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‘How many were not filmed?’: Calls to end police brutality renewed after cop killed mother and son in Tarlac

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By Catalina Ricci S. Madarang – December 21, 2020, Philstar.com/Interaksyon

Calls to end police brutality dominated conversations online on Monday after a cop was caught in a viral video killing an unarmed mother and son in Paniqui, Tarlac.

Police officer later identified as Senior Master Sergeant  Jonel Nuezca on Sunday shot 52-year-old Sonya Gregorio and her son, Frank Anthony Gregorio, 25, over an altercation regarding the latter’s use of “boga,” an improvised noisemaker used during the holidays in the Philippines.

Nuezca, who was reportedly assigned to the Parañaque City Crime laboratory, surrendered at the Rosales Pangasinan Municipal Police Station an hour after the incident.

He also turned over his PNP-issued 9mm semi-auto pistol that was used in the crime.

In an interview with GMA News’ “Unang Balita,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Noriel Rombaoa, chief of the Paniqui Police, said that the suspect went to the victims’ houses to confront them.

“Pumunta yung police sa bahay ng biktima at nagkaroon ng pagtatalo, naungkat ang matagal na nilang alitan sa right-of-way,” he said.

Nuezca refused to say anything except he regrets shooting the two victims, Rombaoa added. He also stated that the former will face a double murder complaint from the local police.

Data from Police Regional Office III chief Police Brigadier General Val de Leon showed that Nuezca had faced grave misconduct or homicide cases in May and December last year. However, these cases were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence.

Nuezca had faced grave misconduct (homicide) cases in May and December 2019. Both, however, were dismissed due to lack of substantial evidence.

Stop the killings

Several hashtags and the phrase “My father is a policeman”
dominated the top five spots on Twitter Philippines’ trending list on Monday as concerned Filipinos and human rights advocates called to end police brutality in the Philippines.

The phrase was uttered by the daughter of Nuezca during the altercation between the victims and her policeman father, seconds before the Gregorios were shot dead.

Nuezca’s daughter also received backlash online for this remark. Twitter user @lakwatsarah, said that the daughter might have been raised to believe that her father is above the law.

“She was probably raised to believe he can shoot anyone who messes with them. He shot them. He made that choice. The daughter is a victim of his parenting,” she said.

Aside from this phrase, the hashtags in the local Twitter’s top trending list as of writing are:

  1. #StopTheKillingsPH with over 670,000 tweets
  2. #JusticeforSonyaGregoria with over 360,000 tweets
  3. #EndPoliceBrutality with over 286,000 tweets
  4. #Pulisangterorista with over 191,000 tweets

The calls for justice for Sonya and Frank Gregorio were also launched on Facebook.

Progressive groups such as the League of Filipino Students and Gabriela Youth issued separate statements that denounced Nuezca’s brutal act and other cases of abuse and killings in the Philippines.

‘How many were not filmed?’

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that the shooting incident in Paniqui is an “isolated incident.” He also said that “the sin of Nuezca is not the sin of the entire Philippine National Police.”

“This is an unfortunate but isolated incident. While there are unfortunate incidents like this, the vast majority of our PNP personnel perform their sworn duties everyday with honor and integrity to protect and serve the people,” Año said.

Writers Emiliana Kampilan or “Dead Balagtas” and Alfonso Manalastas, however, noted the possible deaths at the hands of the police and the military that were not caught on camera.

Bar 2019 topnotcher Kenneth Manuel echoed the similar view and questioned if there were more underreported victims.

“Minsan mapapaisip ka na lang, ilan na kaya nakitil nito pero hindi lang naibalita? Mas mapapaisip ka, ilan kaya sa kanila ang kayang pumatay ng ganito?” Manuel wrote.

Several concerned Filipinos also questioned this possibility, while citing that drug suspects were killed before because they allegedly fought back or “nanlaban” but there were no videos to prove them.

Detained Sen. Leila De Lima in 2018 called out the government and former presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo for using the “nanlaban” narrative.

“I cannot allow Panelo to continue to poison the public’s mind with the Duterte administration’s oft-repeated but flawed proposition that the increasing number of deaths due to the crackdown on drugs was because suspected drug offenders have all resisted police arrest with violence,” she said in December 2018.

Meanwhile, others lamented the Christmas bonuses police officers received despite the reported brutality.

“Tapos mas mataas ang bonus ng mga pulis kaysa health workers?” he said.

Not the first time

Data from World Population Review showed that in 2020, the Philippines ranked third among the countries with the highest cases of police killings wherein 3,451 people were killed or a rate of 322 victims per 10 million people.

In a September report from US-based Human Rights Watch, citing government data, the PNP killed 50% more people between April and July of this year despite the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

HRW noted that this figure is only for deaths in police anti-drug operations.

Last June, the rising cases of police abuse in the Philippines which happened before and during the pandemic were juxtaposed to the killings perpetrated by the police in the United States.

The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis triggered a nationwide campaign for equal rights for all people of color.

RELATED: ‘I can’t breathe!,’ ‘Tama na po’: Police brutality in US, Philippines juxtaposed

Duterte’s ‘shoot-to-kill’ remarks

Some Filipinos blamed such rogue activities among PNP members on President Rodrigo Duterte’s continuous “shoot-to-kill” remarks since he took office in 2016.

In a televised address aired last December 16, Duterte denied ordering the police to “shoot to kill” civilians.

“May mga pulis na talagang may ano sa — diretso salvage ganoon. Wala akong inutos na ganoon. Remember, in all of my utterances, ang galit ko ‘yan when I say, ‘Do not destroy my country, the Republic of the Philippines, who elected me as President. Do not destroy our sons and daughters because I will kill you.’ Sabi ko — hindi ko sinabi, ‘They impede, they will kill you.’ The military will… I said, ‘I will kill you,’” the said.

“Pero sabi ko, ito, ‘Go out and destroy the apparatus.’ Iyan. Pagka nagkabarilan diyan in destroying the apparatus, goodbye ka. Kaya sabi ko, ‘Ako, I take full responsibility for my order.’ ‘But remember,’ I said, ‘enforce the law in accordance with what you have learned then self-defense.’ Defense of ano ‘yan. Stranger kung kasama mo. In law it’s called a stranger, maski kilala mo. Defense of relative,” he also said.

‘Walk the talk’

Amid the outrage on Nuezca’s brutal act both Paniqui Police chief Rombaoa and PNP chief Police General Major Debold Sinas reminded their colleagues to observe “maximum tolerance.”

“Sa mga kasamahan po natin sa pulisya, dapat self-control kasi nga maximum tolerance tayo, tayo ang may armas. Kung merong umaagrabiyado sa atin merong right forum po riyan, pwede nating kasuhan, not to the point na gagamitin natin ang baril natin,” Rombaoa was quoted as saying.“Lagi nating tandaan ang ating sinumpaang tungkulin bilang tagapagpatupad ng batas. We should walk the talk in the PNP,” Sinas said. #

‘Aswang’ Documentary Review: Do Not Dare Look Away

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July 20, 2020/

By L.S. Mendizabal

Kodao Productions

Pumarito ka. Bahala ka, kukunin ka ng aswang diyan! (Come here, or else the aswang will get you!)” is a threat often directed at Filipino children by their mothers. In fact, you can’t be Filipino without having heard it at least once in your life. For as early as in childhood, we are taught to fear creatures we’ve only seen in nightmares triggered by bedtime stories told by our Lolas.

In Philippine folklore, an “aswang” is a shape-shifting monster that roams in the night to prey on people or animals for survival. They may take a human form during the day. The concept of “monster” was first introduced to us in the 16th century by the Spanish to demonize animist shamans, known as “babaylan” and “asog,” in order to persuade Filipino natives to abandon their “anitos” (nature, ancestor spirits) and convert to Roman Catholicism—a colonizing tactic that proved to be effective from Luzon to Northern Mindanao.

