Raw brutality 'On the President's Orders'


Two police officers in civilian clothes cruise on a motorcycle through Caloocan, a suburb of Manila metropolis. They slow down before opening fire on a street vendor. The duo then speeds away as traumatised members of public take cover.

Director James Jones’ film On the President’s Orders, is a harrowing story of The Philippines’ bloody war on drugs, couldn’t have started on a more upsetting note. He admits that filming it was a “depressing” experience.

On the President’s Orders premiered digitally last week as part of the Digital Human Rights Watch Film Festival celebrations for East Africa.

Since his election in 2016, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime has masterminded the killing of more than 9,000 people suspected to be drug dealers.

Populist Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte philosophy of “war is war” hasn’t relented in spite of uproar from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights watchdogs.

“My campaign against drugs won’t stop,” declares Duterte, nicknamed “The Punisher” by Time Magazine. To him, users and pushers alike must be exterminated.


Vigilante death squads, including the dreaded Davao Squad, run roughshod over civilians, with harassment by police, arrests, arbitrary detentions and horror murders.

In poor Manila suburbs, men are frog-marched out of their houses as families watch shell-shocked.

The film comes at a time when extra-judicial killings by the police are surging globally, from the United States to Hong Kong (deportation of ‘‘criminals’’ to mainland China) and Belarus.

Africa though has the bulk of cases of police violence, with recurrent incidents in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa and in all the member states of the East African Community. Observers says that police violence has coincided with the global rise of populist leaders namely Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte and .

Zero accountability

In Kenya, these atrocities often hinge on crime with police killing suspected criminals in cold blood. For years, Mathare, Huruma and Kayole estates have been the hotspots of deadly police crackdowns and murders.

To enforce the dusk-to-dawn curfew as a Covid-19 containment measure, police brutalised Kenyans, resulting in scores of deaths.

Even after the establishment of the Independent Policing Oversight Authority in 2011, heavy-handedness by the police goes on unchecked, as bosses deny accountability.

Uganda’s President continues to use the police the crush dissidents. From physical assault to pepper spray attacks and illegal detentions, oppositionist Kizza Besigye and MP Robert Kyagulanyi have borne the brunt of police brutality.

Days before and after last month’s elections in Tanzania, police brutalised residents in opposition-controlled areas, as more than 30 members of the opposition were reported missing.

The election results were disputed, and President ’s main challenger Tundu Lissu was immediately arrested. Lissu has since fled the country to Belgian exile.

A nationalist, Magufuli has repeatedly resisted calls to end systemic regime-sponsored brutality.

Yet while his international reputation nosedives, at home, his star sparkles ever brighter.  He was re-elected with more than 84 percent of the October vote.

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