February 2023


Manila’s countless dead

By Margaret Simons
Rosita Montoya leans against her front doorframe

Rosita Montoya inside her home in Tondo. Photograph by Dave Tacon

New president Ferdinand Marcos Jr promised a more compassionate approach to the Philippines’ war on drugs, but the shadow of Rodrigo Duterte remains

Before he was gunned down, Ronnie Montoya tried to build a house. Like most of the people in the Manila suburb of Tondo, he had no money.

The family had a shed – a tiny foothold in the fetid labyrinth of the slums. With materials scrounged from building sites and rubbish dumps, he added two storeys – the stairways between them crooked and treacherous, composed of a dozen different kinds of scrap timber. The ceilings were so low that the occupants had to sit or lie down.

Fifteen people now live in the house that Ronnie built. During the day, the mattresses are leant against the walls, which are made of packaging foam and plywood. The floors rise and fall underfoot. On the second storey there is a shrine to Ronnie and his brother, Jay-ar. Two electric candles stand in front of a mass-produced picture of Christ at the Last Supper. The brothers were killed around May 30, 2022, three weeks after the new Philippines president, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, was elected on a platform that included a more compassionate approach to the “war on drugs” started by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

The Montoya brothers were two of the last deaths under the Duterte regime, before Marcos was sworn in at the end of June. But six months later, Ronnie and Jay-ar’s sister Rosita is still looking for justice. She spreads the documents relating to her brothers’ death over the uneven floor – affidavits, photos and pleas for help. There was no autopsy, and no proper investigation. “We are hoping, even if it is a long time, we want justice for our brothers,” she says. This is why she is speaking out, despite the fact that it is dangerous to do so.

Ronnie and Jay-ar went missing on May 28 after leaving home to help a friend with a broken car. Two days followed in which the family frantically searched for them. On May 30, the police claimed to have killed two men in a “buy-bust” operation, in which undercover police buy drugs and then move in for an arrest. Routinely, in the police narrative, the suspects are armed and decide to shoot it out, meaning the police kill them in self-defence.

In the case of Ronnie and Jay-ar, it was claimed they had been carrying 68 million pesos ($1.7 million) worth of drugs. It was a story implausible in every particular. When the brothers’ bodies arrived at the morgue, they had different clothes to the ones they wore when they left home. There were no bullet holes in the fabric to match their injuries. The morgue workers told the family the men had been dead for at least two days. Ronnie had a black eye.

Today, the Montoyas believe Ronnie and Jay-ar were used as “stand-ins” for real drug dealers who paid off the police. The family thinks they were killed around the time they disappeared, and the shootout was staged to cover the murder.

But the Montoyas are not only helpless, they are also at risk. There are plenty of stories, across Manila and beyond, of police offering payouts for silence from the families of victims, or on the other hand, making threats.

As Marcos was sworn in last June, Rosita got a Facebook message from a stranger telling her to make a call. The man on the other end of the line said he was a police officer and that a bag of money had been found with Ronnie, and it could not be used as evidence. She could have it if she wanted. Rosita understood that she was being offered a bribe to keep silent. She refused the money, and has been speaking ever since to anyone who will listen. That makes her one of very few.

Ronnie and Jay-ar lived in the kind of poverty that is, in itself, a breach of human rights – a throttling of all aspiration, self-determination and opportunity. It is hard to convey the nature of the Philippines’ slums. Tondo is one of the worst, but far from unique. People live in narrow laneways sometimes too small for a large person to fit without walking sideways. The smells are of sewage and the sour-milk scent of crowded humanity. Lives are lived in obscurity. Death comes easily.

As we – myself, photographer Dave Tacon and our interpreter (who does not want to be identified due to the risks) – leave the Montoyas’ home, squeezing past other cobbled-together dwellings to get back to the main street, we are warned. There are informants everywhere. The police have been told of our visit.

Aerial view of Tondo slums, Manila

Six years ago, following the election of Rodrigo Duterte as president, the war on drugs began. Duterte had promised to “slaughter” drug dealers and addicts, and he incentivised the police to deliver. The world’s media flocked to Manila and engaged in a nightly gruesome chase: following the police from killing to killing, and shouldering their way through the slum shanties with their flashlights and cameras to record the corpses before they were cleaned up.

At the peak of the killings, in 2016 and 2017, there were up to a dozen corpses across Manila each night, and more in the provinces. People woke to find bodies in the street, sometimes bound with packaging tape or with cardboard signs proclaiming them to be drug pushers. Routinely, the police said the victims had fought back, even when scars on their wrists showed they that had been handcuffed with cable ties.

