Sui Generis

Fake content portrays Marcos as warmonger

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

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Fake content portrays Marcos as warmonger
It's part of China's scare tactic

It’s been more than a month since a deepfake audio of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordering an attack on China was uploaded on YouTube. These were the screaming headlines with photos of Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping set against the backdrop of a warship:







(Attack China! China attacked again this afternoon! The order has been issued. PBBM gave the go-signal. Philippines will attack China!)

Someone sent this to me via Telegram asking if the voice of Marcos Jr. was real. On the first listen, it was obvious that the voice wasn’t the President’s. (This has since been removed from YouTube.)

It took a few days before Malacañang flagged this manipulated audio and warned the public about falling for it. The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said it was working with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the National Security Council, and the National Cybersecurity Inter-Agency Committee “to actively address the proliferation and malicious use of video and audio deepfakes and other generative A.I. content.” 

The DICT said it suspects a “foreign actor” to be behind this deepfake content. 

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to get to the bottom of this fake audio. “Hold accountable the personalities behind this deceiving act, make the investigation swift and comprehensive to ascertain the truth,” Remulla said in his order to the NBI. 

That’s five government bodies looking into who’s behind the deepfake audio that victimized no less than the president of the Philippines. This is a big deal because such a war narrative is meant to scare us and weaken our opposition to China’s bullying in the West Philippine Sea, apart from sowing doubt about the intentions of the President. 

Till today, we have not heard anything conclusive from any of these government agencies. It goes to show the lack of resolve, capacity, and skill to conduct digital forensic investigation. How then can the country gear itself to combat disinformation from a foreign actor? Midterm elections are coming up next year and the presidential election is not far behind, in 2028. 

There’s more peddling the war narrative

That’s not the only fake content that preyed on Marcos. On YouTube,  a video claimed that he declared war on China. The title reads: “Nilusob na China sa Manila! PBBM nagdeklara na! Gyera na! Malaking gulo to! Damay lahat dito Chinese.” (China is attacked in Manila! PBBM has made a declaration! It’s war! This is a big conflict! All Chinese will be affected.)

Rappler fact-checked this and found that the footage used in the misleading video was from the President’s speech during Araw ng  Kagitingan (the Day of Valor) where he urged Filipinos not to yield to those who wield “clear and present threats to our sovereign rights.” There was absolutely no declaration of war on China.

Another YouTube video’s title reads: “Nagulat ang China! PBBM pirmado na utos! Nagdeklara ng gyera? Uunahin na Chinese ambassador ng China.” (China was surprised! PBBM has signed an order! Declaring war? China’s ambassador will be the first.)

According to Rappler’s fact-check, the video’s narrator implies that Marcos’ Executive Order (EO) No. 57 signals aggression or even war. This is false. The EO aims to strengthen the Philippines’ maritime security amid escalating tension caused by China.

Talk to China or else…

This narrative is similar to the line that former president Rodrigo Duterte used to tell us: We should talk to China (meaning appease them) or the only other option is we go to war.  Till today, Duterte continues to mouth this false choice.

What this hides is the fact that there are a number of peaceful measures the Philippines has taken and is taking to protect our country’s sovereign rights.  Here are some of them:

  • We have won an arbitration case.
  • We have been able to gather international support and we have forged security and defense cooperation agreements with countries in Europe, apart from Japan and Australia.
  • Citizens’ groups led by Atin Ito have shown their support for fishermen who, by themselves, are exposing China’s intimidation.
  • The government has launched a transparency initiative to make China’s harassment in the West Philippine Sea public.
  • We have forged a coast guard cooperation agreement with another claimant country, Vietnam.
  • Dialogues with China continue through a bilateral mechanism.
Philippine proxies

Unfortunately, there are Filipinos who echo China’s narratives. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has reported that a number of local think tanks push pro-Beijing propaganda. Examples are IDSI or the Integrated Development Studies Institute and the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute.

Outside of think tanks, politicians like former president Duterte lead the Beijing proxies. Some businesspersons with large conglomerates also amplify pro-Beijing narratives.

The use of local voices is one of China’s tactics in influencing public opinion in various countries. They are guided by their sayings about the need to “borrow a mouth to speak” and “borrow a boat to sail to the sea.” 

Rappler investigation found that a pro-China network on Facebook has been spreading propaganda and disinformation for years. This network of local proxies of Beijing gets away with it by claiming academic expertise.

For example, they criticized the Philippine Coast Guard for being vigilant and vocal in the face of harassment by the China Coast Guard. Instead of condemning the bully, they blamed the victim. As of 2023, however, this pro-China community on Facebook had a small reach.

Let me know what you think. You can email me at  – Rappler.

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Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.