Monday, August 21, 2017

Philippines: MILF seeks quick passage of Bangsamoro law

From Anadolu Agency (Aug 21): Philippines: MILF seeks quick passage of Bangsamoro law

Creation of region that will abolish, replace Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao seen as urgent

Philippines: MILF seeks quick passage of Bangsamoro law

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Sunday appealed to Congress to speed up passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would help address the proliferation of radicalism and the crisis in Marawi.
The law came about through extended negotiations and integrated other agreements, said MILF Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim in a statement issued to reporters.

Ebrahim said the law, which has passed so much scrutiny, has been drafted twice already.

"We appeal to (the House of Representatives and Senate). We are appealing to Congress to see the real objective of the (law)," he said.

Murad said he was surprised to learn that former president and now Pampanga Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had submitted another version of the law.
Just recently, Arroyo filed her own version of the bill creating the Bangsamoro region in Mindanao -- a new track separate from Malacanang Palace-backed initiatives to implement a peace agreement with Muslim rebels.

The creation of the region that will abolish and replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is seen as urgent as radical extremists linked with the Daesh terrorist group are feared to be recruiting among young local Muslims.

Arroyo filed House Bill 6121, titled the Basic Act for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, which she said "truly reflects the aspirations of our Muslim brothers and sisters as well as the indigenous brethren, representation to indigenous peoples, women, the sultanates, and other key stakeholders.”
Ebrahim, however, said as far as MILF is concerned, the draft law submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte on July 17 was already a very inclusive law wherein the latter promised to support its passage.

He underscored that one major solution to terrorism and the problem in Marawi is to put in place a political solution to the Bangsamoro problem.

"That’s the only thing that can address it effectively,” he said, adding that while they were not expecting another version of the law in Congress, MILF cannot prevent any member of Congress from submitting their own bill.

He said they remain optimistic that an “undiluted” law will be passed as early as possible.

Early this month, the draft law finally reached Congress, but it has yet to be filed as a bill in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The ongoing armed conflict in Marawi began on May 23, 2017 between Philippine government security forces and militants affiliated with Daesh, including the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.

US warship collides with tanker near Singapore; 10 missing

From WKRN (Aug 21): US warship collides with tanker near Singapore; 10 missing

In this Jan. 22, 2017, photo provided by U.S. Navy, the USS John S. McCain conducts a patrol in the South China Sea while supporting security efforts in the region. The guided-missile destroyer collided with a merchant ship on Monday, Aug. 21, in waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca. (James Vazquez/U.S. Navy via AP)

A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer collided with a tanker early Monday in waters east of Singapore and the Strait of Malacca, and at least 10 sailors are missing.

The Navy said five others were hurt.

The USS John S. McCain sustained damage on its port side aft, or left rear, from the collision with the Alnic MC that happened at 5:24 a.m., the Navy’s 7th Fleet said. It wasn’t immediately clear if the oil and chemical tanker sustained damage or casualties in the collision.

The Navy said Osprey aircraft and Seahawk helicopters from the USS America were assisting. It also said tugboats and Singaporean naval and coast guard vessels were in the area to render assistance.

Malaysia’s navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin tweeted that two ships as well as aircraft from its navy and air force have been deployed to help look for the missing U.S. sailors.

The Strait of Malacca is a narrow body of water between Malaysia to the northeast and Indonesia to the southwest, with the city-state of Singapore at the tip of the Malay Peninsula.

The collision is the second involving a ship from the Navy’s 7th Fleet in the Pacific in two months. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship hit each other in waters off Japan.

The Fitzgerald’s captain was relieved of command and other sailors were being punished after the Navy found poor seamanship and flaws in keeping watch contributed to the collision, the Navy announced last week. An investigation into how and why the Fitzgerald collided with the other ship was not finished, but enough details were known to take those actions, the Navy said.

The Japan-based 7th Fleet said the McCain had been heading to Singapore for a routine port visit when the collision occurred.

The ship is based at the 7th Fleet’s homeport of Yokosuka, Japan. It was commissioned in 1994 and has a crew of 23 officers, 24 chief petty officers and 291 enlisted sailors, according the Navy’s website.

The warship is 154 meters (505 feet) in length.

The Alnic MC is a 183-meter (600-foot) oil and chemical tanker.

Abu Sayyaf member, 7 others nabbed in Sulu

From the Manila Times (Aug 21): Abu Sayyaf member, 7 others nabbed in Sulu

An Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) member involved in ransom kidnappings and seven lawless elements were arrested in separate operations in Sulu recently, a belated report that reached the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) said.

ASG member Fahar Ismael, alias Putoh Taron, was arrested at a checkpoint manned by troops of the 41st Infantry Battalion and the police in Barangay Timbangan, Indanan town on Wednesday.

