directed by James Jones, Olivier Sarbil
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 25-May 5, 2019 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Bill Chambers A co-production of ARTE France and PBS's "Frontline", On the President's Orders covers a period of relative calm in Duterte's Philippine Drug War, which saw a death toll of 3,000 suspected drug pushers in its first year. In an effort to curtail the amount of bloodshed on both sides, Jemar Modequillo is installed as the new police chief in Manila's Caloocan district, the epicentre of the country's drug-related violence, and sets to work remolding the trigger-happy "wankers" under his command into a constabulary that patrols the seediest streets in search of alleged suspects to haul off to a seriously overpopulated jail. As we see, there is little distinction made between dealers and users (who typically aren't motivated enough to sell drugs), and a profound lack of empathy for addicts in general among members of law enforcement. "Drug users are a nuisance for society. Unless you get rid of a pest, it will get bigger," says the prison warden, Agustin, who gets his jollies out of hurting the detainees and isn't shy about it on camera. 'On the president's orders,' in other words, Modequillo created his own version of ICE, substituting junkies for migrants--and on one level, the film feels as if it's intended as a counterweight to Trump's characteristically mindless praise of fellow media-hating despot Duterte at a 2017 summit in Manila. On another level, like a lot of current documentaries (including the two I've already covered for this year's Hot Docs), On the President's Orders suggests a creative solution to critiquing a subject who's just too overexposed and partisan for any documentarian to have a real shot at being heard. We're in a redux of the Bush era, in that sense.