In the early 1950s, seeing that Filipinos continued to be superstitious, the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized folklore against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap), an army of mostly local peasants who opposed US intervention in the country following our victory over the Japanese in World War II. The CIA trained the Philippine Army to butcher and puncture holes in the dead bodies of kidnapped Huk fighters to make them look like they were bitten and killed by an aswang. They would then pile these carcasses on the roadside where the townspeople could see them, spreading fear and terror in the countryside. Soon enough, people stopped sympathizing with and giving support to the Huks, frightened that the aswang might get them, too.

Fast forward to a post-Duterte Philippines wherein the sight of splayed corpses has become as common as of the huddled living bodies of beggars in the streets. Under the harsh, flickering streetlights, it’s difficult to tell the dead and the living apart. This is one of many disturbing images you may encounter in Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang. The documentary, which premiered online and streamed for free for a limited period last weekend, chronicles the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs. “Oplan Tokhang” authorized the Philippine National Police to conduct a door-to-door manhunt of drug dealers and/or users. According to human rights groups, Tokhang has killed an estimated 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom were suspected small-time drug offenders without any actual charges filed against them. A pattern emerged of eerily identical police reports across cases: They were killed in a “neutralization” because they fought back (“nanlaban”) with a gun, which was the same rusty .38 caliber pistol repeatedly found along with packets of methamphetamine (“shabu”) near the bloodied corpses. When children and innocent people died during operations, PNP would call them “collateral damage.” Encouraged by Duterte himself, there were also vigilante killings too many to count. Some were gunned down by unidentified riding-in-tandem suspects, while some ended up as dead bodies wrapped in duct tape, maimed or accessorized with a piece of cardboard bearing the words, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not emulate). Almost all the dead casualties shared one thing in common: they were poor. Virtually no large-scale drug lord suffered the same fate they did.

And for a while, it was somehow tempting to call it “fate.” Filipinos were being desensitized to the sheer number of drug-related extrajudicial killings (a thousand a month, according to the film). “Nanlaban” jokes and memes circulated on Facebook and news of slain Tokhang victims were no longer news as their names and faces were reduced to figures in a death toll that saw no end.

As much as Aswang captures the real horrors and gore of the drug war, so has it shown effectively the abnormal “sense of normal” in the slums of Manila as residents deal with Tokhang on the daily. Fearing for their lives has become part of their routine along with making sure they have something to eat or slippers on their feet. This biting everyday reality is highlighted by Arumpac’s storytelling unlike that of any documentary I’ve ever seen. Outlined by poetic narration with an ominous tone that sounds like a legitimately hair-raising ghost story, Aswang transports the audience, whether they like it or not, from previously seeing Tokhang exclusively on the news to the actual scenes of the crime and funerals through the eyes of four main individuals: a nightcrawler photojournalist and dear family friend, Ciriaco Santiago III (“Brother Jun” to many), a funeral parlor operator, a street kid and an unnamed woman.

Along with other nightcrawlers, Bro. Jun waits for calls or texts alerting them of Tokhang killings all over Manila’s nooks and crannies. What sets him apart from the others, perhaps motivated by his mission as Redemptorist Brother, is that he speaks to the families of the murdered victims to not only obtain information but to comfort them. In fact, Bro. Jun rarely speaks throughout the film. Most of the time, he’s just listening, his brows furrowed with visible concern and empathy. It’s as if the bereaved are confessing to him not their own transgressions but those committed against them by the state. One particular scene that really struck me is when he consoles a middle-aged man whose brother was just killed not far from his house. “Kay Duterte ako pero mali ang ginawa nila sa kapatid ko” (I am for Duterte but what they did to my brother was wrong), he says to Bro. Jun in between sobs. Meanwhile, a mother tells the story of how her teenage son went out with friends and never came home. His corpse later surfaced in a mortuary. “Just because Duterte gave [cops] the right to kill, some of them take advantage because they know there won’t be consequences,” she angrily says in Filipino before wailing in pain while showing Bro. Jun photos of her son smiling in selfies and then laying pale and lifeless at the morgue.

The Eusebio Funeral Services is a setting in the film that becomes as familiar as the blood-soaked alleys of the city. Its operator is an old man who gives the impression of being seasoned in his profession. And yet, nothing has prepared him for the burden of accommodating at least five cadavers every night when he was used to only one to two a week. When asked where all the unclaimed bodies go, he casually answers, “mass burial.” We later find out at the local cemetery that “mass burial” is the stacking of corpses in tiny niches they designated for the nameless and kinless. Children pause in their games as they look on at this crude interment, after which a man seals the niche with hollow blocks and wet cement, ready to be smashed open again for the next occupant/s. At night, the same cemetery transforms into a shelter for the homeless whose blanketed bodies resemble those covered in cloth at Eusebio Funeral Services.

Tama na po, may exam pa ako bukas” (Please stop, I still have an exam tomorrow). 17-year-old high school student, Kian Delo Santos, pleaded for his life with these words before police shot him dead in a dark alley near his home. The documentary takes us to this very alley without the foreknowledge that the corpse we see on the screen is in fact Kian’s. At his wake, we meet Jomari, a little boy who looks not older than seven but talks like a grown man. He fondly recalls Kian as a kind friend, short of saying that there was no way he could’ve been involved in drugs. Jomari should know, his parents are both in jail for using and peddling drugs. At a very young age, he knows that the cops are the enemy and that he must run at the first sign of them. Coupled with this wisdom and prematurely heightened sense of self-preservation is Jomari’s innocence, glimpses of which we see when he’s thrilled to try on new clothes and when he plays with his friends. Children in the slums are innocent but not naïve. They play with wild abandon but their exchanges are riddled with expletives, drugs and violence. They even reenact a Tokhang scene where the cops beat up and shoot a victim.

Towards the end of the film, a woman whose face is hidden and identity kept private gives a brief interview where, like the children drawing monsters only they could see in horror movies, she sketches a prison cell she was held in behind a bookshelf. Her interview alternates with shots of the actual secret jail that was uncovered by the press in a police station in Tondo in 2017. “Naghuhugas lang po ako ng pinggan n’ung kinuha nila ‘ko!” (I was just washing the dishes when they took me!), screams one woman the very second the bookshelf is slid open like a door. Camera lights reveal the hidden cell to be no wider than a corridor with no window, light or ventilation. More than ten people are inside. They later tell the media that they were abducted and have been detained for a week without cases filed against them, let alone a police blotter. They slept in their own shit and urine, were tortured and electrocuted by the cops, and told that they’d only be released if they paid the PNP money ranging from 10 000 to 100 000 pesos. Instead of being freed that day, their papers are processed for their transfer to different jails.

Aswang is almost surreal in its depiction of social realities. It is spellbinding yet deeply disturbing in both content and form. Its extremely violent visuals and hopelessly bleak scenes are eclipsed by its more delicate moments: Bro. Jun praying quietly by his lonesome after a night of pursuing trails of blood, Jomari clapping his hands in joyful glee as he becomes the owner of a new pair of slippers, an old woman playing with her pet dog in an urban poor community, a huge rally where protesters demand justice for all the victims of EJKs and human rights violations, meaning that they were not forgotten. It’s also interesting to note that while the film covers events in a span of two years, the recounting of these incidents is not chronological as seen in Bro. Jun’s changing haircuts and in Jomari’s unchanging outfit from when he gets new slippers to when he’s found after months of going missing. Without naming people, places and even dates, with Arumpacletting the poor do most of the heavy lifting bysimply telling their stories on state terrorism and impunity in their own language, Aswang succeeds in demonstrating how Duterte’s war on drugs is, in reality, a genocide of the poor, elevating the film beyond numb reportage meant to merely inform the public to being a testament to the people’s struggle. The scattered sequence, riveting images, sinister music and writing that borrows elements from folklore and the horror genre make Aswang feel more like a dream than a documentary—a nightmare, to be precise. And then, a rude awakening. The film compels us to replay and review Oplan Tokhang by bringing the audience to a place of such intimate and troubling closeness with the dead and the living they had left behind.

