Philippine military

AFP chief asks Facebook to restore pages of ‘advocacy groups’

Camille Elemia
AFP chief asks Facebook to restore pages of ‘advocacy groups’

Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs: Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay appears before the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs hearing Wednesday, August 19, 2020. The panel, chaired by Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, is looking into the fatal shooting of four Army soldiers reportedly by Philippine National Police personnel in Sulu last June 29, 2020 (Joseph Vidal/ Senate PRIB).

Armed Forces chief of staff Gilbert Gapay also calls on Facebook to give 'due regard' to the causes espoused by account owners

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gilbert Gapay on Wednesday, September 23, asked Facebook to restore pages that the tech company earlier in the day took down for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” against activists and legal groups. (READ: Facebook removes fake network linked to AFP, PNP)

Gapay conveyed this to Facebook Philippines Policy Team lead Clare Amador during Amador’s courtesy call on the new military chief on Wednesday afternoon, according to AFP spokesperson Major General Edgard Arevalo. The meeting was scheduled even prior to Facebook’s takedown of accounts associated with the armed forces.

Gapay specifically sought the restoration of the Hands Off Our Children (HOOC) Facebook page, which was among those taken down, Arevalo said in a statement.

“Part of the discussion was FB’s taking down of Hands Off Our Children, which is an advocacy group of parents whose children were missing or had been recruited by the communist terrorist groups. An advocacy that the AFP shares and advances,” Arevalo said.

“Specifically, he inquired if FB can restore Hands Off Our Children and other groups of similar advocacies like preventing child exploitation and trafficking of minors, and combating terrorism that may have been taken down,” Arevalo added.

Facebook took down over a hundred accounts and pages with links to the Philippine military or police and said the disbanded network “consisted of several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to evade enforcement, post content, comment and manage Pages.”

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to Philippine military and Philippine police,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Security Policy.

According to a separate investigation by the US-based The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), while the HOOC presents itself as an independent organization led by concerned parents of radicalized youth, “it may be more closely linked to the Civil-Military Operations Regiment than it publicly lets on.”

The same DFRLab report said that Philippine Army Captain Alexandre Cabales, chief of the Army social media center, was one of the operators of the network.

Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade Jr, the military’s chief propagandist against the communists, denied that HOOC is affiliated with the military. In a Facebook post, Joel Sy Egco, head of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, also defended the HOOC and “other legitimate advocacy pages” that were removed.

AFP to Facebook: Listen to the other side

In his meeting with Amador, Gapay inquired about Facebook’s processes on account removal. He also called on the company to give “due regard” to the causes espoused by account owners for fairness, according to Arevalo.

“FB discussed its policy governing removal of accounts and pages focusing on the ‘behavior’ and not the ‘content’ of the post,” Arevalo said.

“While submitting to FB’s ownership of the platform, AFP Chief Gen Gilbert Gapay urged Ms. Amador and her team to look into the process they observe in unilaterally removing accounts and for them to give due regard to the cause the account owner espouse to remove doubts of FB being partisan,” he added.

Arevalo noted that the AFP and Facebook “have similar advocacies,” such as stopping drug trafficking, child exploitation, and terrorism. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com