Update: Philippine Army Spokesperson Xerxes Trinidad reacted to this story. Read his letter to VERA Files below:
Army spokesman reacts:
Col. Xerxes A. Trinidad, chief of the Philippine Army’s public affairs office, took exception to the use of the word “secret” to describe the partnership with SMNI.
“The Philippine Army has disclosed its partnership publicly with the Sonshine Media Network International to support the activities of the Philippine Army in informing the people and stakeholders in the country and abroad, about the command’s efforts in the attainment of the national government goals of nation-building, sustainable peace and security, and for social and economic development,” he said.
The VERA Files story about Project Mulat was dated June 22. It was based on a document titled Psyops Project 01-22 “Mulat:” Unmask CTG, Counter its Narratives & Stimulate Social Movement. Trinidad, on the other hand, was referring to a Memorandum of Partnership Agreement (MOPA) with SMNI signed four months later, on Oct. 24, which were published without much details on the Facebook pages of the Army and SMNI.
The June 22 document said “the [PA] shall remain incognito” in the project. “It does not need to inform the public or display its participation to preserve the credibility of SMNI as a third-party entity,” it said.
Trinidad also disowned a part in the VERA Files story in which he supposedly described Project Mulat as “part of the military’s human assistance and disaster response program.”
“I clarified with Ms. Reyes that what the Army has is a Memorandum of Partnership Agreement (MOPA) with SMNI to boost our information campaign on the Army’s effort on the ground,” he said in a letter to Ellen Tordesillas, VERA Files president, sent via email at past 10 p.m. on Friday.
“… this declaration refers to the MOPA and not about Project Mulat, which I am not aware of,” he said. “That sentence implied incorrect information. Other statements made by me are discussions about the MOPA and the command’s information campaign about peace and nation-building such as humanitarian assistance and disaster-response efforts.”
Martelino-Reyes said: “Our entire phone conversation was about Project Mulat, which was the reason I wanted to talk to him in the first place.”
Trinidad did not deny the existence of the document on Project Mulat or any of its contents as cited in the article.
The Philippine Army (PA) is secretly using a media outlet run by the spiritual adviser of former president Rodrigo Duterte to discredit communist terrorist groups (CTGs) as it steps up effort to crush the over five decades-old insurgency in the country, according to a document obtained by VERA Files.
The paper dated June 22, just over a week before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was inaugurated, discusses the PA’s strategy to partner with Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) to push back against the “massive recruitment and resource generation” by CTGS in both virtual and real spaces. It states that SMNI was chosen because it is the only national television network operating on both traditional and online platforms that envisions a country “with zero insurgencies and is committed to contributing to nation-building.”
SMNI was founded by televangelist Apollo Quiboloy, a known avid supporter of Duterte, and has a franchise until 2044. Quiboloy considers himself the appointed son of God and owner of the universe as leader of the religious group Kingdom of Jesus Christ. He continues to appear in SMNI programs despite rape charges filed against him in the United States.
Under the plan dubbed Project Mulat, the PA would provide information and data from its field units on the government’s anti-insurgency campaign. The material would be used in SMNI’s various programs, especially the Laban Kasama ang Bayan (LKAB) which is co-anchored by Lorraine Badoy, former spokesperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
Badoy, concurrently an undersecretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office during the Duterte administration, is facing a contempt charge before the Supreme Court over threats she aired on her social media posts against Manila Regional Trial Court Judge Marlo Magdoza-Malagan, who ruled on Sept. 21 that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) are not terrorist organizations.
In the agreement, the PA would also provide the network with “credible” speakers, including former cadres in the communist rebellion, to “reinforce its anti-insurgency posture and narratives.”
“In this project, the (PA) shall remain incognito. It does not need to inform the public or display its participation to preserve the credibility of SMNI as a third-party entity,” the document states.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar could not provide details on Project Mulat, but PA Spokesperson Col. Xerxes Trinidad told VERA Files that it is part of the military’s human assistance and disaster response program. He said the PA has similar arrangements for relief operations with ABS-CBN, GMA7, and other networks. The spokesperson stressed that his office provides as much information as it can about the Army’s activities, especially in the field, to all media outlets.