Ishmael, facing a string of murder charges, is being implicated by the military in the kidnappings of Marso Salinas, an engineer, and Evelyn Chan, according to Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, WestMinCom spokesman.

Ishmael has an arrest warrant for murder as co-accused of ASG leader, Idang Susukan. He is now under custodial investigation.

Meanwhile, seven lawless elements carrying high-powered firearms were also arrested in a joint military and police operation in Lugus town on Friday.

Seized from them were rifles and various caliber firearms: three M14, two M16, and M1 Garand rifle; a .45 caliber pistol; six clips for Garand rifle; assorted magazines; 13 magazines for M16; assorted ammunition, pouches and uniforms.

Their capture and that of Ismael were not immediately made public because of ongoing operations against the Abu Sayyaf and other lawless groups.

Military and police operations continue against lawless elements in southern Philippines as part of government efforts to curb criminality and terrorism and protect the public from harm,? Petinglay said.

“Military and police operations continue against lawless elements in southern Philippines as part of government efforts to curb criminality and terrorism and protect the public from harm,” Petinglay said.

Similarly, in Sultan Kudarat, Philippine Marines backing the police provincial office served arrest and search warrants to a group of lawless elements in Kalamansig town on Thursday and arrested five suspects with assorted firearms and war materials in Barangay Ito Andong.

The target of the warrant, Tenti Taup Mangarin, listed as high-value target, however, escaped after sensing the approaching security forces.

Arrested instead were his men – Bonao Mangarin, Usop Mangarin, Mimong Agam, Osik Mangarin and Celino Ogib.

Taup is wanted for arson in connection with the burning of the heavy equipment of GEMMA construction in Kalamansig. He and his group are also reportedly engaged in piracy in the coastal municipalities of Lebak and Kalamansig.

10 dead as Abu Sayyaf raids village in Basilan

From the Manila Times (Aug 21): 10 dead as Abu Sayyaf raids village in Basilan

Abu Sayyaf militants allied with the Islamic State raided Monday a village in Basilan province in the southern Philippines, killing at least 10 people before escaping to the hinterlands, government officials said.

They said more than three dozen civilians were also wounded in the daring attack in Tubigan in Maluso town. The raiders, numbering about 40, also torched houses and a day care center before escaping.

Some of the seriously wounded victims were evacuated to a hospital in Zamboanga City. There was no immediate statement from the military’s Western Mindanao Command, but security officials previously claimed that government operations against the Abu Sayyaf have weakened the notorious jihadist group.

The attack occurred a day after naval forces rescued a Vietnamese sailor — Do Trung Huiqe — kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf off Basilan in November 2016.

The sailor, a crew member of the cargo ship MV Royal 16, was rescued on Mataja Island off Hadji Muhtamad town just across Maluso by elements of Joint Task Force Basilan headed by Colonel Juvymax Uy through Naval Task Group Basilan and Naval Task Force 61 following “a special intelligence operation.”

“The intensified military offensives caused the Abu Sayyaf (members) to flee and opened a chance for rescue operations,” said Rear Admiral Rene Medina, the regional naval forces commander.

Medina did not give details of the rescue operation. The Vietnamese sailor was brought to a military hospital in Zamboanga City where he underwent medical check-up and debriefing.

It was unknown whether the rescue operation sparked off the Abu Sayyaf attack. The group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and vowed to pursue a caliphate in the restive region of 12 million people.

PH Navy rescues Vietnamese hostage of Abu Sayyaf in Basilan

From Rappler (Aug 21): PH Navy rescues Vietnamese hostage of Abu Sayyaf in Basilan

Vietnamese Do Trung Huiqe is a crew member of MV Royal 16 that the bandits attacked in November 2016

The Philippine Navy rescued a Vietnamese hostage of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan in a military operation that forced the bandits to flee.

"A Vietnamese kidnap victim who had been held captive by the Abu Sayyaf Group for months was rescued by military forces on August 20, 2017 at Mataja Island, Basilan," said Rear Admiral Rene Medina, commander of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao.

Do Trung Huiqe, a crew member of MV Royal 16 that the bandits attacked in November 2016, was brought to a military hospital for medical check up and debriefing.

Two of his colleagues in the crew were beheaded in July. (READ: Abu Sayyaf beheads 2 Vietnamese hostages)

The hostage was rescued by the team of Colonel Juvymax R. Uy of the Joint Task Force Basilan with the help of the Naval Intelligence Service Group Western Mindanao.

Vietnam asked the Philippines to closely monitor its citizens following the beheading of the two crew members last month.