It is traditional in the Philippines to hold a wake with an open coffin for up to a week. In Tondo there is usually no room for the ceremony in people’s homes, so by late 2016 the main streets were lined with makeshift shelters – some constructed with the remnant plastic banners of political candidates. In each there was an open coffin, the corpse dressed and made up to hide the manner of their deaths.

Surrounding the shelters were the sellers of pagpag (leftovers from fast-food outlets, washed, mashed up and fried) and the shops that buy recyclables from the “rubbish pickers”, the poorest of the poor.

The Philippines is a democracy. The poor vote. And at the last election they voted overwhelmingly for Marcos, who received almost double the votes of the closest contender. Rosita Montoya voted for him. So, she believes, did Ronnie and Jay-ar. They thought he cared about the poor. That is what he said.

The new President Marcos is the son of the dictator of the same name who was head of state for 20 years until he was forced out in the “people power” revolution of 1986, after years of martial law, human rights abuses and rampant corruption. Marcos Jr came to power promising a continuation of the war on drugs, but with a change in focus to catching “bigger fish” and emphasising rehabilitation for drug users. This was meant to include an emphasis on eliminating the root cause of the Philippines’ undoubtedly rampant drug problem: poverty. In a news release to mark his first 100 days in office, Marcos claimed the drug war was now “less bloody, more holistic”.

But what is the reality? After two weeks among the people of Manila’s slums, tapping into the networks that are trying to keep track of these obscure deaths, a picture emerges. The deaths continue, but the operation has gone underground. Many killings go unreported. Increasingly, the media reports what the police tell them, uncritically. And there is evidence that, six years after the so-called war began, the situation has slid out of the control of government and become part of a miasma of profit, corruption and contract killing.

There is consensus among observers that there are far fewer deaths these days than at the height in 2016 and 2017. But the best available statistics suggest that there has been no change between the latter days of the Duterte regime and that of Marcos. And the best available statistics are certainly underestimates. Sometimes a corpse is found in the street or in the park or floating in Manila Bay. Even sadder are the Facebook posts in which family members plead for news on someone who has simply disappeared.

When the international media were in town at the peak of the killings, they worked alongside a group of local freelance photographers known as the Nightcrawlers. Horrified by the human suffering, the group had resolved to record as many deaths as possible, to hold the police and the government to account. They are still trying, but it is getting harder and more dangerous.

Vincent Go is one of the Nightcrawlers. He has tagged the death sites he has reported from on his mobile phone – there are more than 1000 of them – but says it is no longer possible to follow the police around from corpse to corpse. Rather, he visits families as soon as possible after a killing, finding out about them from his network of contacts. He tries to interest other journalists in the deaths, but few respond.

Randy Delos Santos agrees. He is a modest celebrity due to his efforts to hold authorities to account. The killing of his nephew, 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos, in August 2017, is the only case so far that has resulted in police being charged with murder – largely thanks to Randy’s advocacy and obtaining of CCTV footage showing Kian being carried away by the police, rather than trying to flee as they claimed.

Policemen walk streets of Tondo, Manila

Randy now works with the Catholic-run Kalinga Center, which assists families of drug-war victims by helping to pay for funerals, and providing support and counselling. He remembers when the family held a wake for Kian. His home was filled with local and international media. After riots protesting the killing, the family was visited by politicians, including Duterte. But now, when Randy tries to interest the media in a fresh killing – on the few occasions when the family is prepared to speak – he rarely gets any interest.

In November 2018, three police were convicted of Kian’s murder. That verdict is now on appeal. Randy has been told one of the alleged killers has been seen at liberty near where he lives. It makes him nervous.

By the time Duterte stepped down as president in the middle of last year, the official government death toll, for those who died during anti-drug operations during the war on drugs, was 6252. But human rights groups, and the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, estimate it to be between 12,000 and 30,000 deaths. This includes the many so-called extrajudicial executions, in which masked motorcycle riders shoot people for reasons that are often opaque. “Riding in tandem” has become a euphemism for motorcycle assassins. According to documents lodged by Khan at the ICC, these unidentified perpetrators are “apparently acting in coordination with police”. On the streets of Manila, as far as the victims and those at risk are concerned, they are the police.

