Anonymous accounts flood WPS discourse with ‘CIA agent’ accusations vs PCG spox

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Anonymous accounts flood WPS discourse with �CIA agent� accusations vs PCG spox
Image shows Philippine Coast Guard Spokesperson Jay Tarriela
Graphics by Philstar.com / Anjilica Andaya
This report forms part of Philstar.com's coverage of influence operations, which involve the spread of false information and propaganda that can mislead, cause confusion and prevent informed understanding and discourse.Read our explainer on influence operations.

MANILA, Philippines — Similarly worded allegations that Philippine Coast Guard Spokesperson Jay Tarriela was a covert “CIA agent” and supporter of the United States government surfaced online after he publicly condemned the Chinese Coast Guard’s water cannon attack on Filipino vessels in August.

Besides accusing the PCG spokesperson of aligning with the US government and inciting war with China, several accounts also revived a 2004 news story that mentioned Tarriela as one of the subjects of a probe by the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) on a cheating incident. At least two columnists writing for The Manila Times and Net25 echoed this narrative.

These posts have some of the markings of an influence operation that Philstar.com is tracking across all social media platforms, groups and spaces on the internet. Among others, the posts appear to focus on flooding the discourse on Chinese vessels’ behavior in the West Philippine Sea with accusations that Tarriela is providing intelligence services to the US government.

Based on Philstar.com’s monitoring, a verified account exhibiting troll-like behavior on X (formerly Twitter) first posted accusations that Tarriela worked for the US government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) around two hours after Tarriela called Filipinos defending China amid tensions in the West Philippine Sea “unpatriotic” and “traitors.”

On August 10 at 8:32 a.m., Tarriela posted on X: 

“If you are a Filipino, whether in government or private sector, regardless of your politics, defending and making excuses for China's aggressive behavior should deem you unpatriotic, and a traitor to the Philippines and to our people.”

More than two hours later, at 10:54 a.m., the first to accuse Tarriela of being a “CIA agent” on X, verified user “Ani & Brewed Cofi” (@AniR113), posted: 

“Is it true na CIA agent yan Tarriela? Narinig ko lang. (Is it true that Tarriela is a CIA agent? I just heard.)”

The anonymous account — which regularly posts content in favor of the Chinese government — asked the same question if Tarriela was a “CIA agent” twice more on the same day at around four-hour intervals (at 3:38 p.m., then again at 7:22 p.m.).

This screengrab was taken on November 27, 7:59 p.m.

In the next two days, “Ani & Brewed Cofi” asked the same questions but this time included a new allegation — on whether Tarriela had been “kicked out” of PMA after allegedly cheating during a test. 

This screengrab was taken on November 27, 8:03 p.m.

From August 11 to August 14, other anonymous accounts then posted similar allegations on X calling Tarriela a “CIA agent” or a “traitor,” while others also claimed he was booted out of the PMA for cheating.

Several of these posts used the same keywords but none gained much traction. Of the X posts monitored by Philstar.com, most of these only had single-digit likes or retweets. 

This screengrab was taken on November 27, 8:05 p.m.

These allegations also appeared on Facebook in the same time period, most of which included call-outs of Tarriela as a “traitor” or labeling him as an “Amboy (slang for Filipinos acting like an American).” 

In particular, Facebook page “Ted TWIST” posted on August 14 a screengrab of a 2004 story by The Philippine Star on the decision of a Regional Trial Court to halt the PMA from continuing its investigation into eight graduating cadets for alleged cheating, which included Tarriela.

“Ted TWIST” wrote in his post that Tarriela is "now... a mole for US spy intel as well as an attack dog” for speaking out against China over harassment incidents in the WPS. His post had no shares or likes.

Similarly, Facebook page “Jun Abines” posted on the same day (August 14) that Tarriela was "pro-American" and "already compromised" after he participated in a 2021 fellowship sponsored by a US-based research organization focusing on US relations with the Asia-Pacific region. 


This screengrab was taken on November 27, 8:09 p.m.

Days later, two columnists — Penny Abad of Net25 and Rigoberto Tiglao of The Manila Times — wrote pieces critical of the Philippine government’s statements condemning Chinese vessels’ actions toward Filipino boats. Both columns mentioned Tarriela.

Specifically, Abad quipped in an August 19 column that Tarriela was working as the "mouthpiece" of maritime security expert Ray Powell by "hyping" up the Chinese Coast Guard's water cannon act on Filipino vessels, which the Net25 writer labeled as a "water-spraying incident." 

Both Abad and Tiglao wrote about the PMA’s probe into Tarriela's and other cadets' alleged involvement in a cheating incident. Abad mentioned that Tarriela was “kicked out” while Tiglao stated that the PMA's honor committee then had found "prima facie evidence" that Tarriela and his cohorts cheated in their management information science class.

The 2004 report — accessible on Philstar.com — mentioned that Tarriela and seven other cadets filed a complaint against the PMA for "(depriving) them of their constitutional right to due process" in conducting an investigation into  their alleged cheating during an exam.

Philstar.com reached out to Tarriela thrice in August and September for comment and will update this story with his response. 

WPS disinformation

Tarriela on October 31 warned the public against narratives being shared and amplified by Filipinos that sought to downplay Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Specifically, the PCG spokesperson sought to debunk claims that “speaking up against China's aggression in the West Philippine Sea will lead us into a war” and that “those who are critical of China (are) anti-Filipino and pro-US.”

“Ironically, these individuals claim to be pro-Filipino while promoting Chinese narratives and even contradicting factual reports from Philippine authorities,” Tarriela said, adding that the intention of those sharing these narratives was to “manipulate public opinion and divert attention from the issue of Chinese aggression.”

— with reports by Rosette Adel, John Marwin Elao, Catalina Ricci Madarang, Lea Devio, Nadie Esteban and Ralph Villanueva


This alert/analysis/series was produced with support from an Internews initiative aiming to build the capacity of news organizations to understand and monitor disinformation and influence operations in the Philippines.

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