Quezon City, Philippines – Premiering on the eve of the 47th anniversary of the Martial Law declaration, the 7th edition of Active Vista International Human Rights Film Festival presented last Sept 20, 2019 to around 1,000 invited audiences at the Cine Adarna of the University of the Philippines Film Center the much-awaited screening of the first-ever full-length documentary film highlighting the current administration’s campaign against illegal drugs in the Philippines. ‘On the President’s Orders’, a documentary film by Emmy Award winning filmmakers James Jones and Olivier Sarbil, is the searing story of President Duterte’s bloody campaign against drug dealers and addicts in the Philippines, told with unprecedented and intimate access to both sides of the war.
Malacanang recently issued a statement criticizing the foreign documentary as another attempt at black propaganda and disinformation. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo called out the film as “overly dramatized” and “falsely portrays a dangerous Philippines and a murderous government.” The film is set to for a wide broadcast through PBS in the United States next month. It has made rounds in various international film festivals. The screening in UP was the first time the film was screened to Filipino audiences.
In her statement at the festival opening, Active Vista Executive Director Leni Velasco said, “Active Vista believes it is important to screen this film to Filipino audiences to help our nation process the social ruptures that has fragmented and traumatized our country and make sense of how we have arrived to this point that a range of 7,000 to 27,000 of our countrymen have been killed by the state’s war against drugs. This film festival provokes this essential discourse to mend the tears in the fabric of our understanding and forge solidarity amongst our people to find meaningful ways and strategic actions that shall enable us to rise as a nation against our deplorable human rights situation.”
The Philippine premiere of the film coincides with the on-going session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. In its last session, the UNHRC passed a resolution that asked UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to write a comprehensive report on the drug war killings and urged the Philippine government to cooperate with UN offices and mechanisms by facilitating country visits and refraining from ‘all acts of intimidation or retaliation’. In a statement made by I-DEFEND, a broad alliance for the defense of human rights and dignity, it said that, “The brutal, bloody war on mostly poor drug suspects has placed the Philippines under a preliminary examination by the International Criminal Court and an investigation by the UN Human Rights Council. But the Duterte regime is barefacedly barring the entry of UN officials by erroneously asserting its independence and its “immunity” from investigation.”
Last September 19, the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights) published its report, “The Killing State: An Unrelenting War Against Human Rights in the Philippines,” a study that explores the demographics of victims of alleged extrajudicial killings (EJKs), the modalities and patterns of the killings, as well as other gross human rights violations associated with the Duterte government’s ‘war on drugs.’ The report concludes that the systemic effects of violations have created a climate of fear, resulting in social paralysis. This has paved the way for the unimpeded adoption of more anti-human rights and anti-democratic policies. According to PhilRights Executive Director Dr. Nymia Simbulan, “Duterte’s drug war is a war against human rights. The systemic, coordinated, sequential, and comprehensive nature of human rights violations resulting from this campaign has brought out immense suffering for the victim’s families and their communities,”
The 7th edition of the Active Vista International Human Rights Festival is organized by DAKILA, a group building a movement of heroism through its Active Vista Center for human rights education. I-DEFEND and PhilRights together with the UP Film Institute, Cinema Centenario, Amnesty International, the Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking (CYAN), and the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) are co-presenting the festival.
DAKILA Executive Director Micheline Rama emphasized the timeliness of the screening of ‘On the President’s Orders’, “We believe that it is very timely that we show films where audiences are challenged to look through different lenses in order to see how the current administration’s campaign against illegal drugs looks like in the eyes of a policeman, a child, and even a family member of an Oplan Tokhang victim. From there, we hope that conversations will spark, and support on pressing human rights issues will broaden.” In the recent statement published by the artist-activist collective DAKILA, Rama said, “Déjà vu is too weak a term to describe the familiar horrors that bookend the 47-year gap between the Martial Law of the Marcos dictatorship and the violence of the Duterte administration. The recurring nightmares of gross human rights violations, trampling of the rule of law, state-sponsored killings, and a pervasive atmosphere of violence can only be described as our national ‘bangungot’. As these nightmares continue to haunt us, we shake off the oppression of our collective ‘bangungot’ through the power of narratives that shed light on these dark times.”
With this year’s theme of the film festival, “Rupture,” audiences were challenged to think beyond what they see and to finally step out of their comfort zones towards collective resistance against repression and tyranny. The festival shall screen a menu of films tackling various human rights issues such as the new Lav Diaz masterpiece, ‘Ang Hupa (The Halt)’, a futuristic look at the Philippines in 15 years but audaciously a statement on the present-day state of the nation. The festival also premieres ‘Last Exit to Kai Tak’ a documentary on the defenders of human rights and democracy of the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution.
‘On the President’s Orders’ premiered to a full-packed cinema of around a thousand audiences last September 20. The criticism from Malacanang drew attention to the film. During the program, the organizers set several guidelines to ensure that the screening is a safe space for everyone considering the risks of screening the film. A talkback was held after with Atty. Chel Diokno, Chairperson of the Free Legal Assistance Group; Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch; Dr. Nymia Pimentel-Simbulan of Philrights; and Ma. Inez Feria of NoBox Transitions Foundation.
Active Vista Executive Director Leni Velasco called on audiences to continue talking about the issues presented by the film. “Let us not allow the injustice of erasing our historical memory as a nation that this government has done to the thousands of victims of Martial Rule to be done as well to thousands of victims of the drug war. Let us resist the acts of erasures of their stories being written out of our history and memory. We need to remind ourselves the bluntness and force of this trauma from all the killings and the grave human rights violations are shattering our already fragile sense of nationhood. And the horror we are experiencing is more intimate, more personal. It has opened up a tear in our social and moral fabric and challenged our very humanity.”
“In times when the truth on the increasing number of extra-judicial killings is suppressed, it is important that we see different counter-narratives done in creative forms. The narratives we heard and saw on the documentary film tells us that the campaign against illegal drugs holds this inhumane and oppressive system inspired by the words and commands by the President. We, as a nation of heroes, must uphold and protect each other’s human rights,” Velasco added on how the documentary film serves as a tool to combat the current administration’s portrayal of its on-going ‘war on drugs’.
In ending, Velasco said, “Thanks to the courageous efforts of those who speak truth to power, many eyes are now open to the nightmare of Philippine society. But it is not enough to be aware yet unmoving. Filipinos everywhere must shake off the oppression of our collective “bangungot”. We must open our minds so we #NeverForget and open our arms to join together so that the nightmares will #NeverAgain happen in our nation. We call on everyone to join us in opening our minds so that we may #NeverForget, and opening our arms to join together so that the nightmares will #NeverAgain happen to our nation. We call on everyone to be one with us in remembering what happened almost five decades ago and in condemning the impending authoritarianism in the country”.
Active Vista screenings continue at the UP Film Center on September 23-24 and at the Cinema Centenario from September 21-29. Cinema Centenario screenings marries the Active Vista Human Rights Festival with the Never Forget Film Festival which focuses on films about the Martial Law. Schedules are posted at the Active Vista’s official Facebook page, UP Film Institute – Cine Adarna, and Cinema Centenario. Interested audiences may reserve their tickets through bit.ly/AVTix2019 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christine Anne A. Alvarez
DAKILA – Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism is a group of artists, students, and individuals working together to creatively spark social consciousness formation towards social change. Learn more at dakila.org.ph and facebook.com/Dakila.Philippines
ACTIVE VISTA is a human rights education platform to empower audiences in bringing about relevant social change. By showing and creating films that address core human rights messages, it aims to stir critical thinking among its audience as a step towards their education as citizens. Learn more at facebook.com/ActiveVista
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