EXCLUSIVE: UK-U.S. documentary On The President’s Orders, which chronicles Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent ‘war on drugs’, is to be used as evidence by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as part of its ongoing investigation into the government-sanctioned killings.
The film’s Emmy-winning co-directors James Jones and Olivier Sarbil confirmed to us that the ICC asked for the film to be submitted as evidence after the organization opened preliminary investigations last year.
Duterte’s controversial campaign, which includes extrajudicial violence as a crime solution, has stoked international ire. The official death toll of the three-year campaign is put by the country’s government at around 5,000 but activists claim it could be as high as 27,000. The U.N. Human Rights Council is also investigating the purge.
Earlier this year, the Philippines became only the second country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The organization continues to build its case against Duterte’s campaign, however.
On The President’s Orders premiered at this year’s CPH:DOX in Copenhagen and screened at Toronto’s Hot Docs and New York’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival. However, it caused a stir in the Philippines after its national premiere in Manila on Friday, Sept 20. The film played to an invitation-only audience at the capital’s 800-seat cinema at the University of Philippines, which is off-limits to police. The event was part of the Active Vista International Human Rights Film Festival.
Last week, controversial leader Duterte condemned the film ahead of the Manila screening.
As reported by local press and AFP, the president released a statement through his spokesman Salvador Panelo in which he denounced it as “one-sided information bordering to black propaganda aimed at gullible foreign audiences who know little or zero-knowledge about the Philippines…It is obvious that the film medium is riding on the coattails of the president’s international popularity and success.”
Jones and Sarbil today defended their feature. The filmmakers told us, “The film is based on material filmed with the police themselves, President Duterte’s own statements and speeches, and material we filmed with victims. We did not set out to make a film with an agenda and carefully reported what we filmed over the course of six months with the Caloocan police.”
They added, “It’s a war on drugs that has led to more than 5,500 deaths, according to the police’s own statistics. By any measure, that is worth serious journalistic investigation, which is what we have done in On The President’s Orders. We’d note that the criticism also cites the film’s trailer and reviews, not the film itself. We’d encourage the President and his staff to watch the actual documentary.”
This week, the film is one of ten films screening in LA at Deadline and Hulu’s For The Love Of Docs event. It will play cinemas in New York starting October 4, followed by U.S. broadcast on PBS on October 8, and LA theatrical on October 18. Broadcast in the UK is set for the end of October on the BBC. PBS Distribution handles sales. Next festival play will be at the Zurich Film Festival in October.
The doc was produced by Frontline PBS, ARTE France, BBC Storyville, and Doc Society. Jones and Sarbil are also known for their collaboration on Frontline doc Mosul / Dispatches film The Fight For Mosul.