Recently there has been evidence to support the word on the street: the police are the biggest drug dealers. Last October, Sergeant Rodolfo Mayo Jr – once described as the nation’s best policeman in the drug enforcement group – was arrested in an operation that included the confiscation of almost a tonne of “shabu” (methamphetamine). There is little information on the progress of the case against Mayo, or others who have been accused alongside him.

Reliable information is hard to come by in the Philippines these days. Foreign media interest has all but disappeared, and the local media have come under increasing pressure, either buried in lawsuits – as is the case for Maria Ressa, the heroic founder of web-based outlet Rappler – or having their broadcasting licences withdrawn. Or worse: in October 2022, radio journalist Percy Lapid – a critic of Duterte and Marcos – was killed by masked motorcycle-riding gunmen while waiting in traffic outside his gated community home. He was the third journalist in the Philippines to be killed in 2022, according to UNESCO, and the second during Marcos’s presidency. A man confessed to being the gunman and identified a “middleman” as having hired him. That man was found dead in jail a few days later – first said to be from natural causes and later, in a second autopsy, from suffocation with a plastic bag.

Marcos ordered the suspension of the Bureau of Corrections director-general, Gerald Bantag, while allegations that he ordered the killing were investigated. Bantag claims he has been framed. In the wash of misinformation and impunity in the Philippines, it may be a lie, or it may be true. We will likely never know.

But one piece of information circulates freely across Manila. We asked several people in the slums how much it cost to have someone killed these days. The answer was consistent: 30,000 pesos (about $800). More if it is someone prominent, when there might be a fuss.

In the slums, life is violent and justice remote, and fear is the water in which you swim. The cost of falling out with someone – a local government official, a police officer, your employer – can be high.

So how many deaths are there, under the new “holistic” Marcos regime? The Quezon City campus of the University of the Philippines resembles a jungle in parts. The buildings are covered with the moss and creepers that grow so fast in the tropics. It is a welcome green space amid the crowded city, and is home to many skinny stray cats. On the lower ground floor of Palma Hall is the Third World Studies Center. Here, the cats are plumper. They are fed by the small team working on the Dahas project, investigating issues of state-sponsored violence. Led by Joel F. Ariate, the team has been attempting to keep track of the killings. The project’s figures have been quoted before the ICC and are probably the best available.

The Dahas project began in January 2018 as a broader partnership with the Department of Conflict and Development Studies at Ghent University. Funding has long since been exhausted, but Ariate and his colleagues continue to maintain a database drawing on reports of deaths in national and provincial media outlets.

When they started work, several media outlets were also trying to maintain death lists. Now, Ariate’s team is the only one left standing, distributing its monthly reckonings through the @DahasPH Twitter account. Ariate does not claim the database is complete – he knows many cases are not reported by the media. But he is confident it reveals trends, including a shift to the provinces and more extrajudicial executions.

There are also some signs that communities are pushing back, so far as they are able. During the peak of the war on drugs, victims were often people who had been placed on so-called watchlists, compiled by their barangay (local government) captains. It was said that if you gave yourself up, admitted your addiction and volunteered for rehabilitation, you would be protected.

But the watchlists soon became death lists. Now, Ariate says, there is evidence to suggest barangay captains are trying to protect what amounts to “their own extended kinship networks” and satisfy pressure from higher up by listing outsiders. In August, the Dahas project noted that visiting Chinese workers had been killed.

The chief of the Philippine National Police, General Rodolfo Azurin, recently told journalists that there had been what he described as a “very minimal” 46 drug-related killings under Marcos. But that figure included only the killings that the police report, and not the extrajudicial executions by masked motorcycle gunmen, or the corpses dumped in the streets, in parks or in Manila Bay.

The Dahas figures tell a different story. They include any deaths where drugs were reported to be part of the context, as well as those carried out by unknown perpetrators. As one of the project’s publications states: “The war sprawls over a whole criminal complex beyond state authorities, and includes various criminal elements with varying intent to harm their victims. Failing to account for these casualties … offers a limited view of how the drug war accumulates its fatalities.”

At the end of last year, Dahas reported that there had been 152 drug-related killings in the first six months of the Marcos regime. This surpassed the 149 in the last six months of Duterte’s reign.

Why does the war on drugs continue? Ariate thinks that underlying it all is business – an underground economy in which the police have a stake, and where the national government is not completely in control. Duterte, having introduced state-sanctioned executions into an already violent culture, has bequeathed a bitter legacy to Marcos, who in turn shows few signs of tackling the culture of impunity.