The Basilan faction of the Abu Sayyaf is led by Isnilon Hapilon, who moved to Central Mindanao to join the notorious Maute Group. They attacked Marawi City on May 23, prompting a war that continues to rage nearly 3 months later.
Hapilon is reportedly the Southeast Asian emir of international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS). Hapilon reportedly failed to recruit the Sulu faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group to support ISIS.

9 civilians killed in Abu Sayyaf rampage in Basilan

From Rappler (Aug 21): 9 civilians killed in Abu Sayyaf rampage in Basilan

The attack is believed to be a tactic to divert the attention of the military from its operations in nearby areas

ABU SAYYAF ATTACK. Bandits under Furuji Indama attack the village of Tubigan in Maluso, Basilan. All photos from Richard Falcatan/Rappler

ABU SAYYAF ATTACK. Bandits under Furuji Indama attack the village of Tubigan in Maluso, Basilan. All photos from Richard Falcatan/Rappler

Nine civilians were killed and 10 others were wounded early Monday morning, August 21, when a faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group attacked the village of Tubigan in Maluso, Basilan.

Civilian volunteers from the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) fought back.

The bandits also burned 4 houses and the barangay health center, based on a police report.

The attack happened between 6 am and 7 am on Monday, according to the police. It coincided with the town's fiesta celebration.

The bandits are believed to be under notorious Abu Sayyaf key leader Furuji Indama, according to a military officer.

Diversionary attack?

The attack is believed to be a tactic to divert the attention of the military from its operations in nearby areas.

The Philippine Navy rescued on the same day Vietnamese hostage Do Trung Huiqe, who was kept by the bandits on Mantaja Island near Maluso. Two of his fellow MV Royal 16 crew members were beheaded last July.

Rappler sources said there are military operations in other municipalities.

State-sponsored hate: The rise of the pro-Duterte bloggers

From Rappler (Aug 18): State-sponsored hate: The rise of the pro-Duterte bloggers

Pro-Duterte bloggers receive unusual privileges from the Presidential Communications Operations Office to consolidate support for the popular president and silence critics

  • The most high-profile, vitriolic pro-Duterte bloggers were given government positions or hired as consultants using public funds
  • Pro-Duterte propagandists are being given special treatment by the PCOO, according to insiders, which includes Malacañang accreditation, use of government resources, and cash allowances
  • An interim accreditation policy will allow pro-Duterte bloggers to continue using profanity in their posts, often targeting administration critics and media

“Leni, you are stupid. You and your whole staff are stupid. You’re all sons of bitches.”
These were the words of hardcore President Rodrigo Duterte supporter Mocha Uson during a national broadcast – directed toward no less than Vice President Leni Robredo, a leader of the opposition. Uson's hateful comments led to the cancellation of her radio show.
Another pillar of the propaganda machine, RJ Nieto, author of pro-Duterte Facebook page Thinking Pinoy, speaks in a similar vitriolic manner. In a Facebook Live Video addressing what he referred to as “the fucking Malacañang press corps” – the group of journalists accredited to cover the President – Nieto cursed at the media, and repeatedly flashed his middle finger.
“You Malacañang Press Corps, you act like you're for the Filipino people, but you're sons of bitches!” he said to the camera.
CURSING BLOGGERS. RJ Nieto, who is now a government consultant, has constantly cursed the media and Duterte's critics. Screenshot of Nieto's Facebook Live video.
CURSING BLOGGERS. RJ Nieto, who is now a government consultant, has constantly cursed the media and Duterte's critics. Screenshot of Nieto's Facebook Live video.

