Unanswered questions, lingering doubts

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    ‘It is apparently not enough that China’s influence in the country has been steadily rising since the inauguration of the Duterte administration. Not enough that even industries that are illegal in mainland China are thriving in the Philippines.’

    IN the aftermath of the news that Facebook removed a network of accounts engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior (one came out of China, Facebook said) Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo voiced a question that was most uncomfortable for many: “What is China doing in our domestic affairs?”

    The question is an uncomfortable one in the sense that its puts laser focus on what some have suspected for many months now: China may now be invested enough in the Philippines’ domestic affairs to actually train some of its cyber tactics into our space. Part of the announcement made by Facebook’s Head of Security Policy, Nathaniel Glachier, is quite instructive: “In Southeast Asia where this network focused most of its activity, they posted in Chinese, Filipino and English about global news and current events including Beijing’s interests in the South China Sea; Hong Kong; content supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte and Sarah Duterte’s potential run in the 2022 Presidential election; criticism of Rappler, an independent news organization in the Philippines; issues relevant to the overseas Filipino workers; and praise and some criticism of China.”

    It is apparently not enough that China’s influence in the country has been steadily rising since the inauguration of the Duterte administration. Not enough that even industries that are illegal in mainland China are thriving in the Philippines. Not enough that our foreign policy regarding the West Philippine Sea is virtually a clone of what China wants. Not enough that a China-backed telecommunications company will now be allowed to place their equipment inside military installations. All these are not enough, and the existence of this network engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior is proof that whoever is pulling the strings is now engaged in a virtual battle for the hearts and minds of the ordinary Filipino.

    We’re two years away from a presidential election, and this development must not be taken lightly by anyone who advocates for a free and impartial electoral exercise. It’s bad enough that our elections are tilted on favor of those, as the cliché goes, possess the three “Gs” – guns, goons, and gold – without having to deal with any form of foreign interference or influence.

    I’m almost certain that this latest incident will be flatly denied by Beijing with the standard line that its government does not meddle in the domestic affairs of diplomatic partners.

    That Facebook is banned in mainland China only skews a conclusion in favor of a coordinated effort (it takes resources to circumvent China’s Great Firewall) to mislead Pinoy Facebook users.

    It is also fairly clear that China now has skin in the game when it comes to the Philippines – it has successfully engineered “a warming of relations” that ensures kowtowing to its whims and caprices. It just has to win over a significant portion of the populace in order to pave the way for a stronger foothold for its chosen politicians – the election of whom will ensure the continuation of this policy of spinelessness when it comes to the nation’s interests. The other uncomfortable question is: will they succeed?

    I hear COMELEC has opened its voter registration for the 2022 elections. Make sure to register and to vote, dear millennials and fillennials.