Probe ordered on Army’s manipulated NPA photo

Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star
Probe ordered on Army�s manipulated NPA photo
A photo release from the Army’s 9th Infantry Division shows the image of alleged NPA surrenderees in Masbate photoshopped with an image of a table of surrendered firearms.

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has ordered Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay to conduct an investigation into the release of fake images of 306 alleged New People’s Army (NPA) surrenderees in Masbate last Thursday.

The manipulated photos had gone viral online and put in question the government’s drive against communist insurgents.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Army spokesman, said the releasing unit, the 9th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office, has given their side of the doctored photos, which had been circulated by at least two online news outlets.

“They have explained that in their ‘ardent desire to release timely information’ they were not able to double check the pictures attached to the press release in question,” Zagala said.

The photoshopped pictures showed a group of supposed NPA fighters and sympathizers standing in front of a long table with various types of firearms which they reportedly surrendered to Army authorities in the island province.

The manipulated image was,
apparently, made to support the prevailing military line that NPAs were surrendering in droves and to show that the CPP is losing its hold over its fighters and supporters.

The supposed mass surrender coincided with military- and police-led anti-communist rallies across the country that denounced the continued existence of the CPP.

“We at the Philippine Army headquarters hold our line units in high regard when it comes to the release of information to the media and the public, and their admission to the mistake is proof of their commitment to the high standards of public affairs principles. We will investigate this matter and hold whoever is accountable to face the appropriate sanctions,” Zagala said.

House to probe photo snafu

Militant lawmakers yesterday pushed for a congressional inquiry on the fake photos.

Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Zarate and Eufemia Cullamat said the photoshopped picture released by the Army may just be proof of “fake surrenderees and bounty collection racket of state forces.”

“We received reports from farmers and ordinary folks all over the country that they have been called into… supposed mass meetings by the military but when they get there they are presented as NPA surrenderees and made to sign blank documents. Out of fear of military abuse they were forced to sign said blank document,” Zarate said in a statement.

The progressive lawmaker believed that the photoshopped pictures “seems to be the template the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and the Philippine National Police are using to have a sterling report, or meeting the quota for their unit; promotions for the officers, as well as soldiers and police involved in the deception; and money from the Enhanced-Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP) budget or what the local government unit will add.”

“The culprits are hitting three birds with one deception and they are making money out of it as well because they are supposedly the ones getting the money allocated for the purported surrenderees, with at least P15,000 from E-CLIP and the same amount from the LGU or government departments or at least P30,000 for each surrenderee. In the supposed Masbate event alone that would mean P9.180 million that can go to the military unit involved,” he alleged.

Zarate further accused authorities of “recycling pictures and fake surrenderees and present them as new surrenderees,” citing media reports that the Masbate picture had been used since 2017.

“This anomaly urgently needs to be investigated by Congress because the people’s coffers are being drained by these corrupt and unscrupulous officers,” he stressed.

Cullamat supported Zarate’s allegation.

She said this scheme by the military is very familiar to indigenous communities like the lumads.

“They will be called to a supposed meeting and then they will see a stash of guns already arranged on the table,” Cullamat claimed. – With Edu Punay

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