Sheffield Doc/Fest Review: On the President’s Orders

On 9 May 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Philippines. During his campaign he promised to kill thousands of criminals and end all crime within 6 months of coming to power. The key to this campaign was his determination to eradicate illegal drug use and eliminate all dealers. Thus, began a bloody and brutal war on drugs where police were given a free hand to deal with the problem.

Olivier Sarbil’s new film, On the President’s Orders, follows police and residents of the slums as Duterte’s proclamations are enacted by an often (all too) willing pseudo-militia. We’re taken into the infamous Caloocan district of Manila where the new chief, Jemar Modequillo, has vowed to clean up the streets. Embedded in the Special Operations Unit, he follows the officers as they carry out their duties whilst also speaking to young people who live in the area.

On the President’s Orders demonstrates what can happen when a regime decides to indiscriminately use a blunt instrument to solve a problem. Whether following orders or using their own initiative, the officers took this as carte blanche to do whatever they like. The result is basically a police state where guilt or innocence is arbitrated on by a subjective player. On the President’s Orders tells the story behind these atrocities in a succinct, stylish and sobering way.

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