“The war on drugs will continue so long as people are making money from it,” says Ariate. “What would drug peace look like? It can only be harm reduction, decriminalising drug possession and so on.” But whereas the Philippines has proved itself up to reform in other areas – for example, broadening access to contraception despite opposition from the Catholic Church – drug law reform has not been seriously tackled.

It is clear that the Dahas figures are indeed underestimates. In our limited time in the Philippines, I heard of another six deaths that have occurred since Marcos came to power last June. In one case in July, a man arrested in a drug operation along with his wife and brother was, according to the family, tortured by police. The media reported his arrest, but not the fact that the next day his body was found in the street, bearing obvious bruising. Because other family members of the victim remain in the hands of the police, his relatives are too terrified to go public, though they communicated with us. The official death certificate says the man died of a cardiac arrest, and the family doesn’t want to depart from that narrative – or at least not yet.

In another case, in October, a 30-year-old man and his 10-year-old son were shot dead by masked motorcycle gunmen. They also killed a bystander in the same incident. The man’s wife had also been shot and, according to members of a support network that visited the family, was too frightened to go to hospital. The bullet remains in her leg. So far as the support network can determine, the background to the man’s death was a labour dispute. The man had made a complaint to authorities about the conditions in a factory where he worked. Suddenly, he was said to be a drug pusher. And then he was dead.

One month before, another man was killed shortly after being released from jail. It was by all accounts a highly professional assassination. A masked gunman walked casually up, shot him twice in the head and then walked out and mounted a motorbike waiting for him in the street. None of these deaths was reported in the media and hence they are not in the Dahas database, which are the figures to which many in the international human rights community refer.

One of the slim hopes for justice is the International Criminal Court, set up in 2002 by United Nations member states to investigate and adjudicate human rights cases that member countries are unable or unwilling to prosecute. The ICC opened a preliminary investigation into the war on drugs in 2018. Duterte responded by withdrawing the Philippines’ membership of the ICC, with that decision coming into force a year later. That meant the ICC had jurisdiction to investigate deaths only up until 2019.

The process has been achingly slow. It took until May 2021 for the preliminary probe to result in the prosecutor seeking authorisation for a full investigation. Then the Philippines government asked for the investigation to be deferred, claiming it was investigating the killings itself.

It took until June last year for the ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, to decide the request for suspension was “not warranted”, and that there was no sign of a government investigation. He concluded that the current administration would maintain the “culture of impunity” that characterised Duterte’s rule. Khan successfully applied for the ICC investigation to “resume as quickly as possible”, which by all accounts is not very quickly at all. Marcos has said his government will not cooperate with the investigators. If they want to enter the country, they will have to come as tourists.

A report lodged with the ICC in September included testimonies drawn from 366 families, with names redacted because of the “threats and intimidation from authorities”. One of the informants said: “That is why it is better if the ICC investigates. … I want to thank the ICC because they are concerned about our cases even if we are poor.” Another said: “Two small boys, barely tall enough to wash their own hands in a sink, will one day ask what we did to seek justice for their daddy … Our country’s soul has been damaged, and this ICC process could help us to redeem our sense of truth and the value of human life.”

Six months on, there has been little news from the ICC, but presumably the investigation is under way. The former president’s daughter, Sara Duterte, is serving as Marcos’s vice president. The Marcos regime has made it clear it will not rejoin the ICC. That means any deaths in since 2019 fall outside its jurisdiction. Says Ariate: “What chance is there that this process can lead to justice?”

Poor people in the Philippines can rarely afford to bury their dead. Instead, corpses are placed in “apartments” – concrete boxes just big enough for the body, stacked up to six storeys high in the cemeteries. A five-year lease on one box costs about 5000 pesos ($130). Usually, when the time comes for renewal, the families cannot afford to pay and the remains are thrown into a communal pit.

In 2021 the leases began to expire on the apartments containing the bodies of the first victims of the war on drugs. With the cooperation of the relatives, the Kalinga Center organised Project Arise, to exhume some of the remains and pay for them to be cremated. Before the evidence disappears, an autopsy of each victim is arranged. These are carried out by Dr Raquel Fortun, one of only two forensic pathologists in the country. In an interview with the Manila Bulletin last October, her experience of examining the remains was described: “A toothless skull is a tell-tale sign of abject poverty; bones bearing bullet holes hint at the manner of death, ripped and bloodied garments should not be thrown away (many were) as these reveal nasty secrets. In life and death, those victims were overstuffed with woe, sauced in heartache, poverty and impunity.”

