Realm of the Punisher: Travels in Duterte's Philippines

Research output: Book/ReportBook


In June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte won the Philippine presidential election with a landslide. Infamous for his bombastic temper and un-PC wisecracks, he is waging a brutal drug war that has allegedly killed more than 12,000 people so far.

Over the last nine years, British writer Tom Sykes has travelled extensively in the Philippines in order to understand the Duterte phenomenon, interviewing friends and enemies of 'The Punisher' – as he's known – in politics, the media, the arts and the third sector. Sykes witnesses anti-government demonstrations in the capital Manila and visits the provincial city of Davao, where Duterte began his draconian crusade against crime using police and vigilante death squads. By delving into Duterte’s troubled childhood of violence and rebellion, Sykes discovers what motivates the man today in his pursuit of a merciless ‘war on the poor’ – as Amnesty has described it – that has no end in sight.

The Punisher's Paradise also examines oppressed and marginalised groups in the modern Philippines through encounters with a transgender rights campaigner, a Marxist environmentalist who runs a green public transport cooperative, an 86-year-old former sex slave to the Japanese in the Second World War, a public artist who must work while under attack from Maoist rebels, and slum-dwellers resisting violent eviction by a real estate company.

The past is never far away from these present-day problems and Sykes’ travels to festivals, cemeteries, war memorials and a tomb housing an embalmed corpse reveal the ways in which key figures in Philippine history – from José Rizal to General MacArthur to Ferdinand Marcos – have influenced current affairs. How have centuries of immigration shaped the modern nation? What are the legacies of Spanish and American colonialism? Having spent much of the twentieth century as a satellite of the US, what is Philippines’ position in the world today? Sykes grapples with these and many other questions.

Funny, tragic, enlightening and uncompromising – and infused with the author’s strong sense of social justice – The Punisher’s Paradise is the first major travel book by a Westerner to explore Duterte’s Philippines.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherSignal Books
Number of pages288
ISBN (Print)9781909930728
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2018


  • travel writing
  • Philippines
  • reportage
  • Journalism
  • Asia-Pacific


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