Its unfiltered rawness makes Aswang a challenging yet crucial watch. Blogger and company CEO, Cecile Zamora, wrote on her Instagram stories that she only checked Aswang out since it was trending but that she gave up 23 minutes in because it depressed her, declaring the documentary “not worth her mental health” and discouraging her 52,000 followers from watching it, too. Naturally, her tone-deaf statements went viral on Twitter and in response to the backlash, she posted a photo of a Tokhang victim’s family with a caption that said she bought them a meal and gave them money as if this should exempt her from criticism and earn her an ally cookie, instead.

 Aswang is definitely not a film about privileged Filipinos like Zamora—who owns designer handbags and lives in a luxurious Ed Calma home—but this doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant or necessary for them to watch. Zamora missed the point entirely: Aswang is supposed to make her and the rest of us feel upset! It nails the purpose of art in comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. It establishes that the only aswang that exists is not a precolonial shaman or a shape-shifting monster, but fear itself—the fear that dwells within us that is currently aggravated and used by a fascist state to force us into quiet submission and apathy towards the most marginalized sectors of society.

Before the credits roll, the film verbalizes its call to action in the midst of the ongoing slaughter of the poor and psychological warfare by the Duterte regime:

“Kapag sinabi nilang may aswang, ang gusto talaga nilang sabihin ay, ‘Matakot ka.’ Itong lungsod na napiling tambakan ng katawan ay lalamunin ka, tulad ng kung paano nilalamon ng takot ang tatag. Pero meron pa ring hindi natatakot at nagagawang harapin ang halimaw. Dito nagsisimula.” (When they say there’s a monster, what they really want to say is “be afraid.” This city, chosen to be the dumpsite of the dead, will devour you as fear devours courage. But there are still those who are not afraid and are able to look the monster in the eye. This is where it begins).

During these times, when an unjust congressional vote recently shut down arguably the country’s largest multimedia network in an effort to stifle press freedom and when the Anti-Terrorism Law is now in effect, Aswang should be made more accessible to the masses because it truly is a must-see for every Filipino, and by “must-see,” I mean, “Don’t you dare look away.” #

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References:

Buan, L. (2020). “UN Report: Documents suggest PH Police Planted Guns in Drug War Ops”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://rappler.com/nation/united-nations-report-documents-suggest-philippine-police-planted-guns-drug-war-operations

Ichimura, A., & Severino, A. (2019). “How the CIA Used the Aswang to Win a War in the Philippines”. Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/cia-aswang-war-a00304-a2416-20191019-lfrm

Lim, B. C. (2015). “Queer Aswang Transmedia: Folklore as Camp”. Kritika Kultura, 24. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3mj1k076

Tan, L. (2017). “Duterte Encourages Vigilante Killings, Tolerates Police Modus – Human Rights Watch”. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/02/Duterte-PNP-war-on-drugs-Human-Rights-Watch.html

VP Sara resigns from Cabinet; move ‘open break’ with BBM

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June 19, 2024, Kodao.org

Vice President (VP) Sara Duterte has resigned as secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) and vice chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, a move a political analyst said marks her full split with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“VP Sara Duterte’s resignation from the Cabinet as education secretary and as NTF-ELCAC vice chair marks an open break with the Marcos administration and signals an intensification of the factional strife in the current regime,” Bagong Alyansang Makabayan president Renato Reyes Jr. said on X.

In a press conference at the DepEd today, Wednesday, June 19, Duterte announced her move, saying she sought an audience with the President earlier in the day to tender her resignation as the secretary of education effective July 19, 2024.

Duterte said she will continue to keep an eye on DepEd, adding all she is doing “is for God, country and Filipinos.”

 Malacañang also announced Duterte’s resignation, saying the VP “declined to give a reason why.”

“She will continue to serve as Vice President. We thank her for her service,” the President Communication Office said.

Duterte’s resignation came after several public disagreements with the rest of the Marcos government, beginning from the disapproval of her requested intelligence and confidential funds for the current year worth at least PhP650 million.

Duterte also dubbed a Congress leader allied with the Marcos government as a “tambaloslos”, a mythical local creature said to have a huge mouth and a hideous face.

The Vice President openly disagreed with the President’s decision to pursue dialogues for the possible reopening of formal peace negotiation with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines s, a process her father, former President Rodrigo Duterte, cancelled in 2017.

The former president also warned Marcos Jr. of a similar fate befalling his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Sr., who was ousted as president in 1986.

Former senator Antonio Trillanes III said Duterte’s words constitute a threat in line with reports that the former chief executive wants to oust the sitting president.

Presidents Marcos Jr. and Duterte had also called each other “drug addicts.”

The Duterte political dynasty had been attending rallies, including one where her younger brother and Davao City mayor Sebastian Duterte openly called for Marcos Jr.’s resignation.

Duterte ally and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, in another anti-Marcos rally, openly called on the military to withdraw support from Marcos Jr.

First Lady Lisa Araneta Marcos has confirmed that the vice president is in her bad graces, explaining snubbing in official events.

 “Bad shot na ‘yan sa akin,” Araneta-Marcos said.

Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte were running mates in the 2022 national elections under the catchword “UniTeam.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Pentagon ran secret anti-vax campaign to undermine China during pandemic

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Jun 14, 2024, Reuters

The US military launched a clandestine program amid the COVID crisis to discredit China’s Sinovac inoculation – payback for Beijing’s efforts to blame Washington for the pandemic. One target: the Filipino public. Health experts say the gambit was indefensible and put innocent lives at risk.

WASHINGTON, USA – At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the US military launched a secret campaign to counter what it perceived as China’s growing influence in the Philippines, a nation hit especially hard by the deadly virus.

The clandestine operation has not been previously reported. It aimed to sow doubt about the safety and efficacy of vaccines and other life-saving aid that was being supplied by China, a Reuters investigation found. Through phony internet accounts meant to impersonate Filipinos, the military’s propaganda efforts morphed into an anti-vax campaign. Social media posts decried the quality of face masks, test kits and the first vaccine that would become available in the Philippines – China’s Sinovac inoculation.

Reuters identified at least 300 accounts on X, formerly Twitter, that matched descriptions shared by former US military officials familiar with the Philippines operation. Almost all were created in the summer of 2020 and centered on the slogan #Chinaangvirus – Tagalog for China is the virus.

“COVID came from China and the VACCINE also came from China, don’t trust China!” one typical tweet from July 2020 read in Tagalog. The words were next to a photo of a syringe beside a Chinese flag and a soaring chart of infections. Another post read: “From China – PPE, Face Mask, Vaccine: FAKE. But the Coronavirus is real.”

After Reuters asked X about the accounts, the social media company removed the profiles, determining they were part of a coordinated bot campaign based on activity patterns and internal data.

The US military’s anti-vax effort began in the spring of 2020 and expanded beyond Southeast Asia before it was terminated in mid-2021, Reuters determined. Tailoring the propaganda campaign to local audiences across Central Asia and the Middle East, the Pentagon used a combination of fake social media accounts on multiple platforms to spread fear of China’s vaccines among Muslims at a time when the virus was killing tens of thousands of people each day. A key part of the strategy: amplify the disputed contention that, because vaccines sometimes contain pork gelatin, China’s shots could be considered forbidden under Islamic law.

The military program started under former President Donald Trump and continued months into Joe Biden’s presidency, Reuters found – even after alarmed social media executives warned the new administration that the Pentagon had been trafficking in COVID misinformation. The Biden White House issued an edict in spring 2021 banning the anti-vax effort, which also disparaged vaccines produced by other rivals, and the Pentagon initiated an internal review, Reuters found.