Bruce Rivera, a lawyer and another staunch supporter of Duterte, does not mince his words either. Addressing the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Rivera also used profanity to attack them.
“You sons of bitches, you are not above the President because he has the support of the people. So you have no right to speak to our constitutionally-elected President in such manner because we elected him and gave him the right to be bastos (rude) to the ills of this society, you included,” he said in a Facebook post.
Uson, Nieto, and Rivera are similar in various ways. Aside from their unwavering support for the President and their hateful tone and messaging, they are also bloggers that this administration has legitimized in various ways – profanity and all.
Uson has since been appointed assistant secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) on the basis of her number of Facebook followers. Duterte himself has confessed that the appointment was payment for a “debt of gratitude” for her backing his presidential bid.
Nieto has also been hired as a social media consultant by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) now headed by Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano. The former senator was Duterte’s running mate in the 2016 elections.
While Nieto did not originally support Cayetano’s vice presidential bid, the former senator strategically courted Nieto throughout the campaign, and gave him an attractive consultancy post to win his favor.
As for Rivera, he and his group, Status: Hot, appear to be easy candidates for accreditation based on the interim policy of the PCOO. The policy is the latest move of Communications Secretary Martin Andanar to legitimize blogger-propagandists who support President Rodrigo Duterte.
Under this administration, the bloggers, who refer to themselves as Diehard Duterte Supporters (DDS), are legitimized through various ways, including access to those in power, consultancy contracts, and “allowances” from the PCOO.
Sources familiar with PCOO operations said a budget has been set aside specifically for the bloggers, with priority given by Andanar to his DDS groups. The PCOO is also dependent on these bloggers to monitor and control online sentiment toward Duterte, the sources said.
It is a way to consolidate support for the popular president, harnessing influencers online much like what Duterte’s media strategists did during the presidential campaign.
“Whatever the bloggers were doing during the campaign, they’re still doing the same thing now that Duterte is president. Except now they have government support,” said a communications strategist who worked during the 2016 campaign. “It's propaganda.”
But this time, its sponsored and funded by the state.
Profanity welcome
The PCOO has also hired Carlos Munda, another Duterte supporter, propagandist, and administrator of the MindaNation website, as a communications consultant.
The amounts of Nieto’s and Munda’s government consultancies and copies of their contracts have not yet been made public, despite these being paid with government funds.
“I shall publish my contract, including details regarding compensation, on Thinking Pinoy as soon as it is available,” Nieto posted on his Facebook in early July, while talks for his role were ongoing.
“Actually, halos pang-taxi lang ang compensation, P20,000 a month lang tapos subject to tax pa yata, pero ipapublish ko pa rin para transparent.” (Actually, my compensation can barely pay for my taxi rides. Just P20,000 ($400) a month and subject to tax, I think, but I will still publish it for transparency.)
Over a month later, Nieto has yet to publicize his contract, but sources who are knowledgeable about similar government consultancies said the amount Nieto mentioned is much too small for his role, and estimated he can be paid significantly higher.
SPECIAL TREATMENT. Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar has given bloggers special treatment, often using gov't resources. Photo by Toto Lozano/PPD
SPECIAL TREATMENT. Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar has given bloggers special treatment, often using gov't resources. Photo by Toto Lozano/PPD

These insider-sources said the P20,000 amount is especially dubious since Nieto used to receive cash payments of P40,000 for past content creation jobs.
Uson and Nieto still regularly post content online, which are often filled with hate and anger directed at critics of the Duterte administration. They have also spread false accusations, and typically don't apologize for spreading disinformation.
s for its accreditation policy, the PCOO has said it won’t prohibit bloggers from using profanity online – yet another way to legitimize their hateful content and attacks. The policy will be tested over the next 6 months, managed by none other than Uson herself.
Accreditation guidelines have already seen a backlash from non-DDS bloggers online.
“Apparently, the guidelines are meant as cover/justification for the formal entry and presence of DDS Media in functions involving PRRD (President Duterte),” blogger Tonyo Cruz said on his Twitter account @tonyocruz on August 9. Cruz is co-founder of @TweetUpMNL.
“As a blogger, I reject in absolute terms the PCOO’s implication that we bloggers are a cheap and unaccountable bunch,” he said in another tweet. “In Andanar's memo, no effort is made to ensure that accreditation wouldn’t be denied on the basis of political standpoint of the applicant.”
Jane Uymatiao of Blogwatch, who has been invited to cover past government events, also tweeted through her @citizenjaneph account: “I am NOT applying for social media accreditation. Why? Bec it was not crafted with citizen engagement in mind.”
She added: “PCOO totally misses the point. We are after CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT, not tailing the President nor mere reportage. Traditional media does that already.”
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) trustee Vergel Santos had earlier expressed concern about accrediting bloggers.
“Blogging is an individualistic, free-wheeling operation – although some bloggers are known to follow common, if not collusive, lines of thinking. It’s the readiest, least discriminating (in fact, it’s open to anyone), widest-reaching, and therefore most tempting platform of free expression,” Santos told Rappler in February.
Journalism, on the other hand, is “both a profession and a trade governed by universal rules of practice and ethics and tradition,” he said. No such rules govern bloggers.
Special treatment
The special treatment given by the PCOO to DDS bloggers becomes evident especially in events that promote government programs, and to which they are often invited.
The expectation is for them to generate buzz online about government programs, and to make these trend on Twitter – a fixation of Andanar, and a measurement of success.
OPEN TO BLOGGERS. PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson's office is in charge of choosing bloggers who receive accreditation to cover President Rodrigo Duterte's events. Malacañang file photo
OPEN TO BLOGGERS. PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson's office is in charge of choosing bloggers who receive accreditation to cover President Rodrigo Duterte's events. Malacañang file photo

