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PH Murder Stories: Casting a Light on the Philippines’ Dark Side

Why this new podcast has been getting attention.

P H Murder Stories is a true crime podcast that does not support a specific political stance. That is what the group said in their message to this publication. But when you get into the business of dissecting some of the most notorious murder cases to happen in the Philippines (especially in recent years,) one cannot help but touch upon matters that are political in nature.

Take, for example, the murder of Fabel Pineda, the 15 year old who was killed after filing a case against two police officers that allegedly molested her in Ilocos Sur. To dive deep into this story is to examine the local police force. To study it fairly also involves looking into the opinions of the various bodies. Among them, groups decrying the alleged culture of impunity supposedly promoted by incumbent Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.  Such is a blessing (or curse) of work based heavily on the truth. When you pursue it, there are times when you can’t help but inspire criticism of those in power. If you want to avoid it completely, you have to choose to be silent. And that simply will not do—at least not for the people who run this project.

Launched October last year, PH Murder Stories is made by a team of five that prefer to remain unnamed. They were inspired by murder cases that either sparked national conversations or received insufficient attention albeit the particulars surrounding them. The Pineda case for instance didn’t get much press as it was unfolding. A number of media outlets were focused on the franchise drama of broadcasting giant ABS-CBN, a story also implicating Duterte since he was accused suppressing the freedoms of media groups critical of him. PH Murder Stories drew inspiration from this and started a podcast meant to fill gaps.

“Besides producing quality content,” the group said, “our platform aims to be one of the country’s premier digital destinations for true crime discussion.” And if one were to look at their numbers, it appears that this is a realistic goal.

Since launching the podcast, the group has garnered attention from 53 countries including the Philippines. It has also had around 7,000 plays as of February 2021. But why? What is it about this podcast that draws attention? Could it be the nature of their content? Possible.

According to a report by The Telegraph, psychologist Dr. Meg Arroll said that the fascination behind the genre stems from our desire to understand ourselves. “As humans we want to understand the darker side of our nature,” she said to the publication. “True crime stories allow us to explore that in a safe way, from a safe distance.”

The BBC’s Dr. Julia Shaw has a more in-depth look into this. As a specialist in the field of criminal psychology, she believes that there are various reasons behind our fascination for the subject. For starters, she believes that “we love to be outraged together.” Quoting criminologist Oriana Binik, Shaw said that we live in an emotional capitalist society where people seek for strong emotions to “consume.”

These strong emotions play into our more fundamental desire for social cohesion,” she said. To clarify, this means that true crime is something that people enjoy because it is something that they can talk about in a group. “This will come as no surprise to true crime fans, who often have their own nicknames and identities, and bond over the gory details of each episode,” she said.

Shaw then wrote that our fascination in true crime may have a connection to our obsession with celebrities. This, according to her, was discussed by the likes of sociologist Julie Weist.“News media routinely [sensationalize] modern serial killers as celebrity monsters,” she said. “We can even take this a step further, and argue that serial killers are a brand.” She then cites the work of Ian Cummins and others in stating that there is a template for this.  

“We give the offenders a nickname – like the Night Stalker, the Ken and Barbie killers, or Jack the Ripper,” she said. “We also generally focus on the childhood of the offender as a way to explain their [behavior].”

After this, Shaw then discussed that some people simply want to be unique. Quoting cultural criminologist Jack Denham, Shaw wrote that people have the tendency to “transgress banality and sameness” rather than endorse transgression itself. In other words, in a world filled with things that are mass produced, there are people searching for ways to be different.

“True crime fan communities who share details of a serial killer’s murders aren’t therein endorsing these crimes – they are building their unique identity,” she said.

But, while these beliefs may explain the allure of PH Murder Stories, its growing popularity might also have something to do with the quality of the podcast itself. The group after all has received numerous responses from their audience and a number of them were encouraging so they said. It also has the makings of a solid product. It has a cohesive brand held together by a dark color scheme and the haunting, piano-centric music that colors its episodes. It also has a team well-versed in the genre they’re participating in and the group also touts the meatiness of their content. Upon listening to some of their episodes, one gets the idea that thorough research comes into play whenever they are putting stuff together. This is a presumption that the group corroborated while discussing what goes on behind the scenes.

“First, our team discusses which cases we should release,” they said. “We determine it by prioritizing cases that we think podcast listeners would be interested in following.”

“We also do thorough research on cases that lacked media attention, such as the merciless murder of Fabel Pineda, which we published on the first week of February,” they added.

What follows is the actual production of an episode. Scriptwriters divide each case into parts and the recording commences. For their regular episodes, the podcast has one male host directed by a female member of the group. For special episodes, both host while one of the scriptwriters direct them. They also record exclusive cases for the subscribers of the Patreon account they launched last March. And when this is done, finishing touches are put into the recordings to complete the product: an extensive look into one of the “unthinkable” cases that happened in our country. And they do have a lot of material.

PH Murder Stories only started last year but this country does have a long list of shocking crimes—from the Vizconde massacre which happened during the early 90s to the Gregorio murders that rocked the country last year. And while looking into them, the group hopes to have an effect on society. For starters, they do want to provide practical information; to guide their listeners through the anatomy of murder cases and help them better understand what they can do to keep themselves safe. And then there’s the ultimate message that they can’t help but share; a realization that came to them as they pursued this endeavor.

“In our opinion, the country’s police and justice system needs significant reforms to achieve [their] purpose,” they said. “There have been many true crime cases in the Philippines that could have been dealt with correctly if the leading agencies were more diligent.”

Again, the group has little tolerance for propaganda and it does not support a particular political stance. But they have the tendency to say what needs to be said. In their genre, after all, it might seem criminal to not do so.

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