The US military is prohibited from targeting Americans with propaganda, and Reuters found no evidence the Pentagon’s influence operation did so.

Spokespeople for Trump and Biden did not respond to requests for comment about the clandestine program.

A senior Defense Department official acknowledged the U.S. military engaged in secret propaganda to disparage China’s vaccine in the developing world, but the official declined to provide details.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the US military “uses a variety of platforms, including social media, to counter those malign influence attacks aimed at the US, allies, and partners.” She also noted that China had started a “disinformation campaign to falsely blame the United States for the spread of COVID-19.”

In an email, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it has long maintained the US government manipulates social media and spreads misinformation.

Manila’s embassy in Washington did not respond to Reuters inquiries, including whether it had been aware of the Pentagon operation. A spokesperson for the Philippines Department of Health, however, said the “findings by Reuters deserve to be investigated and heard by the appropriate authorities of the involved countries.” Some aide workers in the Philippines, when told of the US military propaganda effort by Reuters, expressed outrage.

Briefed on the Pentagon’s secret anti-vax campaign by Reuters, some American public health experts also condemned the program, saying it put civilians in jeopardy for potential geopolitical gain. An operation meant to win hearts and minds endangered lives, they said.

“I don’t think it’s defensible,” said Daniel Lucey, an infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. “I’m extremely dismayed, disappointed and disillusioned to hear that the US government would do that,” said Lucey, a former military physician who assisted in the response to the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The effort to stoke fear about Chinese inoculations risked undermining overall public trust in government health initiatives, including US-made vaccines that became available later, Lucey and others said. Although the Chinese vaccines were found to be less effective than the American-led shots by Pfizer and Moderna, all were approved by the World Health Organization. Sinovac did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Academic research published recently has shown that, when individuals develop skepticism toward a single vaccine, those doubts often lead to uncertainty about other inoculations. Lucey and other health experts say they saw such a scenario play out in Pakistan, where the Central Intelligence Agency used a fake hepatitis vaccination program in Abbottabad as cover to hunt for Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind behind the attacks of September 11, 2001. Discovery of the ruse led to a backlash against an unrelated polio vaccination campaign, including attacks on healthcare workers, contributing to the reemergence of the deadly disease in the country.

“It should have been in our interest to get as much vaccine in people’s arms as possible,” said Greg Treverton, former chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, which coordinates the analysis and strategy of Washington’s many spy agencies. What the Pentagon did, Treverton said, “crosses a line.”

‘We were desperate’

Together, the phony accounts used by the military had tens of thousands of followers during the program. Reuters could not determine how widely the anti-vax material and other Pentagon-planted disinformation was viewed, or to what extent the posts may have caused COVID deaths by dissuading people from getting vaccinated.

In the wake of the US propaganda efforts, however, then-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had grown so dismayed by how few Filipinos were willing to be inoculated that he threatened to arrest people who refused vaccinations.

“You choose, vaccine or I will have you jailed,” a masked Duterte said in a televised address in June 2021. “There is a crisis in this country … I’m just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government.”

When he addressed the vaccination issue, the Philippines had among the worst inoculation rates in Southeast Asia. Only 2.1 million of its 114 million citizens were fully vaccinated – far short of the government’s target of 70 million. By the time Duterte spoke, COVID cases exceeded 1.3 million, and almost 24,000 Filipinos had died from the virus. The difficulty in vaccinating the population contributed to the worst death rate in the region.

A spokesperson for Duterte did not make the former president available for an interview.

Some Filipino healthcare professionals and former officials contacted by Reuters were shocked by the US anti-vax effort, which they say exploited an already vulnerable citizenry. Public concerns about a Dengue fever vaccine, rolled out in the Philippines in 2016, had led to broad skepticism toward inoculations overall, said Lulu Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination. The Pentagon campaign preyed on those fears.

“Why did you do it when people were dying? We were desperate,” said Dr. Nina Castillo-Carandang, a former adviser to the World Health Organization and Philippines government during the pandemic. “We don’t have our own vaccine capacity,” she noted, and the US propaganda effort “contributed even more salt into the wound.”

The campaign also reinforced what one former health secretary called a longstanding suspicion of China, most recently because of aggressive behavior by Beijing in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Filipinos were unwilling to trust China’s Sinovac, which first became available in the country in March 2021, said Esperanza Cabral, who served as health secretary under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Cabral said she had been unaware of the US military’s secret operation.

“I’m sure that there are lots of people who died from COVID who did not need to die from COVID,” she said.

To implement the anti-vax campaign, the Defense Department overrode strong objections from top US diplomats in Southeast Asia at the time, Reuters found. Sources involved in its planning and execution say the Pentagon, which ran the program through the military’s psychological operations center in Tampa, Florida, disregarded the collateral impact that such propaganda may have on innocent Filipinos.

“We weren’t looking at this from a public health perspective,” said a senior military officer involved in the program. “We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud.”

A new disinformation war

In uncovering the secret US military operation, Reuters interviewed more than two dozen current and former US officials, military contractors, social media analysts and academic researchers. Reporters also reviewed Facebook, X and Instagram posts, technical data and documents about a set of fake social media accounts used by the US military. Some were active for more than five years.

Clandestine psychological operations are among the government’s most highly sensitive programs. Knowledge of their existence is limited to a small group of people within US intelligence and military agencies. Such programs are treated with special caution because their exposure could damage foreign alliances or escalate conflict with rivals.

Over the last decade, some US national security officials have pushed for a return to the kind of aggressive clandestine propaganda operations against rivals that the United States’ wielded during the Cold War. Following the 2016 US presidential election, in which Russia used a combination of hacks and leaks to influence voters, the calls to fight back grew louder inside Washington.

In 2019, Trump authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to launch a clandestine campaign on Chinese social media aimed at turning public opinion in China against its government, Reuters reported in March. As part of that effort, a small group of operatives used bogus online identities to spread disparaging narratives about Xi Jinping’s government.

COVID-19 galvanized the drive to wage psychological operations against China. One former senior Pentagon leader described the pandemic as a “bolt of energy” that finally ignited the long delayed counteroffensive against China’s influence war.

The Pentagon’s anti-vax propaganda came in response to China’s own efforts to spread false information about the origins of COVID. The virus first emerged in China in late 2019. But in March 2020, Chinese government officials claimed without evidence that the virus may have been first brought to China by an American service member who participated in an international military sports competition in Wuhan the previous year. Chinese officials also suggested that the virus may have originated in a US Army research facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland. There’s no evidence for that assertion.

Mirroring Beijing’s public statements, Chinese intelligence operatives set up networks of fake social media accounts to promote the Fort Detrick conspiracy, according to a US Justice Department complaint.

China’s messaging got Washington’s attention. Trump subsequently coined the term “China virus” as a response to Beijing’s accusation that the US military exported COVID to Wuhan.

“That was false. And rather than having an argument, I said, ‘I have to call it where it came from,’” Trump said in a March 2020 news conference. “It did come from China.”

China’s Foreign Ministry said in an email that it opposed “actions to politicize the origins question and stigmatize China.” The ministry had no comment about the Justice Department’s complaint.

Beijing didn’t limit its global influence efforts to propaganda. It announced an ambitious COVID assistance program, which included sending masks, ventilators and its own vaccines – still being tested at the time – to struggling countries. In May 2020, Xi announced that the vaccine China was developing would be made available as a “global public good,” and would ensure “vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.” Sinovac was the primary vaccine available in the Philippines for about a year until US-made vaccines became more widely available there in early 2022.

Washington’s plan, called Operation Warp Speed, was different. It favored inoculating Americans first, and it placed no restrictions on what pharmaceutical companies could charge developing countries for the remaining vaccines not used by the United States. The deal allowed the companies to “play hardball” with developing countries, forcing them to accept high prices, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of medicine at Georgetown University who has worked with the World Health Organization.