The DDS bloggers who faithfully attend these events and craft pro-government posts are treated well in exchange, insider-sources said. Andanar, according to a source who is familiar with his strategy, said, “He makes sure they are taken care of when they come to events.”
During the Dutertenomics forum hosted by the PCOO in April, for example, the favorable treatment accorded the DDS bloggers was apparent. Organized in partnership with the Department of Finance, the forum discussed the government’s infrastructure programs that seek to fuel economic growth.
In that forum, the bloggers were invited by the PCOO and were given a table to work from – unlike mainstream media.
“They’re always separated from regular media,” said a PCOO insider. “They’re given tables and mobile or pocket wifi.”
At the end of the event, the bloggers were also given an “allowance” of a few thousand pesos each, said another source familiar with the transaction.
‘So much power’
“Internally, the budget is often referred to as ‘pampakain (food budget) for our online friends’ or ‘allowance for our online friends,” the PCOO insider said.
“To be sure, these DDS bloggers will support the President whether they are paid or not. But some individuals have used them for personal motives and for political ambitions.”
GOV'T RESOURCES. Status:Hot bloggers use RTVM resources for their global DDS party. Screenshot of livestream from Status:Hot Facebook page
GOV'T RESOURCES. Status:Hot bloggers use RTVM resources for their global DDS party. Screenshot of livestream from Status:Hot Facebook page
In China and Singapore, pro-Duterte bloggers were able to ambush-interview the President in his hotel while Malacañang reporters were prohibited by the Palace’s Media Accreditation and Relations Office from doing this. Flouting such Palace rules could get Malacañang members barred from coverage.
Even before the Dutertenomics forum, DDS bloggers were given accreditation by the PCOO to join the Philippine delegation to some of the President’s foreign trips – an unprecedented move.
Sources we spoke to repeatedly expressed concern over the growing influence of DDS bloggers in Andanar’s office.
“They have so much power with the PCOO,” one of them said. “It's concerning.”
One insider agreed, “They also prioritize DDS bloggers over media."
Just over the weekend, the PCOO even offered government resources for a DDS thanksgiving party, organized by one of the pro-Duterte bloggers. The event was led by Rivera, who posted on his Facebook wall: “Thanks to the PCOO, Martin Andanar and Pebbles Duque for helping us with the broadcast of the event to the Philippines.”
News of Rivera and his group using government resources triggered a backlash, to which Rivera responded, “I am asking this basic question. What authority did Status: Hot usurp?”

“And whose authority are we undermining? Si Martin Andanar ang head ng PCOO so sino ang sinuway namin? (Andanar is the head of the PCOO, so who did we defy?)”
Rivera himself admitted using government resources offered by Andanar for broadcasting purposes.
“And for the record, the only time we used government resources is when we used the PTV studio for the SONA (State of the Nation Address), the time we used the ASEAN studio in Conrad and the RTVM coverage sa DDS Thanksgiving,” he wrote.
PTV refers to Peoples Television, RTVM refers to Radio-TV-Malacañang. These, along with the ASEAN activities, are funded by taxpayers' money.
Yet despite Riveras own admission of Andanars permission to use PCOOs resources for past events or panel discussions, Andanar denied it when asked by Rappler.
“It was a DDS worldwide event. It wasnt broadcasted, he said, referring to the event on August 12.
He added, “We dont have a budget for bloggers,” also denying any allowances being given to bloggers, or any special treatment being accorded them.
But at the Philippineshosting of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary in early August, the influence yielded by the blogger-propagandists was most noticeable: pro-Duterte bloggers were given accreditation and access to cover the event.
ACCREDITATION. Malacañang offers media access to pro-Duterte bloggers under a 'DDS' organization. Photo sourced from Facebook
ACCREDITATION. Malacañang offers media access to pro-Duterte bloggers under a 'DDS' organization. Photo sourced from Facebook
Early this month, photos of pro-Duterte bloggers’ ASEAN media IDs went viral online – raising questions about the PCOO’s vetting process for media qualifications. While veteran bloggers – even before the DDS came to be – have long asked for access to presidential events under this administration, it was the PCOO itself that willingly offered them access. With priority, of course, given to the DDS bloggers.
IDs issued to online supporters of the President identified bearers as “Media” with a more specific designation of “DDS Philippines” or “Social Media Philippines.”
After the controversy blew up online, Andanar, in an interview on radio station dzRH on Monday, August 9, defended the IDs and said bloggers and “social media
influencers” were told to register online through a system of accreditation which also applied to mainstream media.
What accreditation?
But in a post by Rivera, who was accredited with a DDS Philippines badge, Rivera said they didn’t really need accreditation.
“And why do we need accreditation. We are bloggers. As the name implies, we blog. We post opinions, commentaries and literary work. WE DO NOT PRESENT THE NEWS. We are not a news outfit,” he said in a Facebook post on August 7.
“Hence we have no obligation to be impartial, objective and straightforward. It is about opinions. So why do we need accreditation?”
The accreditation, according to insiders, was pushed by the PCOO, and personally facilitated by the PCOO’s Pebbles Duque, who made sure DDS bloggers had access.
Aside from ascertaining they received media badges by endorsing them to the ASEAN National Organizing Committee (NOC), she also directly assisted them in broadcasting live from the Conrad hotel.
“The go-to person for bloggers is Pebbles Duque,” one of the insiders said. “She is Andanar’s trusted aide when it comes to social media operations.”
In another Facebook post, Rivera thanked Duque specifically for the unprecedented access given to DDS bloggers, specifically for his group, Status: Hot.
PROFESSIONAL SET-UP. The broadcast set-up prepared by PCOO for DDS bloggers. Photo from Pebbles Duque Facebook page
PROFESSIONAL SET-UP. The broadcast set-up prepared by PCOO for DDS bloggers. Photo from Pebbles Duque Facebook page
He wrote on August 6, “Come to think of it...MJ Quiambao Reyes, Rocky Gonzales, Francis Manalo and Mamshies (aka Renewel Basa), we are officially the first social media bloggers allowed to broadcast a live video in ASEAN history. Times have changed. Pebbles Duque, you rock!”
MJ Quiambao-Reyes, also a self-identified Duterte supporter, commented on the post as well. She thanked Duque for serving as “exec producer, director, writer” of their live panel from ASEAN. 
The post was accompanied by a link to the livestream of the panel, wherein the group sat on a professionally set up, makeshift studio – built and run through government funds.
(To be concluded)

