Brillante Mendoza’s problematic ‘Amo’

Netizens are clamoring for Netflix to drop Cannes-winning filmmaker Brillante Mendoza’s ‘Amo,’ a series he says depicts the “necessary” drug war in the Philippines.

‘Amo’ is the first Philippine series to have been picked up by streaming entertainment giant Netflix, known for a similar series titled ‘Narcos.’ It is a major coup for Mendoza and his team.

‘Amo,’ a 12-episode series produced by broadcast network TV5, was for worldwide rollout April 9, 2018.

Mendoza, a supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, created the internationally acclaimed films ‘Serbis,’ ‘Kinatay,’ ‘Thy Womb,’ and most recently ‘Ma Rosa,’ which also deals with the world of small-time drug dealers and corrupt police. He also directed the past two State of the Nation Addresses.

Mendoza had defended the government’s tokhang program, telling AFP in a phone interview that the drug war “is necessary for the Philippines—not only for the Philippines but also other countries afflicted with the drug problem.”

In BBC interview he says his controversial series shows people “both sides of the coin, not just the side of government but also the side of the victims and the police. There is a lot of corruption among them and they are partly to blame.”

Netizens, however, lambasted the director, who coolly replied in a Tweet, “To each his own.” The arguments against ‘Amo’ include the glorification and justification of the drug war, which has claimed some 4,000 lives by official count and triple that according to human rights bodies.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phelim Kine told BBC News that the series seems to misrepresent the drug war. “The Philippine government,” said Kine, “presents a whitewashed view of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war that paints a ludicrous veneer of civility and lawfulness. They will be well-pleased by the first two episodes of ‘Amo.’”

He pointed to “one of the most notably preposterous elements of the show” being the “significant number of suspected drug users and dealers actually surviving their encounters with the Philippine National Police, which is contrary to what has actually been occurring since the drug war began in 2016.”

Kine also said that “any dramatic representation of the drug war should stick to the same facts that motivated an ICC examination of the killings, rather than provide an airbrushed version which does detriment to the truth while benefiting the Duterte government’s formidable propaganda machine.”

Other netizens pointed out that drug-themed shows such as ‘Narcos,’ ‘El Chapo,’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ are popular nowadays. However, given Mendoza’s political leanings and the fictionalization of the series’ stories, there might be a lack of objectivity in the creation of narratives for the show.

One of the most poignant objections to the show’s airing comes from Luzviminda Siapo, a former OFW whose disabled son Raymart was gunned down at the age of 19 by unknown assailants after having been “falsely accused” she says, by a neighbor as being a marijuana dealer.

Siapo wrote to Netflix asking them to cancel the show: “My son was one of the thousands of victims of President Duterte’s campaign against drugs. Now that ‘Amo,’ a show about the war on drugs in the Philippines, is about to be screened on Netflix, I am deeply concerned… I would like to ask you to cancel this show. War on drugs is not the solution. For me, killing is not right. Everyone deserves a chance to live and change his life.”

Siapo’s petition has garnered over 4,000 pledges, close to its goal of 5,000.

Mendoza has backpedaled somewhat after the international firestorm against his series erupted. In an April 8 interview for the Telegraph, he said, “I’m not saying that the [drugs problem] should be addressed in the way that this government is dealing with it. But people tend to criticize and to give their opinions without even going deeper into the issue.”   

Despite any good intentions on Mendoza’s part, many Filipinos consider the series inappropriate at best and a glorification of the drug war at worst. This should be a clarion call to reconsider the show’s airing.

The drug war is a highly sensitive issue in our society and lack of objectivity in portraying its stories will be a disservice to all those who died unjustly and to their families dealing with the aftermath.

Dr. Ortuoste is a writer and communication consultant. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Brillante Mendoza , Netflix , Rodrigo Duterte , Philippine , Human Rights Watch
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