The deal “sucked most of the supply out of the global market,” Gostin said. “The United States took a very determined America First approach.”

To Washington’s alarm, China’s offers of assistance were tilting the geopolitical playing field across the developing world, including in the Philippines, where the government faced upwards of 100,000 infections in the early months of the pandemic.

The US relationship with Manila had grown tense after the 2016 election of the bombastic Duterte. A staunch critic of the United States, he had threatened to cancel a key pact that allows the US military to maintain legal jurisdiction over American troops stationed in the country.

Duterte said in a July 2020 speech he had made “a plea” to Xi that the Philippines be at the front of the line as China rolled out vaccines. He vowed in the same speech that the Philippines would no longer challenge Beijing’s aggressive expansion in the South China Sea, upending a key security understanding Manila had long held with Washington.

“China is claiming it. We are claiming it. China has the arms, we do not have it.” Duterte said. “So, it is simple as that.”

Days later, China’s foreign minister announced Beijing would grant Duterte’s plea for priority access to the vaccine, as part of a “new highlight in bilateral relations.”

China’s growing influence fueled efforts by US military leaders to launch the secret propaganda operation Reuters uncovered.

“We didn’t do a good job sharing vaccines with partners,” a senior US military officer directly involved in the campaign in Southeast Asia told Reuters. “So what was left to us was to throw shade on China’s.”

Military trumped diplomats

US military leaders feared that China’s COVID diplomacy and propaganda could draw other Southeast Asian countries, such as Cambodia and Malaysia, closer to Beijing, furthering its regional ambitions.

A senior US military commander responsible for Southeast Asia, Special Operations Command Pacific General Jonathan Braga, pressed his bosses in Washington to fight back in the so-called information space, according to three former Pentagon officials.

The commander initially wanted to punch back at Beijing in Southeast Asia. The goal: to ensure the region understood the origin of COVID while promoting skepticism toward what were then still-untested vaccines offered by a country that they said had lied continually since the start of the pandemic.

A spokesperson for Special Operations Command declined to comment.

At least six senior State Department officials responsible for the region objected to this approach. A health crisis was the wrong time to instill fear or anger through a psychological operation, or psyop, they argued during Zoom calls with the Pentagon.

“We’re stooping lower than the Chinese and we should not be doing that,” said a former senior State Department official for the region who fought against the military operation.

While the Pentagon saw Washington’s rapidly diminishing influence in the Philippines as a call to action, the withering partnership led American diplomats to plead for caution.

“The relationship is hanging from a thread,” another former senior US diplomat recounted. “Is this the moment you want to do a psyop in the Philippines? Is it worth the risk?”

In the past, such opposition from the State Department might have proved fatal to the program. Previously in peacetime, the Pentagon needed approval of embassy officials before conducting psychological operations in a country, often hamstringing commanders seeking to quickly respond to Beijing’s messaging, three former Pentagon officials told Reuters.

But in 2019, before COVID surfaced in full force, then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed a secret order that later paved the way for the launch of the U.S. military propaganda campaign. The order elevated the Pentagon’s competition with China and Russia to the priority of active combat, enabling commanders to sidestep the State Department when conducting psyops against those adversaries. The Pentagon spending bill passed by Congress that year also explicitly authorized the military to conduct clandestine influence operations against other countries, even “outside of areas of active hostilities.”

Esper, through a spokesperson, declined to comment. A State Department spokesperson referred questions to the Pentagon.

US propaganda machine

In spring 2020, special-ops commander Braga turned to a cadre of psychological-warfare soldiers and contractors in Tampa to counter Beijing’s COVID efforts. Colleagues say Braga was a longtime advocate of increasing the use of propaganda operations in global competition. In trailers and squat buildings at a facility on Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, US military personnel and contractors would use anonymous accounts on X, Facebook and other social media to spread what became an anti-vax message. The facility remains the Pentagon’s clandestine propaganda factory.

Psychological warfare has played a role in US military operations for more than a hundred years, although it has changed in style and substance over time. So-called psyopers were best known following World War II for their supporting role in combat missions across Vietnam, Korea and Kuwait, often dropping leaflets to confuse the enemy or encourage their surrender.

After the al Qaeda attacks of 2001, the United States was fighting a borderless, shadowy enemy, and the Pentagon began to wage a more ambitious kind of psychological combat previously associated only with the CIA. The Pentagon set up front news outlets, paid off prominent local figures, and sometimes funded television soap operas in order to turn local populations against militant groups or Iranian-backed militias, former national security officials told Reuters.

Unlike earlier psyop missions, which sought specific tactical advantage on the battlefield, the post-9/11 operations hoped to create broader change in public opinion across entire regions.

By 2010, the military began using social media tools, leveraging phony accounts to spread messages of sympathetic local voices – themselves often secretly paid by the United States government. As time passed, a growing web of military and intelligence contractors built online news websites to pump US-approved narratives into foreign countries. Today, the military employs a sprawling ecosystem of social media influencers, front groups and covertly placed digital advertisements to influence overseas audiences, according to current and former military officials.

China’s efforts to gain geopolitical clout from the pandemic gave Braga justification to launch the propaganda campaign that Reuters uncovered, sources said.

Pork in the vaccine?

By summer 2020, the military’s propaganda campaign moved into new territory and darker messaging, ultimately drawing the attention of social media executives.

In regions beyond Southeast Asia, senior officers in the US Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia, launched their own version of the COVID psyop, three former military officials told Reuters.

Although the Chinese vaccines were still months from release, controversy roiled the Muslim world over whether the vaccines contained pork gelatin and could be considered “haram,” or forbidden under Islamic law. Sinovac has said that the vaccine was “manufactured free of porcine materials.” Many Islamic religious authorities maintained that even if the vaccines did contain pork gelatin, they were still permissible since the treatments were being used to save human life.

The Pentagon campaign sought to intensify fears about injecting a pig derivative. As part of an internal investigation at X, the social media company used IP addresses and browser data to identify more than 150 phony accounts that were operated from Tampa by US Central Command and its contractors, according to an internal X document reviewed by Reuters.

“Can you trust China, which tries to hide that its vaccine contains pork gelatin and distributes it in Central Asia and other Muslim countries where many people consider such a drug haram?” read an April 2021 tweet sent from a military-controlled account identified by X.

The Pentagon also covertly spread its messages on Facebook and Instagram, alarming executives at parent company Meta who had long been tracking the military accounts, according to former military officials.

One military-created meme targeting Central Asia showed a pig made out of syringes, according to two people who viewed the image. Reuters found similar posts that traced back to US Central Command. One shows a Chinese flag as a curtain separating Muslim women in hijabs and pigs stuck with vaccine syringes. In the center is a man with syringes; on his back is the word “China.” It targeted Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, a country that distributed tens of millions of doses of China’s vaccines and participated in human trials. Translated into English, the X post reads: “China distributes a vaccine made of pork gelatin.”

Facebook executives had first approached the Pentagon in the summer of 2020, warning the military that Facebook workers had easily identified the military’s phony accounts, according to three former US officials and another person familiar with the matter. The government, Facebook argued, was violating Facebook’s policies by operating the bogus accounts and by spreading COVID misinformation.

The military argued that many of its fake accounts were being used for counterterrorism and asked Facebook not to take down the content, according to two people familiar with the exchange. The Pentagon pledged to stop spreading COVID-related propaganda, and some of the accounts continued to remain active on Facebook.

Nonetheless, the anti-vax campaign continued into 2021 as Biden took office.

Angered that military officials had ignored their warning, Facebook officials arranged a Zoom meeting with Biden’s new National Security Council shortly after the inauguration, Reuters learned. The discussion quickly became tense.

“It was terrible,” said a senior administration official describing the reaction after learning of the campaign’s pig-related posts. “I was shocked. The administration was pro-vaccine and our concern was this could affect vaccine hesitancy, especially in developing countries.”

