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 - the Manila police and an ordinary family from the slum.



“The drug war in the slums of Manila seen from both sides of the front in a dark and investigative docu-thriller.”

“In May 2016, Rodrigo Duterte won a landslide presidential victory in the Philippines, promising to eradicate the country's drug problem by whatever means necessary. Police shot more than 3,000 suspects in the first year alone in a bloody state-sponsored war against dealers and users alike. Acclaimed investigative filmmakers James Jones and Olivier Sarbil seek out the police Duterte emboldened and the people they targeted. When a new chief, Jemar Modequillo, is brought in to clean up the infamous Caloocan district of Manila, cameras embed with the officers of his Specials Operations Unit. His aim is to curb the bloodshed by boosting actual arrests of suspected traffickers and addicts. But as the cops and vigilantes alike scour the slums, civil rights give way to impunity and the city's poor pay the highest price. Combining the pacing of a thriller with masterful journalism, this investigative doc reveals the human cost of a populist agenda.”

Produced and Directed by James Jones

Filmed and Directed by Olivier Sarbil

Produced by Dan Edge

Executive Produced by Raney Aronson-Rath, Mark Edwards, Mandy Chang, Hayley Reynolds, Sandra Whipham and Rebecca Lichtenfeld

A FRONTLINE and ARTE France production with Mongoose Pictures in association with BBC Storyville and Bertha Doc Society





Sheffield Doc/Fest

DATE: Friday 07 June 2019
TIME: 12:45 PM

LOCATION: Bertha DocHouse Showroom Cinema 4
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DATE: Sunday 09 June 2019
TIME: 1:40 PM

LOCATION: The Light Cinema 6

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HRW Film Festival

DATE: June 15, 2019
TIME: 8:30 PM

LOCATION: Film at Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center New York

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DATE: June 17, 2019
TIME: 6:15 PM

LOCATION: Film at Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center New York

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Frontline Club

DATE: Wednesday 19 June 2019
TIME: 7:00 PM

LOCATION: Frontline Club, London

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Geneva (HRW/UN)

DATE: Thursday 20 June 2019
TIME: 4:00 PM

LOCATION: Club Suisse De La Presse


The Production Team


Producer and Director - James Jones

James Jones is an award-winning British director who makes documentary films for international television and theatrical release.

His documentaries tackle important issues through powerful personal stories told in a filmic style and narrative. He has made films about police shootings in America, suicide in the military, wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and undercover investigations in Saudi Arabia and North Korea. His background in current affairs investigations means the films still have a hard journalistic edge while using the craft techniques of documentary.

His films have won two Emmys, three DuPonts, a Grierson, a Rory Peck, a Frontline Club, a Royal Television Society, a Broadcast Award, two Overseas Press Club of America, two Golden Nymphs, and a Venice TV Award, as well as being nominated five times at the BAFTAs. Recently, he co-directed the Emmy-winning Mosul with Olivier Sarbil.



Cinematographer and Director - Olivier Sarbil

Olivier Sarbil is an award-winning French documentary director and Emmy-winning cinematographer based in London. Over the past decade, Olivier has covered conflicts and critical social issues across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America. With strong visual storytelling, Olivier’s films are intimate and human, conveying emotions through beautiful and cinematic imagery.

His work has been recognised with awards from a variety of organisations, including, Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography, DuPont, Royal Television Society, One World Media, Overseas Press Club of America, Broadcast Awards, Bayeux-Calvados for war correspondents (twice), Golden Nymph, Rory Peck, Venice TV Award, Frontline Club, Grand Award and Gold Medal at the New York Festivals International TV & Film. His imagery has also garnered a BAFTA Nomination for Best Cinematography.


Dan Edge-headshot.jpg

Producer - Dan Edge

Dan has produced and directed films from all over the world, in the main for FRONTLINE PBS, as well as for Channel 4, the BBC and HBO.

His most recent film as a director, Last Days of Solitary, was a feature-length documentary telling the story of solitary confinement in US prisons. It was praised by critics as ‘revealing the dark truth of solitary’, ‘a harrowing visceral documentary’ and ‘unflinching and harrowing’. Before that he filmed, produced and directed Outbreak – made during the height of the West African Ebola epidemic. The film won a BAFTA, Emmy, Grierson and numerous other awards.

As a senior producer for FRONTLINE PBS, Dan has overseen Mosul (dir: Olivier Sarbil and James Jones) Exodus (dir: James Bleumel); Children of Syria (dir: Marcel Mettelsiefen); and many other films.



Executive Producer - Raney Aronson-Rath

Raney Aronson-Rath is the executive producer of FRONTLINE, PBS’ flagship investigative journalism series, and is a leading voice on the future of journalism. She has been internationally recognized for her work to expand FRONTLINE’s reporting capacity and reimagine the documentary form across multiple platforms.


Editor - Michael Harte

On The President’s Orders’ is Michael’s second feature length documentary. He has edited a number of BAFTA and Grierson-nominated documentaries for BBC and Channel 4, and is currently cutting a three part series for Netflix. 