Trinidad said the tie-up with SMNI is covered by a memorandum of partnership agreement and was done because the PA needs “an outfit to boost information on what is happening on the ground.” The PA’s goal is to be a “world-class Army that is a source of national pride” by 2028.
VERA Files reached out to SMNI through its Facebook page but has not received any response before this story was posted. Badoy, however, told VERA Files that she is not part of any project of the AFP “in any formal way,” noting that she is no longer in government. Badoy expressed support for the fight to finally stop the “ communist terrorist scourge” with the people cooperating with government.
“I work hand in hand with not just the AFP but the entire government in my capacity as a private citizen, a journalist, a doctor in ending what should have ended a very long time ago if we had figured this out – this whole of nation approach – in ending the terrorist CPP NPA NDF,” the controversial SMNI anchor said.
Labeled Psyops Project 01-22 “Mulat:” Unmask CTG, Counter its Narratives & Stimulate Social Movement, the paper is signed by Army Major Erasto Gallardo as project manager with Col. Patricio Ruben Amata, designated project director, as the other signatory. Project Mulat has five phases (coordination, conceptualization, implementation, evaluation, and termination), but no timeframe or funding is mentioned in the document.
As described in the paper, the plan was hatched because of the need for the military establishment to counter the tactics of CTGs, which have shifted their propaganda and recruitment efforts to online platforms. Like Badoy, it notes that these rebel groups have lost their mass bases and supporters, including cadres, because of the success of the government’s campaign against the insurgency. The whole-of-nation approach adopted by Duterte in 2018 – and laid out in Executive Order 70 — has gained “significant ground” as shown by the “influx of surrenderers and the dismantling of guerrilla fronts,” the document explains.
“The Command ventured into enhancing the information-related capabilities, particularly the social media operations of its field units. Initially, Division units have now established online television news media platforms and organized former rebels, particularly cadres, to compose the local cadre teams that comprise the pool of resource speakers,” the paper states.
Recognizing its “limited reach in the aspect of propagating relevant information to the desired audiences,” the PA linked up with SMNI which, it believes, has the broadcast technology, expertise, and a “large, and consistent followership.”
With Project Mulat, major PA units, particularly the infantry divisions, would provide factual and first-hand information that need to go through a vetting process “to ensure that only verified information and social media products are provided and propagated over SMNI.”
“Critical factor is our ability to shape public opinion that will stimulate the desired audiences to initiate mass actions against the CTGs. The decisive factor is our ability to influence SMNI leadership and key personalities (LKAB program anchors) to discuss the issues and deliver the messages that will resonate,” the document states.
In the implementation phase of Project Mulat, the PA stressed that anchors and resource persons should be accurate and consistent in responding to public sentiment to make sure that topics discussed encourage interaction with live viewers, especially netizens, “to impress a sense of ownership which will jumpstart” their involvement.
AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Bartolome Bacarro recently said he expected 19 of the remaining 24 guerrilla fronts of the Community Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, to be dismantled soon. He said there used to be 89 of these fronts, adding that the AFP has cut the number of NPA members to 2,112 from a peak of 25,000 in 1987 and their firearms to 1,800.
In October, the AFP announced it had destroyed five guerrilla fronts in the first 100 days of the Marcos administration and expressed confidence more areas would be declared insurgency-free. Davao is the third region to reach that milestone last Sept. 19, following Ilocos and the Zamboanga Peninsula. Bacarro said Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, and South Cotabato would follow suit.
Marcos welcomed this development, describing it as a “collective victory” for peace and security in the country.
Read the full text of Trinidad’s letter here:
OACPA’s Letter of Appeal to VERA Files Nov 18, 2022 by VERA Files on Scribd