By spring 2021, the National Security Council ordered the military to stop all anti-vaccine messaging. “We were told we needed to be pro-vaccine, pro all vaccines,” said a former senior military officer who helped oversee the program. Even so, Reuters found some anti-vax posts that continued through April and other deceptive COVID-related messaging that extended into that summer. Reuters could not determine why the campaign didn’t end immediately with the NSC’s order. In response to questions from Reuters, the NSC declined to comment.

The senior Defense Department official said that those complaints led to an internal review in late 2021, which uncovered the anti-vaccine operation. The probe also turned up other social and political messaging that was “many, many leagues away” from any acceptable military objective. The official would not elaborate.

The review intensified the following year, the official said, after a group of academic researchers at Stanford University flagged some of the same accounts as pro-Western bots in a public report. The high-level Pentagon review was first reported by the Washington Post, which also reported that the military used fake social media accounts to counter China’s message that COVID came from the United States. But the Post report did not reveal that the program evolved into the anti-vax propaganda campaign uncovered by Reuters.

The senior defense official said the Pentagon has rescinded parts of Esper’s 2019 order that allowed military commanders to bypass the approval of US ambassadors when waging psychological operations. The rules now mandate that military commanders work closely with US diplomats in the country where they seek to have an impact. The policy also restricts psychological operations aimed at “broad population messaging,” such as those used to promote vaccine hesitancy during COVID.

The Pentagon’s audit concluded that the military’s primary contractor handling the campaign, General Dynamics IT, had employed sloppy tradecraft, taking inadequate steps to hide the origin of the fake accounts, said a person with direct knowledge of the review. The review also found that military leaders didn’t maintain enough control over its psyop contractors, the person said.

A spokesperson for General Dynamics IT declined to comment.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon’s clandestine propaganda efforts are set to continue. In an unclassified strategy document last year, top Pentagon generals wrote that the U.S. military could undermine adversaries such as China and Russia using “disinformation spread across social media, false narratives disguised as news, and similar subversive activities [to] weaken societal trust by undermining the foundations of government.”

And in February, the contractor that worked on the anti-vax campaign – General Dynamics IT – won a $493 million contract. Its mission: to continue providing clandestine influence services for the military. – Rappler.com

Probe sought on harm caused by US’ secret anti-vax campaign in the Philippines

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Cristina Chi – Philstar.com, June 17, 2024

MANILA, Philippines — A congressional probe is now being sought into the damages caused by the United States military’s secret campaign to reportedly incite fears of China-made vaccines among Filipinos at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — an operation believed to have been deadly in the vaccine-hesitant country.

The Pentagon’s covert operation to seed distrust among Filipinos for COVID-19 vaccines made by China, as bared in a bombshell Reuters investigation last week, is “deeply concerning and requires immediate investigation,” said Rep. France Castro (ACT Teachers).

“It is imperative that we ascertain the extent of the damage caused by this secret campaign and hold those responsible accountable,” the House deputy minority leader said.

The Reuters investigation found that the coordinated campaign took place from 2020 to 2021 and involved the use of 300 fake social media accounts that impersonated Filipinos to spread fear of China’s vaccination program. Most of the accounts were created in the summer of 2020 and spread the hashtag #Chinaangvirus (China is the virus).

The accounts posted and distributed content that aimed to sow fear of the Sinovac vaccines developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, as well as health supplies sent by China, according to the Reuters report, which cited former US officials familiar with the operation. 

Sinovac vaccines were the first COVID-19 jabs made available in the Philippines. The first supply arrived in February 2021. 

Fears of the Sinovac vaccine’s efficacy and side effects were so rampant that government officials and frontliners had to assure the public of its safety — from then-Health Secretary Francisco Duque to Gerardo Legaspi, medical director of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital and the first to be inoculated with the jab.

Reuters also noted that the Pentagon launched the influence operation against China “as payback for Beijing’s efforts to blame Washington for the pandemic.” 

The influence operation eventually extended beyond the Philippines into central Asia and the Middle East, with coordinated campaigns targeting Muslims that falsely claimed the Sinovac shots had pork gelatin.

Pentagon ignored objections from diplomats

Citing sources involved in the operation, Reuters said that the Pentagon dismissed “strong objections” from top US diplomats in Southeast Asia at the time and went ahead with the secret campaign. This, even as thousands were dying from the deadly virus in the Philippines and the United States itself was scrambling for jabs. 

As a response, the Pentagon stood by its use of “wide range of operations, including operations in the information environment, to counter adversary malign influence,” in a statement sent to BusinessMirror after the publication of the Reuters report.
 
“Several state and non-state actors use social media platforms and other media to spread disinformation and conduct malign influence campaigns against the United States. The DoD uses a variety of platforms, including social media, to counter those malign influence attacks aimed at the US, allies, and partners,” said Lisa Lawrence, spokesperson of the US Department of Defense.

Advocacy group Pilipinong Nagkakaisa para sa Soberanya (P1NAS) has called on the Philippine government to summon the US ambassador to explain the secret campaign by the Pentagon. In a statement, P1NAS said the US government needed to be “[held] accountable for endangering Filipino lives with its disinformation campaign.”

The impact the coordinated campaign would have on public health in the Philippines, where fears of vaccinations were already widespread following the Dengvaxia fiasco in 2016, was not taken into account when the Pentagon carried out its covert operation, according to Reuters.

Reuters quoted a senior military officer as saying: “We weren’t looking at this from a public health perspective… We were looking at how we could drag China through the mud.” 

Castro said the scope and reach of the psychological operations were “alarming” and warned of existing operations possibly being carried out at present. The lawmaker cited Reuters’ findings that the military’s primary contractor handling the campaign, General Dynamics IT, won a $493 million contract in February to continue providing influence services to the military.

“The actions undertaken by the US government, as revealed by this investigation, are deeply concerning and demand immediate attention,” she added.

Labor groups urge government to free workers from poverty

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Mayen Jaymalin – The Philippine Star, June 13, 2024

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino workers must be freed from poverty and poor working conditions, labor groups urged he government yesterday as the country celebrated the 126th anniversary of Philippine independence.

Poverty wages and contractualization are among critical workforce issues that the Marcos administration must address, the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition said in a statement.

“Workers are subjected to low wages, which are strategically kept low by pegging them to the regional wage boards’ decisions for 35 years now,” the group noted.

Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards often set wages below the poverty threshold, it added.

Living wages must be provided to “unshackle workers” from poverty, the group maintained.

“Start with a nationwide P150 daily wage hike. Allow workers to organize unions and ensure their right to security of tenure,” said Nagkaisa chair Sonny Matula.

Despite the constitutional right to form unions, Matula said most workers are unable to organize.

“Other than being killed or red-tagged, workers are not recognized as employees of the firms or enterprises they serve. Instead, they are supplied by cooperatives or manpower agencies or are misclassified as independent contractors,” he pointed out.

“All these strategies employed to avoid regularization are commonly called ‘contractualization.’ This systemic avoidance strips workers of their rightful benefits and job security,” he added.

Hundreds of motorcycle riders from Metro Manila, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan and Zambales yesterday staged a “Freedom Ride,” appealing to superpowers to cease militarizing the region.

They headed to the beach area facing the West Philippine Sea in Candelaria, Zambales.

Protests

Militant groups yesterday marched to the US embassy in Manila to protest against US intervention in Philippine affairs, particularly in the country’s assertion of sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea against China.

Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and League of Filipino Students marched to the embassy but had to hold their program at the corner of Kalaw Avenue and Roxas Boulevard after the Manila Police District blocked them.

Nothing has changed since President Marcos assumed office and the government’s “Bagong Pilipinas” campaign should have been called “Bulok Pilipinas,” said KMU’s Jerome Adonis.