Blogger-propagandists, the new crisis managers

From Rappler (Aug 20): Blogger-propagandists, the new crisis managers

In many ways, pro-Duterte bloggers do the job of the PCOO especially when it comes to managing backlash against the administration and promoting government programs

  • Pro-Duterte bloggers serve as crisis managers for the PCOO, alerting them about any negative sentiments about the administration
  • The social media monitoring skills of the bloggers allow the PCOO to react in a timely manner, a huge boost to the disorganized government office
  • Pro-Duterte bloggers are also invited to cover government forums and events to spread good news about the administration, but the PCOO does not rebuke bloggers when they spread false or hateful content

In the same way that President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign depended on bloggers to evaluate online sentiment and generate online buzz in the lead up to the May 2016 presidential elections, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) harnessed the bloggers’ dedication to Duterte, and to this day, depend on them to play the same roles – and more.
Aside from spreading pro-government propaganda, bloggers have become “crisis managers” for the PCOO, several sources familiar with their operations told Rappler.
Part 1 of our series, State-sponsored hate: The rise of the pro-Duterte bloggers, focused on how the PCOO has legitimized pro-Duterte bloggers by giving them special access to government officials and resources, consultancy contracts, cash "allowances," and an interim accreditation policy for bloggers to cover the Palace.
These bloggers, who call themselves Diehard Duterte Supporters (DDS), are well taken care of by the PCOO and given unusual privileges, not just because of their constant defense of Duterte, but also because they serve as eyes and ears on the ground for the poorly-led agency under Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.
Fighting backlash
After Duterte's State of the Nation Address on July 24, the President held a press conference wherein he threatened to bomb Lumad schools for teaching subversion and communism.
Umalis kayo dyan, sabihin ko sa mga Lumad. Bobombahan ko iyan, isali ko iyang mga istraktura. (I will ask the Lumad to leave. I will bomb their structures.) I will use the Philippine Air Force. You are operating illegally and you are teaching the children to rebel against government,” Duterte said.
The Lumad are indigenous people from Mindanao who have lost their ancestral land over time, have faced persecution, and have suffered human rights abuses as minorities.
Public response, at least among those who were vocal, was extremely negative.
The Communist Party of the Philippines, for instance, called Duterte “The lowest of the low” for his threat, and a “a madman with bombs.” The president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, Edre Olalia, said the threat was “as monstrous as it can get.” The organization that operates Lumad schools, Alcadev, said the President made the accusations so he “can justify the attacks on our schools and threaten us to bomb our communities.”
Photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler
Photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler
Social media was also abuzz with anger. A netizen labeled him a “terrorist”, another called his presidency a “regime of intimidation”, while still another said it felt like “Syria than the Philippines.”
The backlash was so widespread that pro-Duterte bloggers alerted the PCOO through social media officer Pebbles Duque, whose main role is to organize and mobilize bloggers.
The workflow between the pro-Duterte bloggers and the PCOO is as follows: bloggers see negative sentiment about Duterte or the administration online, they alert Duque, Duque relays the message to the PCOO officials, and the PCOO officials decide what to do.
“Pro-Duterte bloggers told Duque about [the Lumad backlash] and asked her for a government response,” a PCOO insider said. “Duque then asked PCOO officials. It was only then that they realized they needed to do damage control, and released a statement the next day.”
The statement from presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the threat to bomb schools was because Duterte wanted to protect Filipino youth.
The President "highlights the need to protect our youth and doing so entails ensuring they get the correct education that reinforces the right values that instill love of country and respect for our laws among others, and not rebellion," read the statement.
By July 28, the President himself clarified his statement, saying that what he meant was he wouldn’t bomb the schools while the kids were inside because his main point was, he wanted to protect them.
Social media monitoring
Multiple sources knowledgeable about the workflow of the PCOO confirmed that Duque is the direct link between bloggers and PCOO officials on a day to day basis, making her valuable to Andanar.
The Lumad bombing statement of the President was only one of many issues bloggers managed for the administration. The pro-Duterte bloggers often alert Duque about issues that gain steam online and that need damage control – from trivial to major.
It was the bloggers, for instance, who called the PCOO’s attention to the recent gaffes of the Philippine News Agency, when it used the Dole pineapple logo as its photo for its recent article on the Department of Labor and Employment, and when it posted a pro-China story.
Both alerts allowed Andanar to respond fairly quickly.
“They monitor anti-DDS pages too,” an insider-source said. “Their monitoring is better than ours.”
COMMUNICATIONS TEAM. Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella (2nd from right) has been given content and messaging after repeated blunders by Communications Secretary Martin Andanar (1st from right). Photo by Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo
COMMUNICATIONS TEAM. Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella (2nd from right) has been given content and messaging after repeated blunders by Communications Secretary Martin Andanar (1st from right). Photo by Ace Morandante/Presidential Photo