At the time of that interview, out of 46 sets of remains examined, there were seven cases in which the death certificates had stated that the cause of death was natural, though Dr Fortun’s investigations showed them clearly to be homicides.

Last August, the body of Kian Delos Santos, nephew of Rudy, was exhumed. The autopsy, Rudy told us, had disclosed new facts – but so far the Kalinga Center has not released the report. Doing so would bring difficulties, we were told.

Yet life goes on. Resilience, if not hope, springs eternal. In a shopping strip just off General Romulo Avenue, Quezon City, is a tiny cafe called Silingan, which translates as “neighbour”. The shop is dedicated to those who have died, and is staffed by their widows and children. A poster on the wall explains: “At Silingan, you’ll come in as a customer and come out as a storyteller. Here, we don’t just sell coffee. We tell the nation’s story, one cup at a time … Gone are the days when Filipinos could fully trust the people who arrive at our doorsteps. It is our sincerest hope that one day we would learn to trust again the people who knock and plead at our doors.”

Making the coffees on a late November evening were Lourdes de Juan, 46, and Joy Solayao, 24. Lourdes’ husband used to run a junk shop. He was killed in their home on December 6, 2016. Lourdes was out, but their seven children – aged between three months and 15 years – were at home.

“The police led my children out,” she says. “My eldest son didn’t want to let go of his dad. My husband was begging the police, ‘Please just arrest me. Even if you lock me up my whole life, don’t kill me. I have seven children.’” They tore the kids away and shot her husband three times. His body was found with packets of shabu and a gun alongside. Lourdes says they were planted. Her husband was said to have resisted and was killed in self-defence.

A group sits around an outdoor table at night

Lourdes does not know why her husband was killed. Perhaps an informant had bought favour with the police by saying he was a pusher. Or perhaps he was just in the wrong place. Three others were killed in their neighbourhood on the same night. The only reason her husband was at home was because it was one of the children’s birthdays. Today, she says, her children are “still traumatised, especially if they hear a loud noise. They get frightened very easily, even if it is just a balloon bursting.”

Lourdes works two jobs, making coffees at Silingan and sewing facemasks in a factory. Her children are all studying, some at school and some at college. Her life mission is to see them complete their education. Working alongside other drug-war widows is “like a balm. It doesn’t heal. It helps.”

Joy Solayao’s partner, Albert Cubita, 21, was killed at around 6pm on January 9, 2017. He was visiting a friend when the police stormed in. Albert was on the barangay watchlist, and he knew what their arrival meant. He tried to escape, crashing through the flimsy plywood wall into the neighbours’ place, but the police chased and shot him.

Joy was alerted by a neighbour. She was also on the watchlist – not because she was a user, but because, like so many slum children, she had been used as a mule by drug dealers when she was too young to understand what it meant. She had declared herself to her barangay captain, expecting this to protect her. Now she frantically ran to her neighbours to borrow long trousers to hide the tattoo on her ankle, which was on the list as her “distinguishing mark”.

While she nursed her husband’s body, the police arrived at her home, kicked down the door and rounded up everyone inside. “I was lucky I was not arrested because I was out. Everyone else was arrested.” Some are still in jail. The police claimed both the homes they raided that night were drug dens, and that Albert had been armed and had fought back.

Solayao says she likes to work because it is better than being at home “where the fear is still there, because the police still roam the area”.

It is Wednesday, November 30, and a typically steamy night in the slums of Barangay 176, Caloocan, metropolitan Manila, when we attend the wake of the sixth unrecorded, unreported killing that we had heard about. Jesus Gualvez was 44 at the time of his death, father of two children under 12, a tricycle-taxi driver and the sole breadwinner for his family. His widow, Maricel, is presiding over the wake. The corpse lies surrounded by white fabric in a white coffin under a transparent perspex sheet. He is dressed in his best, with his face made up. He took three shots to the head and one to the knee, delivered by a masked gunman riding tandem on a motorcycle.

Maricel says she knows of five other deaths following exactly this pattern in Caloocan since the beginning of October. None has been reported in the media. None will be included in the official figures as victims of the Philippines’ war on drugs.

Maricel has no idea why her husband died. He had been a drug user many years before, but had been clean since he married her, 14 years ago.

“I really want the police to investigate so I know who killed my husband.”

Does she think the police might have been involved?

“I really don’t know, but he was shot four times … whoever did it must have been really angry with him … But he was very kind. Ask anyone around here and they will tell you he was a very kind man.”

