Enrique Manalo

FULL TEXT: Foreign Secretary Manalo on false narratives on the West Philippine Sea

Rappler.com

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FULL TEXT: Foreign Secretary Manalo on false narratives on the West Philippine Sea

SECRETARY. Enrique Manalo, the Philippines' foreign affairs chief, speaks at the East-West Center's International Media Conference on June 26.

Department of Foreign Affairs

The Philippine foreign secretary gives the keynote at the East-West Center’s 2024 International Conference in Manila

On Wednesday, June 26, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo delivered the keynote address at the East-West Center’s 2024 International Media Conference, which Manila hosted for the first time.

The conference is held once every two years and brings together journalists from the United States, Asia, and the Pacific to discuss key regional issues and challenges facing the media. This year’s iteration focused on the “Future of Facts.”

Manalo’s speech touches on the role of journalists in a world polluted by “alternate realities” that, he says, “sometimes drown out the truth and adversely affect the public discourse.” He also uses the platform to dismiss the “false narrative” that the West Philippine Sea is “merely a stage for Great Power rivalry in the region.” He gives the speech over a week after the China Coast Guard’s most violent disruption of a Philippine mission to Ayungin Shoal yet.

Here is Manalo’s speech in full:

It is an honor for me to keynote this year’s International Media Conference. It is also an honor for the Philippines, where press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed, to host it for the very first time.

Allow me to thank the East-West Center for choosing the Philippines as host and for organizing this Conference. 

Our gathering could not have come at a more crucial time. The ability of the press to report on global events, and the ability of people to appreciate and understand these events, is under sustained attack from disinformation and cyberattacks. Many countries, including the Philippines, have been targeted by malign actors wantonly exploiting technology to distort and manipulate facts. 

As such, so-called “alternate realities” sometimes drown out the truth and adversely affect the public discourse.

Amidst all these, the Philippine government has been working hand in hand with the media to ensure that the public is in possession of the facts. These efforts form an essential part of our commitment to a rules-based international order and our determination to protect and preserve our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction, particularly in the West Philippine Sea.

Genuine photos and videos – or those that are not AI-generated or digitally manipulated – speak louder and more powerfully than the myriad attempts at misinformation and the peddling of false narratives. Our friends in the media, and many of you are present here, have been able to report on these developments freely, without force and intimidation from our government.

A free press, reporting on events as they are, is the hallmark of a true democracy. 

And we are grateful for our partnership with you. Your work has helped to put the spotlight on what is really happening in the West Philippine Sea. And your reporting has highlighted our country’s efforts to push back against illegal, coercive, aggressive and deceptive actions in our own waters.

For far too long, the narrative surrounding the West Philippine Sea has been obscured by disinformation, coupled with attacks against our government’s IT infrastructure. 

One such false narrative paints the West Philippine Sea as merely a stage for Great Power rivalry in the region, that the Philippines is just a pawn in this game, and that we act only at the behest of another country.

This reductionist view muddles our understanding of the complex situation on the ground and detracts from the real crux of the issue: that a country is choosing to ignore international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as affirmed by the 2016 Arbitral Award, and the legitimate rights and interests of coastal states, such as the Philippines.

Only faithful implementation of the rules in the maritime space can effectively reduce conflicts over maritime boundaries and resource claims, thereby promoting peace and stability at sea.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr, has repeatedly underscored the Philippines’ adherence to an “open, inclusive, and rules-based international order [that] is governed by international law and informed by the principles of equity and justice.” 

We have championed a consistent position: maritime claims in the South China Sea cannot go beyond UNCLOS. No single country can claim almost the entirety of the South China Sea as its territory. 

Many of you have witnessed for yourselves the harassment and intimidation our people have faced. Many of you have also reported on how our people have been blocked from their legitimate sources of livelihood, and how certain unilateral actions which have massively changed the status quo on the ground have also irreparably damaged the fragile marine ecosystem of the region.

Our transparency initiative in the West Philippine Sea is just one of several approaches that we have been implementing but it is a key component that has significantly contributed to the public’s awareness of the situation.

For this, we have to thank you, our media partners. 

We have also been working with our allies and partners in the international community who value and share the same respect for upholding the truth.

The United States counts among our essential partners in proactively helping us tackle these challenges. Our two countries share the same vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, characterized by a rules-based governance of our global commons. 

The Philippines and the United States are set to work together against misinformation and are discussing a possible Memorandum of Cooperation on Countering Foreign Information Manipulation. We are holding, for the very first time, the Philippines-United States Cyber Dialogue next month. Technology, as we all know, is a double-edged sword and we must maximize its benefits while preventing its abuses.

From a regional perspective, the ASEAN 2035 Vision Statement issued by ASEAN Ministers Responsible for Information recognized a paradigm shift in the use of information. The Vision Statement called on cooperation in enhancing information accessibility and digital innovation in order to provide the media sector the means to address the transformative changes brought on by the Digital Age.

ASEAN is fully cognizant that the rapid digitalization of communication platforms has invariably led to the uptick of fake news, digital hate, and extremist views which severely degrades public discourse, fuels distrust, and undermines the effective functioning of a free press.

In this regard, we have tasked our Senior Officials Responsible for Information to, among others, develop and execute sustainable and future-proof strategies that adapt to and leverage digital transformation; implement evidence-based strategic communications plans, mechanisms, tools and best practices to enable them to continue delivering accurate and timely information to citizens; and to pursue strategic collaboration to leverage the transformative power of media and nurture a culture of critical thinking and lifelong learning. We remain hopeful that through these efforts our citizens will be better equipped in navigating the rapidly changing information and media landscape.

Our Senior Officials were also tasked to mainstream the role of the information and media sector to support the whole-of-ASEAN response to emerging global challenges such as disaster management, climate change and environmental concerns, health emergencies, cybersecurity, and other issues pertaining to human and sustainable development.

The Philippines will lead an ASEAN Forum on Raising Media and Information Literacy in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. This will be a gathering of government, academe, and media representatives from all the ASEAN Member States to discuss strategies to promote media and information literacy in an AI-driven information landscape. We will also organize an ASEAN Symposium on Enhancing Access to Public Information, which will present a platform for stocktaking and sharing of best practices in terms of access to information programs in ASEAN member states.

On the part of the public sector, ASEAN has also developed an ASEAN Guideline on Management of Government Information in Combating Fake News and Disinformation in the Media. This attests to ASEAN’s commitment to providing a safer and more informed digital space for all.

Friends,

Social media and AI have revolutionized the way people create, share, and consume information. They democratize information and give everyone a voice in the public discourse. They are powerful tools and hold great potential to benefit our societies.

But social media and AI have also been used by both state- and non-state actors to attack the democratic institutions which these technologies were meant to support and enhance. In this age where people are targeted by an unrelenting stream of unverified, inaccurate, and misleading information peddled on social media, the role of the press and its partnership with government in ensuring that the public is well-informed about the issues become all the more critical.

As such, the Philippines truly believes the media has a key role to play not only in informing and entertaining, but also in shaping public opinion, challenging societal norms and fostering meaningful dialogue.

It is a gargantuan task, indeed. But as I look around this room and see our best journalists and media personalities, I am confident that you are up to the challenge. And you may rest assured that we in government are your partners in this endeavor.

Thank you.

– Rappler.com

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