A new documentary that takes a fiercely critical look at the Philippine government’s deadly drug crackdown has come under attack, with President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Tuesday slamming it as “propaganda” aimed at gullible foreign viewers.
“On The President’s Orders” is a gritty, cinematic depiction of the campaign, in which police have killed thousands, told from the perspective of authorities, urban poor and families of the dead.
The documentary has won plaudits from rights campaigners and one film review called it a testament of “our dark age of cruelty and dehumanisation.”
However, Duterte spokesman Salvador Panelo said the film was being used to “espouse a one-sided information bordering to black propaganda aimed at gullible foreign audiences who know little or zero-knowledge about the Philippines”.
The documentary, to be shown at European film festivals in September and October, shows the “victimised slum communities and the police squads blithely executing their countrymen from a perverse moral high ground,” its website says.
Duterte’s three-year-old campaign, which he says is intended to rid the nation of illegal drugs, has unleashed a tide of killings by police and masked gunmen.
Authorities say officers have shot dead just over 5,500 users and dealers who resisted arrest, but critics say the true toll is at least four times higher and could amount to crimes against humanity.
War crimes prosecutors from the International Criminal Court have launched a preliminary examination, and the UN’s human rights body voted in July in favour of a review of the killings.
Despite international criticism, Duterte and his signature policy remain highly popular in the Philippines.
His tough-talking, man-of-the-people style appeals to many Filipinos tired of generations of elite politicians who did not make a dent in the country’s deep-rooted government corruption, rural poverty and dysfunction.
Yet critics warn that his rough style, which includes attacks on the press and threats of violence against his political opponents, could weaken the Philippines’ rule of law and institutions.
His spokesman Panelo said any questions the film raised about the drug war were based on the filmmakers’ effort to create a “thrilling” film.
“It is obvious that the film medium is riding on the coattails of the president’s international popularity and success,” he added.