Other attendees at the wake say Jesus owed money to “a policeman drug dealer” and he was killed as a warning to others. Nobody wants to go public with such allegations. Why should they? It would place them at risk, and what is the point?

But one of the attendees at the wake is neighbour Sarah Celiz, 57 years old. She lost her two sons – Almon, 32, and Dicklie, 30 – to the war on drugs in 2017. Almon was shot during a police raid and died in hospital. Six months later, Dicklie disappeared after getting into a police car. His body was found weeks later in an alley. Since then, Sarah has made it a personal mission to attend as many drug-war wakes as possible, keeping track, doing what she can. She thinks there is no difference between the latter days of the Duterte regime and that of Marcos. It is just that the deaths go unreported. “Nobody is interested anymore.”

“The police are all demons,” she says. “They want to eliminate all the poor and all the drug addicts and pushers.”

As for what she would say to President Marcos if she could speak to him, Sarah refers to his father, and the period of martial law under which so many died. She would urge the current president not to do what his father did, but “an apple tree will not bear a guava. He and his father grew up on the same tree. I think nothing will change.”

Margaret Simons

Margaret Simons is an author, journalist and journalism academic. She has written numerous books, articles and essays, including the Quarterly Essay Cry Me a River: The Tragedy of the Murray–Darling Basin.


From the front page

Photo of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell outside Parlament House with rescued greyhound Graham

Dog day afternoon

Animal welfare concerns have long plagued the greyhound racing industry, but in Victoria a campaign from covert investigators now has a parliamentarian leading the fight

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Mars attracts

Reviving the Viking mission’s experiments may yet find life as we know it on Mars, but the best outcome would be something truly alien

Close-up photograph of Anne Summers, 2017

How to change a bad law

The campaign to repair the single parenting payment was a model of how research and advocacy can push government to face the cruel effects of a policy and change course

Installation view of the Kandinsky exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, showing three framed abstract paintings hanging on a wall

Kandinsky at AGNSW

The exhibition of the Russian painter’s work at the Art Gallery of NSW provides a fascinating view of 20th-century art’s leap from representation to abstraction

In This Issue

Front cover of ‘Spare’, featuring close up of Prince Harry's face

Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’

The Duke of Sussex’s blockbuster memoir surprises with its mastery of self-portraiture, and of payback

Illustration of small figures on grey land below large night sky

Care and control in the Kimberley

Could on-Country communities help address soaring juvenile crime rates in remote Western Australia?

Text-based cover design of ‘This Is Not Who I Am’

Emily Bootle’s ‘This Is Not Who I Am’

The British writer explores the debilitating effects of our culture’s insistence on the performance of authenticity

Jim Chalmers photographed in a suit before angled mirrors

Capitalism after the crises

In a time of serial disruption – to our economy, our society and our environment – the treasurer argues for the place of values and optimism in how we rethink capitalism

More in The Monthly Essays

Close-up photograph of Anne Summers, 2017

How to change a bad law

The campaign to repair the single parenting payment was a model of how research and advocacy can push government to face the cruel effects of a policy and change course

Photo of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell outside Parlament House with rescued greyhound Graham

Dog day afternoon

Animal welfare concerns have long plagued the greyhound racing industry, but in Victoria a campaign from covert investigators now has a parliamentarian leading the fight

Kakadu National Park

Park of the covenant

With the Ranger Uranium Mine now closed, Kakadu’s traditional owners want the government to make good on the original promise of a national park in their care

Ningaloo, Western Australia

Writing in nature

The laureate of the Western Australian surf break sees a task ahead for our essayists, our novelists and our poets alike in the fight against climate catastrophe

Online latest

Installation view of the Kandinsky exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, showing three framed abstract paintings hanging on a wall

Kandinsky at AGNSW

The exhibition of the Russian painter’s work at the Art Gallery of NSW provides a fascinating view of 20th-century art’s leap from representation to abstraction

Image of Margret RoadKnight playing guitar and singing.

The unsung career of Margret RoadKnight

Little-known outside the Melbourne folk scene for decades, singer Margret RoadKnight’s 60 years of music-making is celebrated in a new compilation

A woman rides her bike past the Australian flag, the Indigenous flag and the flag of the Torres Strait Islands, Canberra, October 13, 2023. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Beyond the Voice referendum

Looking towards the next 65,000 years

View of the High Court of Australia. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Guarding the power of the court in our democracy

The hidden forces agitating at highest levels to undermine judicial independence