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Drug war killings must be told, says Emmy winner director Jones

"On The President's Orders" could pass as an action film about the murky world of drugs, politics and crime that people looking for thrilling entertainment watch, except that some of its scenes were real-life happenings.

A CCTV footage used in the movie showed a tricycle driver waiting for a passenger in Caloocan City with his toddler kid inside the vehicle.  Moments later, in broad daylight, he was shot dead by an unidentified gunman in a motorcycle.

Scenes showing police operations in communities -- knocking on houses, interrogations, arrests, buy-bust, and the like -- were shot based on testimonies of victims and their families, who have actually experienced the brunt of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

On the President's Orders,” a British-American production from US investigative journalism program Frontline PBS, tackles the “victimized slum communities and the police squads blithely executing their countrymen from a perverse moral high ground,” according to a description on the documentary's website.

Emmy winner James Jones, who directed the film with Olivier Sabril, said the drug war must be told because giving the police license to kill has grave consequences, including that of killing people as if they are animals.

“We wanted to film the police of their actions, understand why these killings are happening. And we saw that the President has given them license to kill, and there will always be someone in the security forces who will be more than happy to take advantage of that license. I don’t think they will wear a human skull as a mask if they don’t want to be feared,” Jones said, referring to the mask that the Caloocan City police wear when patrolling the area during anti-drug operations.

"Our objective was to get to the truth," Jones said.

He lamented that the illegal drugs campaign has resulted in a number of outright killings of people, even if they are just suspects.

“The victims [of drug war] have families who love them. The collateral damage is enormous,” Jones added.

He said "someone should be punished" if found violating the laws in carrying out the president's orders on the drug war.

Human rights groups said there should be more films and stories published about the bloody drug war of the Duterte administration like that of “On The President’s Orders” to ensure that perpetrators will be punished.

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocate, Alternative Law Groups and the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) made the appeal during a private screening of the film on Wednesday night in Quezon City.

The movie, where the police and the victims were aware that they were being filmed and granted interviews, featured drug operations and the shooting incidents in Caloocan City, which is considered the epicenter of the campaign war due to scores of deaths that took place in the city.

"Yung pagyurak at paglapastangan sa buhay ng mamamayan have been proven. These are males who are in productive years, who are breadwinners, shot in the upper part of the body, in the head and neck, average of three bullets, and we even encountered one who suffered 18 gun shot wounds. The intention to kill is there,” Niña Simbulan of PAHRA said.

“It is systemic, coordinated and sequential. Wives, children, partners…there is no grieving process for them as they are forced to assume the role as breadwinners. We are all made to become silent, subservient. The least we should be doing is to tell and explain the truth. Hindi normal ang pumatay,” Simbulan added.

Lawyer Gian Arabejo of the Alternative Law Groups said murderers will ultimately pay the price of their crimes in due time.

“Is justice still achievable? Kilala naman ng mga biktima ang mga pulis na pumatay sa kamag-anak nila. May mga police report rin, makikita mo sinong mga pulis ang involved. Can the victims file cases? Yes. But can you expect anything out of it? Malabo,” Arabejo said.

“Takot ang mga witnesses, at mga pulis ang perpetrators. Pero susuko na lang ba tayo?  No. We should protect the truth. The truth is the killings are happening. Hindi puedeng walang mag-document ng mga massacre na ito because may sinigilan. The day of reckoning will come, and we must be prepared,” Arabejo added.

Despite not having seen the film, Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo branded it as over-dramatization of events that put the Philippines in a bad light, if not a vehicle of disinformation on the administration’s war on drugs.

“It is obvious that the film medium is riding on the coattails of the President's international popularity and success, and is being used as a medium to espouse a one-sided information bordering [on] black propaganda aimed at gullible foreign audiences who know little or [have] zero knowledge about the Philippines and its government,” Panelo had said.  —LDF, GMA News