Journalism instructor documents Philippines’ war on drugs

Tue, Sep 12, 2017

A local filmmaker shows the brutality of the drug war in the Philippines in a new documentary.

More than 7,000 alleged drug users and dealers have been killed by police and vigilantes in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016.

Aaron Goodman, a faculty member in Journalism and Communication Studies at KwantlenPolytechnic University (KPU), recently co-directed an eight-minute documentary about the war on drug users in the Philippines titled Duterte’s Hell

“We often hear about the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the news but we seldom see and hear from the grieving families of those who have died so it's hard for us to understand the impact of the violence,” said Goodman. “I saw that many of those who are being killed are children and teenagers who often have little or nothing to do with drugs. Most of the victims are urban poor.”

Set in Manila, the film shows graphic images of police examining and carting off dead bodies, and grieving communities struggling to cope with the government-sanctioned murders. 

“I swear on my family, my son is not a pusher, my son had no gun,” one mother wails, turning to the camera, minutes after her son was gunned down. “Please! Tell [this] to the whole world. Please help me! He’s not a dog, my son. He’s not a dog or a pig to kill like them.”

Duterte campaigned on a policy of mass extermination for anyone involved in the drug trade—not only drug traffickers, but people who use drugs as well. Human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have documented how small groups of plainclothes police or vigilante assassins frequently gun down people on the street or burst into homes in some of the city's poorest areas. Uniformed police often show up later and routinely plant drugs or guns on the corpses to justify the killings.

Duterte's Hell demonstrates the impact the war is having on residents of urban slums—an effect so disproportionate it led Amnesty International to label the campaign a “murderous war on poor.”

As a documentary filmmaker and instructor, Goodman specializes in amplifying the voices and experiences of survivors and victims of human rights abuses, conflict and disaster. Duterte's Hell follows his 2015-2016 research-creation project funded by a Katalyst Grant at KPU titled The Outcasts Project. The purpose of the photo-based interactive project was to humanize long-term and vulnerable heroin users taking part in North America's first heroin-assisted treatment program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

His work on The Outcasts project led Goodman to develop an interest in representing injustices committed against drug users internationally. While the Philippines may be geographically far from Canada, Goodman comments that he “often thinks about what Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ ”

Duterte's Hell is free and available to watch online. The film contains graphic content that may be disturbing to some viewers. The film was produced by Field of Vision, the documentary arm of news organization The Intercept.

A photo of Aaron Goodman and film stills from the documentary are available on Flickr.

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