Protesters led by former presidential candidate Leody de Guzman failed to reach the historic Mendiola Bridge after they were blocked by riot police from the Quezon City Police District. – Ghio Ong, Emmanuel Tupas

‘Law needed to order singing of Bagong Pilipinas’

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Cecille Suerte Felipe – The Philippine Star, June 11, 2024

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang’s directive to integrate the singing and recitation of the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn and pledge into the weekly flag ceremonies of national government agencies and instrumentalities needs a law, according to Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III.

“I suggest that the executive branch submit a bill containing those ideas, to amend the existing law governing the national anthem, pledge and flag-raising ceremonies. The (memorandum circular) is not sufficient. I believe a law is needed in order to authorize that,” Pimentel said.

Malacañang has ordered national government agencies and instrumentalities and encouraged local government units (LGUs) to integrate the singing and recitation of the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn and pledge into their weekly flag ceremonies.

Memorandum Circular 52, which was signed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, seeks to “further instill the principles of the ‘Bagong Pilipinas’ brand of governance and leadership among Filipinos.”

The Palace directed the heads of all national government agencies and instrumentalities, including government-owned and controlled corporations and education institutions, to ensure that the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn and pledge are properly disseminated within their respective institutions and offices.

The Presidential Communications Office was also tasked to implement measures to communicate and make available the hymn and pledge to all government agencies and the public.

Pimentel said the policy “involves the way of thinking of the people. Hence, such a mandate must emanate from the people’s chosen representatives – their legislators.”

“Also, notice that the MC involves SUCs (state universities and colleges). The students therein are not even government employees. They all observe the established flag ceremony under existing law,” he pointed out.

For Senate Majority Leader Francis Tolentino, the question in the MC includes “whether that is only for the executive branch or for everyone because the judiciary and then the legislature are separate, so (we need) to clarify that as well.”

Senate Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada explained that insofar as laws are concerned, the singing and playing of the Philippine National Anthem are governed by Republic Act 8491.

Section 38 of RA 8491 stipulates that whenever the national anthem is played at a public gathering, it must adhere to the musical arrangement and composition by Julian Felipe. Attendees are also expected to sing the anthem with fervor.

“It’s important to note that MC 52 is neither illegal nor irregular; rather, it aims to foster a culture of good governance and progressive leadership across all government levels,” Estrada said.

“It is no different from the singing of the Senate, school and university hymns, which is a way to remind us of the patriotism and unity of us Filipinos,” he added.

On the other hand, law professor Mel Sta. Maria of Far Eastern University declared that the memorandum on the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn and pledge is “in violation or goes beyond the mandate of RA 8491” or the Flag and Heraldic Code, and that the Office of the President “just transgressed a law which it claims it is implementing.”

Sta. Maria called the MC 32 a “coercive memo.”

Superficial attempt

Meanwhile, teachers are opposing Malacañang’s directive to require schools, national government agencies and instrumentalities to sing and recite the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn and pledge in weekly flag ceremonies, calling it a move “reminiscent of the political propaganda tactics seen during the martial law years.”

The directive is impractical, unnecessary and has nothing to do with educating students about nationalism and patriotism, according to the Teachers Dignity Coalition (TDC).

“This initiative is a superficial attempt to instill a brand of governance that, instead of genuinely educating schoolchildren about nationalism and patriotism through the exemplary lives of our national leaders, resorts to mandatory recitations and songs,” the TDC said in a statement yesterday.

“True nationalism and patriotism cannot be enforced through hollow rituals or the blind worship of national symbols, let alone a piece of propaganda,” it added.

Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin signed last week MC 52, as approved by President Marcos, which aims to instill the principles of “Bagong Pilipinas.”

The TDC pointed out that the administration does not need to force its own brand of governance and should instead work genuinely in the interest of Filipinos to “truly inspire and educate the youth.”

“The people in power have a duty to be responsive and responsible, exhibiting genuine love for the country through their respect for human rights, adherence to the rule of law and an active fight against corruption,” the TDC said.

“They must foster social justice through meaningful actions and legislation, not through the forced singing of a propaganda song and the recital of a pledge that appears redundant. The best way to teach our children about nationalism and patriotism is to show them leaders who lead by example, demonstrating their commitment to the country through their actions, policies and dedication to public service,” it added.

The group also stressed that the national anthem is enough to remind students of their duties to the country.

Meanwhile, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) said it saw nothing wrong with the directive as, aside from Marcos’ having the prerogative to enforce his policies within the executive branch, instilling “positive values and virtues” to ensure everyone in government is aligned with the administration’s goals.

“If this is tied with the new Philippine Development Plan, then I don’t see what is wrong with ensuring that everybody in government is aligned with the goals and principles being pushed for by the administration,” CSC Chairman Karlo Nograles said at a press conference yesterday.

While the CSC is not required to follow Malacañang’s directive on the hymn and pledge recital, Nograles noted that he would speak with the rest of the CSC commissioners about implementing it.

Unconstitutional?

The Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) also opposed the new Malacañang directive, saying it may be unconstitutional.

Citing law experts’ opinion, CONTEND said RA 8491 or the Flag Law “does not provide the Office of the President the authority to create and require a new hymn to sing or pledge to recite during flag ceremonies in the country.”

CONTEND added that the introduction of the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn and pledge is reminiscent of the “dark chapter in our history, glorifying an era that brought suffering to countless citizens.”

“The ‘Bagong Lipunan’ of the Marcos dictatorship in the ’70s was a period marked by severe human rights violations, suppression of dissent and economic hardship for many Filipinos,” the group said.

“We challenge all educators to resist this unconstitutional move by Marcos Jr. and instead underscore historical truth and the principles of nationalism and democracy in our classrooms and research,” it added.

Manila complies

Some government offices in the City of Manila played the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn and pledge during flag-raising rites yesterday.

The Manila LGU and the Manila Police District (MPD) played the soundtrack of the “Bagong Pilipinas” hymn.

MPD personnel recited in unison the “Bagong Pilipinas” pledge following pauses by the leader at the MPD headquarters.

At the LGU’s flag ceremony held at the Kartilya ng Katipunan Shrine beside the Manila city hall, a leader recited on her own the new pledge with right hands of the attending personnel raised. — Neil Jayson Servallos, Ghio Ong

‘20,322 killed until 2017 in Duterte drug war’

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Shiela Crisostomo – The Philippine Star, June 6, 2024

MANILA, Philippines — A total of 20,322 people were killed during Duterte’s war on drugs from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 27, 2017, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said during yesterday’s hearing of the House committee on human rights on the alleged extrajudicial killings (EJK) during the past administration.

Diokno said that of the 20,322 people, 3,967 were killed by police during law enforcement operations while 15,355 were eliminated by “riding in tandem and other unknown persons.”

But Diokno was berated by panel chair Rep. Benny Abante for not initiating the filing of cases against Duterte despite having clients among the relatives of EJK victims.

According to Diokno, those who are “directly aggrieved are very afraid to file cases because they know they are going against a former president.”

To this, Abante replied he was hopeful that such attitude of the victims will change because of the panel’s hearing. He urged the other victims’ families to come forward as the panel wants to help them formally seek justice for their loved ones.

The House committee on human rights will “invite” Duterte to shed light on the EJK in connection with the war on drugs.

[The Slingshot] A Duterte and Bato cop named Patay

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Antonio J. Montalvan II, Jun 10, 2024, Rappler.com

It was an unthinkable scene.

In the six years under Rodrigo Duterte, it was completely inconceivable to bring police officer Lito E. Patay to Congress and be grilled by legislators. First of all, the topic was classic Duterte untouchable: extrajudicial killings by the nation’s Philippine National Police (PNP).

Laguna congressman Dan Fernandez, who chairs the House committee on public order and safety, made a shocking announcement: “The government can use the minutes of these hearings for the purpose of coordinating with the ICC.” And that is what appears to be the aim of the hearings.