The insider also explained that Duque was the way through which Andanar managed to get the pro-Duterte bloggers into the PCOO's fold.
“Andanar uses her because she is friends with the bloggers from the campaign period. During the campaign, she helped unite online supporters. Now, he’s using her to get good publicity from the bloggers,” said the same source.
Asked whether the PCOO uses bloggers for crisis management, Andanar answered in the negative: “There is no such thing.”
Aside from monitoring the negative publicity surrounding the administration, the pro-Duterte bloggers are also used by the PCOO to spread positive news about the government.
In the PCOO, Duque is the one in charge of inviting and gathering bloggers to cover government events like the Dutertenomics forum, the Real Numbers forum, and forums announcing the government’s tax reform program, e-power program, and #BangonMarawi event, among others.
The bloggers are expected to post on their Facebook pages about the government events – as public relations officers would – to spread the message and praise government programs and initiatives.
“In every event, about 10-15 seats are reserved for Duque’s bloggers. Sometimes, they don’t fill it up, so bloggers bring their friends instead,” said a source knowledgeable about the PCOO's strategy.
Like social media monitoring, this is also something bloggers can do better than the PCOO, given their online followers.
For the tax reform forum on July 5, Duque gathered pro-Duterte bloggers including RJ Nieto, author of Thinking Pinoy; and Status: Hot’s Rocky Gonzales, Renewel Basa, and MJ Quiambao-Reyes.
Others invited by Duque were pro-Duterte brothers Greco and Jeremiah Belgica; Ronald Cardema who leads the Duterte Youth movement; Luis Azcona, an admin of the Daily Duterte Facebook page; and Arpee Lazaro, a former Liberal Party supporter turned pro-Duterte.
A look at the posts of some of the invitees indicate striking similarities. Most share information on what tax reform is and rally netizens for their support for the bill, sharing a link to the government's FAQ page.
But there was also propaganda tactics and misinformation spread widely by pro-Duterte groups on tax reform. On the day of the forum, a group called Thinking Minds posted a video on YouTube entitled: "Shameful Yellowtard strategy: Starve the country of cash by OPPOSING TAX REFORM."
The message was simple: if you don't support tax reform, then you support the opposition.
It also alleged that the reason the Liberal Party opposed tax reform was because of a destabilization plot to oust Duterte.
The video starts with soft, heartfelt music, appealing to the emotions. Sentences are then slowly flashed on the screen one by one:
President Duterte has a problem.
He wants to reform taxes…
So he can help the middle class and the poor.
Duterte also needs money to build our infrastructure...
To attract investors to make our country prosperous.
They are spreading lies to stop the reforms… that Duterte will fail and they will return to power.
He needs our help more than ever.
The video then goes on to show spliced clips of the President talking about tax and asking for support; an interview by hardcore Duterte supporter and blogger turned PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson with a tax expert; and news clips on tax reform from state-channel PTV.
The video was shared by Daily Duterte Facebook page – the admin of which was invited by the PCOO to the forum – to its over 300,000 followers.

