“Are the police your friends or enemies?”
The trailer of On the President’s Orders opens with this cryptic question being asked by a police himself to a group of little—and I mean little—children. At one point, they say they are their friends. After that, an overview of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war unfolds slowly, and even though there are so many things happening in a few minutes, they are all equally terrifying.
Directed by acclaimed investigative filmmakers Olivier Sarbil and James Jones, On the President’s Orders is a documentary film set in the Philippines that explores the ongoing brutality of extrajudicial killings and its prominent elements: Police officers making the most of out their power, the President’s confusing statements, and its evolution to peak mass murder. According to The National, the filmmakers divulge how this one time big time order wildly works within Philippine society “as the police start carrying out murders dressed in civilian clothing and blaming others.”
The filmmakers presented testimonies of the Manila police, the drug war victims’ families in the slums, and other people’s insight on the current state of the country. What sparked the filmmakers’ interest to do a story on the Philippines, though?
“There was a lot of photojournalism coming out of the Philippines, mainly by local journalists who would see bodies in the street, night after night, men killed by the police, or so-called vigilantes,” James Jones told The National. “[President Duterte] uses drugs to show that he is different, that he can control corruption,” added Jones. “But he is using it as a political tool, he is not really interested in wiping out drugs. He can present it as a moral crusade, but that is not what it is.”
On The President’s Orders is part of Frontline, an award-winning documentary series that tackles controversial, investigatory news. The film will be screened at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto this weekend.