His first feature length documentary was the BAFTA nominated and Oscar shortlisted ‘Three Identical Strangers’ for CNN Films which won the Sundance jury prize for storytelling. He was nominated for best editing at the American Cinema Editors, Critics Choice, and Cinema Eye Honours awards. 



Composer - Uno Helmersson

Uno Helmersson is an award winning Swedish composer whose credits include the worldwide hit tv series The Bridge, broadcast in more than 100 territories and for which he was awarded a Golden FIPA. 

Other major credits include the Emmy winning Armadillo documentary series  following a group of Danish soldiers for 6 months in Afghanistan; Magnus, about the life of Norway’s Mozart of Chess directed by Benjamin Ree for Norway’s Moskus Film; Susanne Bier’s A Second Chance, additional score; Mikkei Norgaard’s The Absent One; and Zentropa’s Department Q film series.


A Different Kind of Documentary


Shot in the style of a thriller, this observational film combines the look and feel of a narrative feature film with a real life revelatory journalistic investigation into a campaign of killings.


The film uncovers a murky world where crime, drugs and politics meet in a deathly embrace - and reveal that although the police have been publicly ordered to stop extra-judicial killings, the deaths continue.


Directors, Olivier Sarbil and James Jones, on location in Manila, Philippines.

Shot with the stark precision and chiaroscuro tones of a Michael Mann film, James Jones and Olivier Sarbil’s On The President’s Orders would be one of the most harrowing escapist thrillers of the year if it weren’t for the somber realisation that the horror captured is entirely, apocalyptically real.
— POV Magazine

A real life thriller
— One Movie Our Views

Masterful foray into the dark side of human behaviour.
— Docs On Screens

Chilling, unflinching
— Cinema Axis

Powerful, wrenching... visually arresting.
— NOW Toronto

Cinematic with a capital C
— BiffBamPop

In this grimly lurid, thriller-like documentary, filmmakers James Jones and Olivier Sarbil have open access to both police and their victims in a town where beat cops have been promoted into death squads.
— Original Cin

It’s a wholly cinematic, sensory experience, with straight-ahead reportage electrified by glaring streetlights and a panicked urban wall of sound; it would make a handsome companion piece to Filipino auteur Brillante Mendoza’s recent “Alpha, the Right to Kill,” a fictionalised Duterte-era action film that aimed for grainy docu-realism as much as Jones and Sarbil’s film trades in more sleekly immersive atmospherics.

Production values here are so dazzlingly high that, for entire sequences at a time, riveted viewers may forget to wonder just how Jones and Sarbil managed to force a camera into the fray. Sarbil, a gifted cameraman who won a cinematography Emmy for his and Jones’s 2017 Frontline episode on Mosul, shoots the nighttime raids with a hot, athletic immediacy that the aforementioned Mendoza (or even Michael Mann) would covet in a fictional context; bodies are silhouetted in the glare of emergency lights, though amid the shadows, we also get close-up glimmers of strained faces on all sides of the law. The idea here is not to aestheticize a human rights crisis, but to show the absurd movie-logic shoot-’em-up that Duterte has allowed
the Philippines to become, right down to the “Fury Road”-style death’s-head masks worn by the executors. Populist politics can turn all too easily to popcorn ones; “On the President’s Orders” vividly captures the tipping point.
— Guy Lodge, Variety

While Jones and Sarbil don’t skimp on the raw verité action, there’s a real artfulness to the film as they mix in beautifully composed imagery of Caloocan in order to stand in stark contrast to the everyday misery. *****
— In The Seats

Shot like a Hollywood thriller, this visceral exposé lays bare the deadly heart of darkness behind Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte’s single-minded war on drugs.
— Sheffield Doc/Fest

Ghosts also haunt James Jones and Olivier Sarbil’s On the President’s Orders, a nail-biting investigative look at Philippines strongman Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs” through both its victims – the battle-scarred families of mostly low-level dealers and addicts rendered collateral damage – as well as, even more shockingly, its remorseless perpetrators.
— Filmmaker Magazine

“On the President’s Orders” is a special documentary that doesn’t try to ask all the questions or provide any possible answers. It simply testifies to our dark age of cruelty and dehumanization. Like the great documentarian duo of the Ross brothers, Jones and Sarbil exhibit great empathy by simply watching and listening to people and places, rather than telling us what to think. And, in this instance, bearing witness to the monstrous policies of the Philippine President, who asks: “’Do not do drugs and kill our children because I will kill you.’ So, what is wrong with that statement?”

God help us if we don’t know the answer.
— Roger Ebert

On the President’s Orders looks like a thriller from the likes of Michael Mann or Christopher Nolan, and it is just as gripping as Heat (1995) or Inception (2010). This is a slick and stylish documentary, with extraordinarily high production values. This is a documentary that is worthy of your complete attention and focus. You will become immersed in this world of drugs, crime, and corruption.
On the President’s Orders is a film that Hollywood should be envious of and a film that you should definitely seek out. *****
— Filmotomy

A powerful and disturbing documentary on the human cost of this senseless war, based on a crisis manufactured by a warped mind.
— The Inquirer