The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) should immediately and fully disclose before the public all of the so-called “advocacy groups” and the fake Facebook accounts that they support and manage, human rights watchdog Karapatan demanded on Wednesday, as the group called on the military and the police to reveal the budget spent on “what is clearly a coordinated machinery of mass deception to vilify, discredit, and incite State violence against government critics, activists, and human rights defenders.”
“What President Rodrigo Duterte himself has inadvertently admitted is that this fake online propaganda machinery taken down by Facebook along with these so-called ‘advocacy groups’ are indeed State-backed. Facebook’s takedown exposed the shamelessly deceptive practices that lie at the heart of the NTF-ELCAC’s ‘whole-of-nation’ campaign of State terrorism and mass deception. The government cannot lie anymore, and we demand the AFP, PNP, and the NTF-ELCAC to disclose before the public all these ‘advocacy groups’ and just how much of our taxes are being spent on their harmful lies,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.
Karapatan had previously assailed a rally last January 29 which was supposedly organized by several “cause-oriented” groups such as the League of Parents of the Philippines, Hands Off Our Children (HOOC), and Bantay Bayan, with the endorsement of the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The Facebook page of HOOC was among the 31 pages taken down by Facebook for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to boost posts red-tagging activists and human rights defenders.
Facebook’s investigation into this network of pages and accounts stated that “[a]lthough the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities,” Facebook “found links to the Philippine military and Philippine police.”
Another investigation by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab further uncovered that, while the HOOC “presents itself as an independent organization led by concerned parents, it may be more closely linked to the Civil-Military Operations Regiment than it publicly lets on,” as their investigation found that Philippine Army Captain Alexandre Cabales, chief of the Philippine Army Social Media Center, was an administrator of a private Facebook group linked to the HOOC page. Despite the AFP’s denials that the suspended fake accounts and pages were linked to them, none other than AFP Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay pleaded Facebook to restore the suspended HOOC page.
For Palabay, these investigations show that “along with operating fake social media accounts and pages, the creation of government-organized non-government organizations or GONGOs is part and parcel of the government’s counterinsurgency campaign: it is a well-known tactic used by repressive governments to deceive the public by appropriating, mimicking, and muzzling the civil society voice to create the illusion of grassroots mobilization supporting the government’s fascist and anti-people agenda. Any illusion of popular support for this regime is now out of the window. An honest-to-goodness democratic government would never desperately rely on a machinery of mass deception to assert its legitimacy, let alone to attack, vilify, and discredit its critics and civil society organizations.”
“The people have every right to know and demand just how much of our hard-earned taxes are being spent on and pocketed by the people behind these pages, accounts, and groups that spout lies against activists and human rights defenders — especially in the middle of this public health crisis. The AFP, PNP, Lorraine Badoy, and the entire machinery of the NTF-ELCAC can continue to manufacture lies after lies, but it is clear that no one should believe them anymore,” the Karapatan officer ended.