Gov't should disclose state-backed âadvocacy groupsâ after Facebook takedown â rights group
In this Dec. 17, 2019, photo, President Rodrigo Duterte watches troops in formation during the 84th anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines held at Camp Aguinaldo.
The STAR/Krizjohn Rosales
Gov't should disclose state-backed ‘advocacy groups’ after Facebook takedown — rights group
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - September 30, 2020 - 3:49pm

MANILA, Philippines — Rights group Karapatan on Wednesday demanded that security forces divulge all state-backed initiatives which are presented to the public as advocacy groups. 

"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," the group said. 

"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." 

Facebook last week announced that it took down networks of pages, accounts, and groups for "coordinated inauthentic behavior."

One of the networks taken down was based in China while another network, based in the Philippines, was traced to the military and police, Facebook's Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said.

'Facebook, listen to me'

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday night lashed out at Facebook during a pre-taped televised address, issuing vague threats against the social media company whose innovations many in the media and the opposition credit for the former Davao City mayor's swift rise to power. 

"Facebook, listen to me. We allow you to operate here hoping you could help us also. Now if the government cannot espouse or advocate something which is for the good of the people, then what is your purpose here in my country?" Duterte said. 

“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," Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in response. 

Duterte, in his address on Monday night, acknowledged that he does not quite understand the issue of the Facebook takedowns, stressing only that government should be allowed to push its advocacies online.

Presidential Harry Roque, a petitioner against draconian provisions in the Cybercrime Prevention Act in 2012 when he was still a rights lawyer, has insisted that the takedowns are an issue of free speech.

Governments are the primary duty-brearers in upholding rights like the freedom of expression. Facebook, in contrast, is a company that runs a social media platform where users are required to abide by terms and conditions it has set.

"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,” Palabay said. 

'Hands Off Our Children movement' 

Among the pages removed from the social media platform was Hands Off Our Children, which was being managed by Philippine Army Capt. Alexandre Cabales. The military has asked Facebook to restore HOOC which it called a "legitimate advocacy page." 

Further investigation conducted by the US-based Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) showed that, before it was taken down, HOOC' described itself in its About page as “a group of mother (sic) fighting against terrorist recruitment.”

DFRLab's report further said that the group "claimed to represent parents whose children were recruited to the CCP-NPA by the party’s 'front organizations' operating in schools." 

At the time of its removal, the HOOC's page had 20,000 followers while other accounts from the now-removed Philippine network amplified the so-called advocacy group's posts. 

However, the research lab found, and the government has since acknowledged, that the page was run by Cabales. 

According to DFRLab, Cabales' account was an administrator of a private Facebook group linked to the HOOC's page, along with three other accounts in the network.

"His role in administering this group suggested that while the Hands Off Our Children movement 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," the research lab said. 

What is a 'GONGO'?

Palabay said these investigations bear out the finer details of the administration's counter-insurgency campaign such as the creation of government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs) along with the operation of fake social media accounts and pages. 

"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," Karapatan's secretary general said, referring to GONGOs. 

"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.”

In January, Karapatan called out the Department of Interior and Local Government for endorsing a "Rally for Peace and Prosperity” in Mendiola which the rights group said was actually organized by GONGOs. Hands Off Our Children was one of the groups involved in organizing the rally, along with League of Parents of the Philippines and Bantay Bayan. 

The rally was staged to protest progressive lawmakers and organizations and was slammed by Karapatan as "a desperate attempt by the government to manufacture support for its fascist and anti-people policies.”

"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,” Palabay said Wednesday. Presidential Communications Operations Office Usec. Lorraine Badoy also serves as the spokesperson for NTF-ELCAC. 

On Tuesday, in a continued bid to hold the PCOO accountable for red-tagging administration critics, members of the House minority bloc demanded Badoy's removal from her post.

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