Paolo Duterte has scrambled a futile damage control by asking the House to also investigate all extrajudicial killings in the last 25 years under previous presidents. It is obviously a bid to detract attention away from his beleaguered father. It will fall on deaf ears, as it should be. The Duterte political capital is not headed for “maisug” days.

Lito Patay was certainly not the only one transported to Manila to begin Duterte’s so-called war on drugs. His assignment at Station 6 in Batasan, Quezon City, was the subject of a Reuters report complete with factual information sourced from police blotters and even interviews. How his police career was configured after Station 6 speaks so well of how the Duterte administration evaded justice for human rights violations – with impunity.

Reuters’ “The boys from Davao” (written by Clare Baldwin, Reade Levinson, Andrew R. C. Marshall) should continue to be read by many today as a very succinct representation of how Duterte mangled the state’s police force whose principal role is to protect citizenry into a killing machine.

No coincidences

Rodrigo Duterte assumed office as president on June 30, 2016. The next day on July 1, Bato dela Rosa assumed office as national police chief. Four days later on July 5, Lito Patay and his eight Davao boys arrived in Manila to begin their work at Station 6 the next day July 6. It was premeditated and well calculated. The Manila assignment had been planned.

That they came from Davao was not an accident. As it was also not an accident that Duterte had appointed Dela Rosa as the national police chief. As commander of Station 6, Patay had 78 police officers under his command to begin the drug war in that part of the metropolis.

Back in Davao, Patay had an aura of legend about him. One of the Davao Boys intimated to the Reuters writers: “Patay kayo kay Patay” (You are dead with Patay). He said his group was sent purposely to Station 6 because of their “special kill skills.”

Remember this was just the first year of Duterte’s drug war from July 2016 to June 2017. In the few months that Patay headed Station 6, it chalked up a death tally of 108. It was the highest in all of Quezon City. Second was Station 4 with 81 deaths. Total killed in Quezon City was 280 people. Patay’s Station 6 accounted for 39% of all police killings.

Yet, despite the publication of the damning Reuters exposé, the PNP never gave a damn about it. Patay’s police career, and that of his eight Davao boys, was never interrupted by any police inquest, as the law requires whenever suspects die during police operations. They just simply did not go by the books. They went by the Duterte books of Davao City.

Dutertismo lies

Patay mumbled at the House hearing that he had never read the Reuters report. He even denied meeting Baldwin, Levinson and Marshall for an interview (which he had, in Pampanga, where he was assigned after Station 6).

In 2017, Patay was promoted and assigned as regional director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of Central Luzon based in Pampanga.

In December 2017, Dela Rosa gave a public defense of Patay and the Davao Boys for the first time. He said he was standing by Patay and the Davao Boys. He said they fired only in self-defense. It was a classic Dutertismo lie. Nanlaban, they call it.

Dela Rosa said he chose Patay “because I have big trust in him, he has the balls to face the problems. He will fight. So what’s the problem?” He said Patay had been “given a free hand” at station 6 and had command responsibility over his operations. It was an implicit admission that what happened at Station 6 was the creation of Bato dela Rosa who also faces the possibility of ICC prosecution.

After Pampanga, Patay was assigned to head the CIDG Central Visayas. He told Cebu city media: “CIDG operations will not become synonymous to his surname which means death.” Media asked him about the Reuters report. He refused to comment.

On May 25, 2022, Duterte’s executive secretary Salvador Medialdea signed a 7-page document ordering the dismissal of administrative charges filed against Lito Patay for the brutal death of 17-year old Darwin Hamoy. Hamoy and four other urban poor  youth of Payatas B in Quezon City were killed after police said they had engaged the cops in a gunfight. Hamoy’s mother had testified that all four owned no guns.

But Medialdea said there was no evidence either that Patay was remiss in his performance of duties. He said all 16 policemen who participated in the killings did not use excessive force. It was expected. What was unexpected was Malacañang interfering with the alleged crime of a police officer.

Why was Patay so special to Duterte and Dela Rosa? He was a champion marksman. – Rappler.com.

Fil-Am student at SF State explains why she joined pro-Palestinian protest

Q&A with San Francisco State University student Mari Ramos

By: Jun Nucum@inquirerdotnet

INQUIRER.net US Bureau /May 26, 2024

SAN FRANCISCO – Many students protesting the Israel-Hamas war at universities nationwide, including Filipino Americans, have faced a range of repercussions, from arrests to suspensions.

Eliana Atienza – the daughter of  TV personality Kim Atienza – was one of the University of Pennsylvania students who were recently suspended for participating in a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus.

Lauren Daus, a Fil-Am PhD student in UCLA Department of Education’s Urban Schooling Division, was arrested as police dismantled the pro-Palestinian encampment on campus earlier this month.

Student protesters at San Francisco State University (Shave recently reached an agreement with SFSU President Lynn Mahoney that addressed some of their demands, but Fil-Am SFSU student Mari Ramos tells Inquirer.net USA their fight continues.

Ramos, who is pursuing a degree in Broadcast Electronic Communications Arts, gave us an interview on why students continue to hold protest actions on campuses. He is a member of the Asian Pacific Islander Queer Trans Club and Gabriela SFSU.

Q: Why did you set up an encampment on campus?

A: We launched our encampment on campus in support of Palestinian liberation and in protest against the California State University’s complicity in the ongoing genocide happening in Gaza.

San Francisco State University is a part of the CSU school system and invests money in Israel’s military, which is actively murdering Palestinian people. Since October of last year, more than 30,000 Palestinian lives have been lost due to this ongoing genocide.

As students who are paying $5,000 a year to go to classes, we are not okay with that. We want full transparency with where our money is going and we want to have a say in where it is going.

The rallies and encampments that are happening across the country today are in protest against the genocide of the Palestinian people.

Q: Were your actions coordinated with student protests in other universities across the US?  

A: We have gotten help from UC Berkeley when it came to getting supplies, like extra tents and sleeping bags for our encampment. Besides asking for aid, we have stood in solidarity with other university encampments because we are fighting for the same cause.

Q: Who were the rally/encampment participants?

A: Majority are students and faculty at the university, but our support has reached others who aren’t a part of the university, like students from local community colleges.

It’s good to see that our cause has reached people outside of our university because a lot of people don’t acknowledge how a lot of issues are intertwined. For example, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation was held in San Francisco in November and that was to increase militarization around the world, and funding for extra militarization contributes to the genocide greatly.

Q: There were reports claiming that ‘outside agitators’ made the situation worse. Do you  agree?

A: The claim of ‘outside agitators’ is used to delegitimize our cause. In this case, police act as outside agitators to our cause because of the unnecessary brutality and force that students at other encampments, like Columbia and UCLA, have faced.

Q: What measures have you taken to avoid violence and ensure safety during your protest actions?

A: We have organized different committees in order to maintain safety among our students who are camping. We have security who take on night shifts to watch the camp, and we have medics who have first aid kits. We also have taken the time to convene with everyone who is involved during our general assemblies to make sure that every individual’s voice is heard.

Q: What are your demands?

A: We have four demands:

  • Full disclosure of any and all investments of our school and the CSU system.
  • Full divestment from any and all companies participating in the genocide of the Palestinian people.
  • Defend all Palestinian people and their struggle for liberation.
  • Full and public declaration and condemnation of genocide faced by the Palestinian people. We will not end our protests and encampments until our demands are heard by our school’s administration and the CSU school board.

Q: Are you open to a dialog?

A: Yes. On Monday, SFSU President Lynn Mahoney came to meet us to openly negotiate about our demands. From what I have heard, nothing has been fully decided yet on whether or not we will accept her negotiations. If this meeting falls through, we will continue with our encampment until we are completely heard and our demands are met.

(Note: Shortly after the interview, an agreement with university administrators was reached.)