In the Shadow of Metro Manila’s Colonial Modernity: Policing and Politics in BuyBust and Alpha, The Right to Kill


Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


The killings that herald the Duterte administration’s anti-drug campaign are now a mundane feature in densely populated urban areas in the Philippines. The figure of extrajudicial killing (EJK), a body dumped on a pavement with a cardboard sign or lying in a pool of blood beside a gun and a packet of crystal meth, has become part of the imaginary of the city. As signifiers of moral degradation and criminality, and of the state’s authority to inflict violence in the name of justice, security, and development, EJKs inscribe a narrative central to the production of consent for the “war on drugs”: that of the disposability of the lives it takes. How are we to defamiliarize this narrative and understand the mechanisms that allow its inscription? This paper analyzes two cinematic engagements with the “war on drugs” that fall under noir as a mode of contemporary Philippine urban filmmaking: Erik Matti’s BuyBust (2018) and Brillante Mendoza’s Alpha, The Right to Kill (2018). The analysis I present in discussing these films is twofold. First, I surface the links between the “war on drugs” and Metropolitan Manila’s modernity by examining how the films’ milieus are shaped by the colonial logics of exclusion and exploitation that underlie the history of urban development in the capital region. One legacy of this colonial modernity is differential access to what Arendt called “the right to have rights,” which prompt both those included in, and those excluded from “humanity” and “citizenship” to rely on violence as a way to make or secure claims to the recognition of rights. Second, I provide a close reading of these films, focusing on their depictions of the slum as a site of policing and political action, where tension between what Ranciére calls the order of “policy” and the politics of “emancipation” is dramatized. In so doing, I show how these films trouble liberal conceptions of justice and rights, and argue for the necessity of developing a critical perspective and language that do not take the ontological status or normative desirability
of so-called “liberal democratic values” for granted.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2019
Event14th Singapore Graduate Forum on Southeast Asian Studies -, Singapore, Singapore
Duration: 24 Jul 201926 Jul 2019


Forum14th Singapore Graduate Forum on Southeast Asian Studies


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