It accompanied the post with the accusation: "The Philippines needs to reform its tax system to seize opportunities that will enable us to realize our potential as a 'tiger' economy but the Yellowtards will never allow this to happen because a Tiger Economy will prove how inutile YELLOW liberal politics is."
Interestingly, at least 6 other pro-Duterte groups shared the video as well, with the exact same post as the Daily Duterte page. Other pages that shared it include DU30 Correspondents, Duterte Speaks Now, Balitangbalita Duterte, OFW Global Movement for Duterte, Duterte, and President Rody Duterte.
IDENTICAL POSTS. Several pro-Duterte pages shared the exact same video with the exact same hashtag and false allegation. Screenshots from Facebook
IDENTICAL POSTS. Several pro-Duterte pages shared the exact same video with the exact same hashtag and false allegation. Screenshots from Facebook

While the PCOO invites pro-Duterte bloggers to attend events and share information about government programs, it does not correct them when they share wrong information nor rebuke them for hateful content that they post online. Nor does the PCOO exact accountability when the bloggers they've tapped to disseminate information, share false statements.
The allegations in the video are unproven; nor does the video provide any facts about a so-called destabilization plot.
Additionally, it is not only Liberal Party senators, who oppose the Malacañang version of the tax reform bill. Other majority senators against it are Sonny Angara and Win Gatchalian because of concerns over its being "anti-poor."
Controlling the narrative
Asked whether pro-Duterte bloggers are treated differently from media or other non-DDS bloggers, Andanar denied it.
"No, there’s none," he said, referring to special treatment. "Actually, we’re just really open. Even bloggers from the other side, they’re all invited."
A small number of bloggers who don’t identify as DDS bloggers are also invited to government forums like members of Blogwatch, but they are invited supposedly to “legitimize” the bloggers’ invites.
“Inviting a few non-DDS bloggers is a strategy by Andanar to show that neutral bloggers are also welcome,” said the PCOO insider.
However, compared to pro-Duterte bloggers, multiple sources who work with Andanar said that the content of these non-DDS bloggers is closely monitored to make sure they are “not anti-government.”
It is also the pro-Duterte bloggers themselves who monitor content from other bloggers who are viewed as being more neutral.
Aside from local bloggers, Duque also helps organize Duterte supporters from across the world.
On August 1, she welcomed them to Malacañang for a Museum tour and an interactive session led by the Office of the Presidential Adviser for OFWs and Muslim Concerns Secretary Abdullah Mama-o.
“Finally met the DDS leaders worldwide," Duque posted on her Facebook page. "Countries represent from USA, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Middle East and Asia came all the way here to visit us."
The same sources with PCOO experience said, the DDS OFWs are a solid, active, and engaged online force, who are deeply devoted to the President and who play the same roles as the bloggers in the Philippines – except on different time zones.
Dependence on bloggers
According to an insider, Andanar depends on pro-Duterte bloggers, because within the department, there is no established crisis communication group – aside from Viber messages among official PCOO staff.
“No one takes charge during a crisis,” one source said. “There is no point person, no go-to individual when a crisis ensues. Andanar himself asks various officials to take charge or take over, but only as issues arise, and when he hears that bloggers raise questions.”
The response is reactive, rather than proactive, said the same source.
ACCESS AND RESPONSIBILITY. PCOO chief Martin Andanar attends a forum where bloggers voice their opposition to restrictions in PCOO's draft social media policy. Malacañang file photo
ACCESS AND RESPONSIBILITY. PCOO chief Martin Andanar attends a forum where bloggers voice their opposition to restrictions in PCOO's draft social media policy. Malacañang file photo
This is unlike during the presidential campaign when media strategists met regularly and agreed on the message for the day or for the week. Efficient and professional, they also anticipated issues that could blow up and prepared messages to deal with and counter them.
At present, various PCOO officials talk about and vet messaging on the fly only through Viber, before it is turned into a written statement by Assistant Secretary for Content and Messaging Rachel Queenie Rodulfo.
Its current disorganization and lack of coordination means Andanar has relied heavily on bloggers, who monitor what is being talked about online. This is also what led him to tap Duque, who was close to the bloggers from the campaign.
"When Andanar realized her clout, that's when he took her in his inner circle," said a source.
“There is no need for PCOO to monitor social media themselves, because the bloggers do it. This is why he keeps the DDS bloggers close.”
With the pro-Duterte bloggers also spreading information on government programs – regardless of whether they are factual or not – it is easy to understand why Andanar is pushing for their accreditation in Malacañang as well.