Army Captain Alexandre Cabales, the soldier who was tagged by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) based on Facebook data as managing fake accounts, served for a decade in the Davao Region, the home region of President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a text message to Rappler on Thursday, September 24, Army spokesman Colonel Ramon Zagala, said that Cabales was assigned in the 10th Infantry Division (ID) for 2008 to 2017.
(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said the Davao Region was under the 11th Infantry Division. It is the 10th ID which is assigned in the Davao Region. This has been corrected.)
The 10th Infantry Division is focused on security operations in the Davao Region for the military. It was based in Davao City until 2011, when it transferred to the town of Mawab in the province of Davao de Oro.
Cabales graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in 2008 and was immediately assigned to the 10th ID.
Early in his career, Cabales was a combat soldier, becoming a platoon leader from 2008 to 2012, and then a company commander from 2012 to 2014 for the 28th Infantry Battalion, which is still under the 10th ID.
From 2014 to 2015, Zagala said Cabales became a Civil Military Operations (CMO) officer.
Being a CMO means engaging in efforts that would increase support of civilians for the military. Included in the CMO's task is to represent the military in the area when meeting with civilians.
From 2015 to 2017, according to Cabales' LinkedIn profile, he served as the public affairs chief of the 10th ID for 6 months, then as a battalion operations officer for 2 years.
In September 2017, he was assigned to Metro Manila. Cabales was named as a Regiment Deputy Operations Officer for the Civil Military Operations Regiment (CMOR) at the Philippine Army's main headquarters.
A year later in September 2018, he rose to become the chief of the Army Social Media Monitoring Center.
According to Zagala, Cabales was "knowledgeable" about the use of social media platforms like Facebook. He added that Cabales was devoted to the cause of ending the communist insurgency in the country "peacefully."
It was in this assignment that Cabales was spotted by Facebook as using multiple fake accounts to amplify messaging against communists.
Cabales was also linked to the Hands Off Our Children (HOOC) group, whose Facebook account was apparently one of those taken down. His Facebook account was among the administrators of a private Facebook group linked to HOOC's page.
According to the 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 Philippine military is currently urging Facebook to restore the accounts Cabales managed, which it described as belonging to "advocacy groups."
Military chief General Gilbert Gapay specifically sought the restoration of the HOOC Facebook page.
“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,” said military spokesman Marine Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo in an earlier statement.
At the same time, Zagala said the Army is open to punishing Cabales if he committed violations to their own social media use guidelines.
Asked during a press briefing on Thursday about what the guidelines were, Zagala mentioned that soldiers must not use their social media accounts to post information that was damaging to the military's reputation, as well as information that may compromise their security operations.
Cabales is currently in Sulu for a CMO deployment, Zagala said. He has been ordered to return to Metro Manila to deal with the allegations against him. – with a report from Camille Elemia/Rappler.com