Director’s Statement

Basurero is inspired by an actual Filipino fisherman, who in an Al Jazeera interview reveals that he has been dumping bodies of drug war victims for the police into Manila Bay. This infamous drug war was instigated under current President Rodrigo Duterte, when he took office in June 2016.  With the official death count in 2020 — now above 5,000. Whereas, human rights groups are quoting over 27,000.


What attracts me to Bong’s story is not only the inhumane killings and the vilification of drug-users, sellers, and the poor in the Philippines but how this character’s circumstance is a window into the complex Filipino psyche’s search for value.  I have been exploring this within myself, as a Filipina, firstborn in the United States — growing up with parents who immigrated to the superpower that colonized them.


My own cathartic trajectory has been deciphering this identity, finding meaning in self-value, and owning a voice as a storyteller of color.


In filming Basurero, we kept an observational stance, thus creating space for contemplation as we move with our main character through his day.


I strongly feel that the wounded psyche of the colonized needs to be explored, the stigma is broken and the pain healed. How can we be vulnerable, heal the past, feel deeply — own and fight for our self-worth? How do we claim and embrace this value and take up space in this world?



Eileen Cabiling, Writer-Director


BASURERO is about a Filipino fisherman named Bong living and working in an urban fishing village on the outskirts of Manila. He struggles with there hardly being any fish in the sea due to climate change and overfishing. With a large family to support and his livelihood seriously in question, Bong dumps the killed (“trash”) into the ocean for the faceless vigilantes working the drug war. His story follows a day after he dumps the “trash”. A day when the killings’ hit close to home, with his neighbor’s son murdered for selling shabu (crystal meth).

Paralyzed by guilt, Bong struggles with the darkness of the killings, as his soul battles the fear instilled by the drug war. Meanwhile, his humanity searches madly for the light.

The film studies a character involved in the current Philippine drug war and addresses the humanity of it all. In other words, some say this war is a cover-up to instilling fear and discipline while killing the poor. On record, as of 2020 the official death record is 5,500 mostly poor people have been killed. Off the record, human rights groups have been citing 27,000 plus since January 2016.