Coast Guard suspects Chinese ‘state actors’ behind disinformation on WPS

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Coast Guard suspects Chinese �state actors� behind disinformation on WPS
This photo taken on April 23, 2023 shows a member of the Philippine coast guard vessel BRP Malabrigo manning his post while being shadowed by a Chinese coast guard ship at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese government could be involved in a disinformation campaign downplaying the aggression of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard told senators on Tuesday.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Jay Tarriela said during a Senate joint inquiry that the “information operation” the PCG has observed regarding the WPS “will not be happening unless it’s supported by a state actor.”

Tarriela shared this in response to a question by Sen. Risa Hontiveros on whether the PCG, based on its intelligence operations, has found evidence that those spreading disinformation are part of a Chinese state-sponsored campaign.

The spokesperson said that the PCG has only obtained information through the journalists who notify them of possible disinformation campaigns on the WPS through the emails they receive.

“The only information that we have received is through (our) media friends, wherein those journalists we know… receive emails trying to divert the attention of Filipinos. Instead of concentrating on the aggressive actions of China, they are diverting it to Vietnam,” Tarriela added.

“For the PCG that’s the only information we have,” the PCG spokesperson added.

To recall, Tarriela warned Filipinos in August against online peddlers of disinformation on the WPS. He described these sources of disinformation as “mouthpieces of the Chinese government” and believed they were causing confusion among Filipinos about the situation at the WPS.

Before that, Tarriela said that all those who make excuses for China's aggressive behavior in the tense waterways are “unpatriotic” and “traitor” to the country.

Tarriela’s fiery statement was referring to the incident when Chinese vessels fired water cannons at Philippine vessels on their way to a resupply mission in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal last August 5.

During the Senate’s joint inquiry, Hontiveros stressed in her opening statement that the P10 million intelligence funds given to the PCG every year since 2009 are "too little" given that the PCG defends the country against a much larger nation.

Currently, a significant portion of the PCG’s intelligence work relies on humint or human intelligence, Hontiveros said. 

However, given the magnitude and scope of the Coast Guard's role in maritime governance, it is necessary to augment this with sigint or signals intelligence, the senator added.

“If there are civilian agencies whose mandate doesn't involve responding to our national security issues but still receive confidential and intel funds, why isn't the Coast Guard receiving more? Shouldn't they be given a larger share of confidential and intel funds? Isn't this common sense?” Hontiveros said in Filipino.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri recently vowed to augment the confidential and intelligence funds of the PCG and the Philippine Navy to provide them “full logistical and operational support” in fending off maritime aggression.

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