Olivier Sarbil & James Jones

Interviewed by Hattie Young and Star McFarlane, BA Journalism Falmouth University


Source: Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images Europe

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs has killed at least 7,000 people in four years according to Amnesty International, and has taken a huge toll on the communities targeted in Manila’s slums.

Telling stories from both sides in the ‘war on drugs’, James Jones and Olivier Sarbil’s film On the President’s Orders offers a complex, uncompromising look at how it has marked Philippine society. Made for the BBC, it’s earned Jones and Sarbil a place as finalists in this year’s Sony Impact Award for Current Affairs at the Rory Peck Awards.

The film charts the tense relationship between civilians and the police, exploring the effect of continued violence on both. “I wanted to get inside the heads of these police…of these killers…and understand why they thought it was okay to take someone’s life,” said Jones.

He wanted to avoid making a moral judgment on drug users. “When you see these people have nothing, they’re so desperate…on a personal level that’s a big takeaway,” said Jones.

An added layer of complexity in the story was the messaging around police operations. Social media acted as a conduit for the state narrative against drug users, and “the population just swallowed that propaganda,” said Jones.

As freelance journalists, Jones and Sarbil choose the subjects of their films – but it doesn’t make a story any easier to tell. It’s part of the motivation, said Jones, when a story is “desperate, cruel and sad but needs to be told.”

“You can only hope you do the subject justice and through that, you help raise people’s awareness of it.”