Evangelista reads from her book during an event organized by Resbak in Payatas, Quezon City, where 68 people were killed during the anti-drug war.

Evangelista took the stage that morning with a dazzling glow about her, like an apparition, though looking tough in her black rugged boots and black jeans, and with the sleeves of her no-frills, loose white T-shirt rolled up. Prior to the event, my companions and I were briefed on the heightened security the organizers were employing, especially with the book and its subject garnering massive attention here and mostly abroad. I was attending as secretary-general of the Human Rights and People Empowerment Center, one of two nongovernment organizations which Evangelista and Fully Booked had partnered with for #ItuloyAngKwento, a book-sharing program she was launching that day. 

The program was intended for “Some People Need Killing” to gain a broader readership—people that, in her own words, “the book might not reach.”


Evangelista began with a 20-minute performance that was part-declamation, part-rationale and, in the final few minutes, part-reading from her book, which disarmed anyone who went to the launch thinking that it would be a harmless or intimate occasion. 

Araullo and Evangelista
The author is interviewed by broadcast journalist Atom Araullo during the book launch at the University of the Philippines Diliman. —PHOTO BY CATHERINE MANALO/HRPEC

Broadcast journalist Atom Araullo, also a UP alumnus, interviewed her afterwards; she responded to his questions with scathing clarity, comedic timing, and a ferocity that was on brand with the book’s red and black cover and in sync with its pointed and gripping sentences. It was a treat for the audience—a real unleashing of a veteran trauma journalist who was taken and broken by covering, researching on, and writing about the years of Rodrigo Duterte’s scornful tyranny.

Meeting with community members of Payatas at the Ina ng Lupang Pangako Parish —PHOTOS BY RAFFY LERMA

Three days earlier in Payatas, Quezon City, where at least 68 were killed in the first seven months of Duterte’s “war on drugs,” Evangelista also read from her book. It was a closed-door event at the Ina ng Lupang Pangako Parish—not part of the launch, nor a book talk—organized with Resbak, an alliance of artists and media practitioners vehemently opposed to Duterte’s “war.” It was dubbed “Balik-tanawan, Balik-damayan,” and her audience was composed of family members of the “war” victims. I wondered: How must it feel like to be a victim of Duterte’s gory “war,” and to be written about, your story read a hundred thousand times by people you don’t know, in a language you might not wield as skillfully as the author?

A reader gets Evangelista’s autograph for her book.

This question often came up, phrased in many ways, in our NGO’s orientations for community leaders to whom we were giving copies of the book. Often, they asked if the book had been translated into Filipino. We would then lead them to a short clip posted by Rappler in which Evangelista reads a portion of her book at “Balik-tanawan,” translated by Mikael de Lara Co. 

The book and the signature

But then, the community leaders would narrate how Duterte’s “war on drugs” was experienced so differently by their members. To many, Duterte’s “war” brought them to a consciousness of human rights being negotiable and not inalienable, especially when it meant attaining “peace” in their community. And for many community leaders, their worry was that the book, in 448 pages of English, would not be able to break that wall.


Evangelista in Payatas
Meet-and-greet in Payatas

Without a doubt, “Some People Need Killing” is an important book and succeeds in many ways. For starters, it does what our own Department of Justice could hardly accomplish, which is to document and, at the very least, recognize that there was something horribly wrong during those six years under Duterte. 

The book is also masterful in its craft as a work of creative nonfiction, especially in how it coherently formulates the truths which the Duterte administration deliberately masked and muddled. Evangelista starts from the personal, draws from her own family’s history, contextualizes Duterte’s rise to power, and builds a bigger world outside that grows ever harsher as it comes closer to the margins and leaps off a cliff to his hell on earth, where every character has blood on their hands or is dead. As a bonus, Evangelista inserts lessons in vocabulary, grammar, and translation, perhaps to show how much of Duterte’s “war” required a stubborn and radical wordsmithing to be so easily acceptable to many.

I was in the middle of my second read of the book on the morning of Evangelista’s launch, and I was still trying to wrap my head around the question of how this would be received by the people most affected by the “war.” In the book, she herself finds that she is at odds with her being Filipino, a people whom she witnessed cheering as the bodies piled up. At the same time, she sees a truer world most clearly when she is on the ground, with those whom Duterte cannibalized to maintain power. 


The tricky part is that, caught in the contradiction of locating herself and writing the book in crystalline English, Evangelista can be construed as blaming Duterte’s rise to power and his “war” on the masses, who were at its core and—many times over—its victims. But of course, this cannot be farther from the truth.

At the launch’s Q&A, there were questions on language and how Evangelista’s subjects received the book. Evangelista responded with an anecdote about a woman who wanted her to sign a copy of the book, and when she asked to whom she would dedicate it, mentioned the names of her husband and son who had been killed in the “war” and the importance of their names being there because they fought in the “war”:   

“Nakaupo ako sa lamesa, may lumapit sa akin na babae. Sabi niya, ‘Paki pirmahan ‘yung libro ko.’ Sabi ko, ‘Sure, kanino ko i-dedicate?’ Binigay niya dalawang pangalan, mag-ama. Sabi ko, ‘Sino po ‘to?’ Asawa at anak niya, namatay ‘nung ‘gyera.’ Sabi ko, ‘Ba’t po i-dedicate sa kanila?’ Sabi niya, ‘Yung kaso nila ‘yung unang lumabas. So, importante na ‘yung pangalan nila andyan, kasi lumaban din sila.’”

The case of Luis and Gabriel Lois Bonifacio, father and son, was decided just last June 18. Four Caloocan police officers were found guilty of homicide in a buy-bust operation in September 2016, only three months into Duterte’s presidency. Evangelista did not name her in the Q&A, but I believe it was Mary Ann Bonifacio, wife of Luis, who had asked that her copy of the book be signed.

This realization comes belatedly to me. Often, we forget that in Social Weather Stations’ exit polls in 2016, almost half of class ABC (49% of whom are college graduates), voted Duterte for president. The discomfort comes not so much that this book would not reach classes D and E (or those who experienced the worst in Duterte’s “war on drugs”) as from knowing that we, college graduates in the middle class and above, were unable to do much to stop the killings, nor are we, today, working towards a reckoning. 

DLS Pineda is a lecturer at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

Read more: Sara Duterte’s breakaway

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.