Friday’s TV: The dangers of playing dirty

November 13, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

UNREPORTED WORLD: PHILLIPINES’ DIRTY WORLD, Channel 4, Friday 14th November, 7:30pm Alert me

If there were ever two social theorists looking down (or up, depending on what class you belong to) and thinking “f*ck? it would be Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In truth, no one can deny the nobility of communism’s attempts to solve the problems inherent in capitalist economies. The basic problem is that while communism works perfectly well in theory, its various incarnations – Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism and Trotskyism – always seem to come out like the first batch of Ripley clones in Alien Resurrection.

In the latest episode of Channel 4’s Unreported World, Evan Williams reports from the Philippines, a country with a human rights record that read like Tolstoy, where a war is raging between rich and poor; between an armed Marxist rebel group – “the New People’s Army? – and the 135 families that hold a monopoly over economic and political resources. He investigates the plight of those caught in the crossfire: students, activists and left wing politicians, all facing the daily threat of abduction and murder.

The report begins at a camp nestling in the remote northern highlands of the Philippines, home to an armed Marxist rebel group led by “Simon?, who claims that left wing leaders are being routinely targeted for kidnap and assassination by state security services, later described as groups of camouflaged men in white vans carrying M-16 guns.

The team then moves on to the capital, Manila, where they meet a woman named Ghay Portajada who helps the families of 193 people gone missing since 2001. She also explains how, in addition to the kidnapped, over 900 social activists have been murdered. All this is interwoven with startling images of deprivation including a slum – essentially nothing more than a web of corrugated iron roofs and interconnected rooms – on fire.

But it is only when we learn the story of Karen Empeno that you begin to understand the brilliance of the series. Personally, she was a promising student who was abducted by the aforementioned security forces, but in the context of the report, and the situation in the Philippines, she becomes the face of the crisis, a socio-political symbol. And as her terrible fate is revealed to Karen’s parents by a fugitive informant (how she was brutally beaten, raped and then murdered) we are left with the distressing scene of her mother refusing to cry, repeating that her daughter is “alive?.

Unfortunately, in a 30 minute timeslot, I often felt that I was being torn away just as I was connecting with the people and subject material. That said this was gripping from start to finish. Unreported Worlds exposes the atrocities in the Philippines with a directness that never loses sight of the emotional stories surrounding them. The programme expertly explores the hair-fine line between communism and totalitarianism, whilst effortlessly threading personal stories of loss into the wider struggles of a nation in turmoil.

By Alejandro Ahmadi-Gestoso