Award-win­ning Philip­pine film­maker backs Duterte drug war

Kuwait Times - - WEEKENDER -

Award-win­ning Philip­pine di­rec­tor Bril­lante Men­doza has turned his cin­e­matic skills to pro­mot­ing some­one many in the West would see as an un­likely hero-Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte and his deadly drug war. Men­doza has be­come a cel­e­brated fig­ure in the global in­de­pen­dent film in­dus­try for his gritty movies ex­pos­ing so­cial in­jus­tice and the suf­fer­ings of the poor in his home coun­try. While crit­ics have con­demned Duterte’s anti-crime crack­down, which has claimed the lives of thou­sands of poor peo­ple, Men­doza has filmed gov­ern­ment ad­ver­tise­ments pro­mot­ing it and di­rected the broad­cast of a pres­i­den­tial ad­dress to the na­tion. “If there’s one per­son who un­der­stands the sit­u­a­tion, it’s the pres­i­dent,” Men­doza, 56, told AFP at his Manila pro­duc­tion house that is full of posters of his movies and tro­phies from top film fes­ti­vals in­clud­ing Cannes, Venice and Ber­lin.

“I know there are a lot of peo­ple who are not sup­port­ive in to­tal­ity of what he wants and what he’s do­ing right now, but if you ac­tu­ally have wit­nessed the real sit­u­a­tion, this is the way to go about it.” Duterte eas­ily won pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in May largely on a cam­paign pledge to erad­i­cate drugs by killing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple, warn­ing the Philip­pines was in dan­ger of be­com­ing a narco-state. Since he took of­fice at the end of June, po­lice have killed more than 1,800 drug sus­pects and about 2,600 others have died in un­ex­plained cir­cum­stances linked to the crack­down, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures. The pres­i­dent has re­peat­edly in­sisted po­lice are only killing in self-de­fense and that most of the un­ex­plained deaths are due to crim­i­nals at­tack­ing each other. But Western gov­ern­ments and hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions have ex­pressed fears about al­leged ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings and a break­down in the rule of law. Those con­cerns have been fu­elled by Duterte’s ex­treme lan­guage and com­ments viewed by crit­ics as in­cite­ments to kill.

Cul­ture clash

Duterte said re­cently he would be “happy to slaugh­ter” three mil­lion drug ad­dicts, and likened his cam­paign to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s ef­forts to ex­ter­mi­nate Jews in Europe. The 71-year-old lawyer later apol­o­gized for his Hitler ref­er­ence, but said he was “em­phatic” about want­ing to kill drug ad­dicts. French news­pa­per Lib­er­a­tion branded Duterte a “se­rial killer”. Men­doza, whose films have earned him a French knight­hood and a best di­rec­tor award at Cannes, de­clined to com­ment on the ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings is­sue. He also said he had no per­sonal knowl­edge of such deaths, while in­sist­ing for­eign crit­ics mis­un­der­stood Duterte due to a cul­ture clash.

“I would tell them you don’t know our pres­i­dent,” Men­doza said. “You are only see­ing it from your per­spec­tive as some­body who lives far away from the Philip­pines. Be­cause you are liv­ing in a first-world coun­try.” For in­stance, Men­doza said, it was easy for for­eign­ers to mis­un­der­stand Duterte’s curs­ing, which he said was merely “an ex­pres­sion” for peo­ple in the south­ern Philip­pines where he is from.

Men­doza said he be­came aware of the full ex­tent of the na­tion’s drug prob­lem as he re­searched his film: “Ma’ Rosa”, which won the Cannes best ac­tress award in May and earned a nom­i­na­tion in next year’s Os­cars for best for­eign lan­guage film. “Ma’ Rosa” fo­cuses on a mother sell­ing drugs to make ends meet who is ar­rested by cor­rupt po­lice­men. “I didn’t know there was a huge prob­lem of drugs in this coun­try,” said Men­doza, a for­mer ad­ver­tis­ing pro­duc­tion de­signer.

The two short films he made pro bono for the gov­ern­ment have been viewed mil­lions of times on so­cial me­dia. In his ul­tra-re­al­ist style, they tell the sto­ries of a fa­ther who misses mile­stones in his daugh­ter’s life due to sub­stance abuse and a Filip­ina who is work­ing over­seas send­ing money back home to a son hooked on drugs. Men­doza said he hoped the films, which carry the gov­ern­ment’s #part­ner­for­change hash­tag, would help spur drug ad­dicts to kick their habits. Men­doza said artists and Asians had a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Duterte than Euro­peans, who were only learn­ing about him from the me­dia. In­deed, tens of mil­lions of Filipinos from all strata of so­ci­ety con­tinue to sup­port Duterte and his ef­forts to con­tain the drug men­ace in the be­lief it will make so­ci­ety safe.

Nar­row fo­cus

Philip­pine di­rec­tor Bril­lante Men­doza poses for the pho­to­graph in Paris.—AFP

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