In Metro Manila, the poor are treated the same way as the heaps of rubbish they're forced to share space with, discarded and strewn around the edges of the metropolis. The shanties they manage to cobble together are scorned at as eyesores, not just by the rich but even by the barely middle class, who have deluded themselves into thinking that the difference between them and the downtrodden is hard work and strong moral values, not good fortune.
Five-year-old Francis, described by his mother Elizabeth as a "happy little boy," lived among the unwanted in a single-room dwelling that he shared with his parents and two sisters. His father, Domingo, was a pedicab driver. Every night, they all slept on mats in their windowless room, bodies tangled in sticky, sweaty discomfort.
Like other impoverished Filipinos, Domingo worked with no guaranteed income, no contracts and no holidays. When you're poor, your body is your only tool, a thing to subject to the grind so you and your family can have something to eat at the end of each day. Domingo had to pedal his trike on the crowded, punishingly hot streets from early morning until late at night to cover the daily lease on the pedicab and have some extra money to take home.
This backbreaking work would have been hard enough for the healthy and well-fed; imagine how much harder it is for the undernourished and constantly weary. But when you're poor, you have no choice but to keep toiling. Domingo, like other pedicab drivers he knew, would occasionally take shabu (methamphetamine). Taking the drug meant that his body could be temporarily oblivious to pain and fatigue, a machine he could push to the very limits without needing any sleep for a couple of days.
Domingo's name eventually turned up on the village captain's watch list, and their dingy home was visited by the cops who gave him a warning. Domingo volunteered to go to the police station and admit his drug use, as well as promise not to touch shabu again. He kept his promise and believed that the president he and his family supported would keep his to make the country safe and peaceful.
It was ten days before Christmas in 2016, a time you would have thought would be filled with goodwill, when cops and vigilantes would perhaps take a break from the killings. But the so-called drug war is a business where the commodities are the dead bodies of the poor, and there's nothing like the Christmas season to motivate the traders to earn more.
A knock on the windowless wall at dawn, followed by two gunshots. In the aftermath, Domingo lay lifeless on the floor, next to his screaming daughters and heavily pregnant wife. Imagine Elizabeth's horror when she noticed that her little son, who always slept against the wall, wasn't moving either, and that there was blood pooling around his head.
Domingo's brother rushed Francis to the hospital, pedaling away on his own rented pedicab, but it was too late.
To their killers, Domingo and Francis were just another pair of bodies to target and get paid for. To their family, they were the world, and their murder made the future even bleaker, without any possibility of hope.
Elizabeth gave birth to a boy weeks later. She named him Franc Dominic.