For the past two years, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has claimed the lives of thousands of people, primarily from the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. This tragedy will form the backdrop of a new series released just last night on Netflix. Brillante Mendoza, the director of the series titled Amo (Boss), is a vocal supporter of Duterte’s brutal war on drugs and has previously directed promotional pieces for the Duterte administration. According to a press release, the series examines “controversies revolving around the Philippine National Police in the government’s campaign against drugs, as well as its role in rightfully enforcing it”.
In an interview, Mendoza has praised Duterte’s approach to drugs, arguing that “this is the way to go about it.” Mendoza has previously directed a series of anti-drug videos for the Presidential Communications Office and directed Duterte’s State of the Union Addresses in 2016 and 2017.
In response to the announcement that Amo will be shown on Netflix, the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs (ANPUD) and the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) have released a public letter to the CEO of Netflix. In the letter, they call on Netflix to immediately cancel the airing of Amo, noting their belief that the series “actively promotes very real violence and killings of marginalized and vulnerable communities” and that shows like Amo “are the means through which Duterte asserts his public image and maintains support for these mass killings”.
This is not the first time an international company has capitalized on the tragedy unfolding in the Philippines. In November last year, drug policy reformers and human rights groups called on Apple and Google to remove dozens of online video games glorifying the drug war murders in the Philippines. Apple removed the games, while Google continues to host them.
The ANPUD and INPUD letter notes that Duterte’s war on drugs has been condemned by the United Nations, the International Criminal Court (ICC), over 45 national governments, and more than 375 civil society organizations around the world. In February of this year, the ICC launched a preliminary inquiry into crimes against humanity committed by President Duterte in his war on drugs.
Robert Roy, vice-president of content acquisition for Netflix, has praised Amo as a “bold and suspenseful show” with “the potential of capturing thrill-seeking audiences worldwide.”
Duterte’s drug war has led to the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people; this is a real tragedy, not something to be turned into a show for “thrill-seeking audiences.”
Hannah Hetzer is the senior international policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.