Does dubious intel input guide policy-making?

It’s a legitimate public concern to raise such a question, in light of what the designated “principal adviser to the President on intelligence” has owned up to: that he had been sharing posts on social media without verifying the source and the veracity of the information.

Verifying and validating data is a basic duty of an intelligence chief. But this is something that the director general of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency or NICA (Alex Paul Monteagudo), has confirmed that he had shared “quite a number of times” posts from spurious Facebook pages titled “Global Public,” “Peace Philippines,” “Pinoy Exposé” and “Philippine Untold News.”

The four above-mentioned social-media pages, the Manila Bulletin has reported, were among those recently taken down by Facebook, including pages linked to the military and the police, for their “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” which violate its community standards.

Appearing at last Wednesday’s plenary deliberations of the House of Representatives to defend his agency’s proposed budget, Monteagudo admitted he didn’t know the authors and the administrators of the spurious Facebook pages (read: he didn’t bother to fact-check). He said he shared the posts, in his personal capacity, with his NICA staff and field operatives. It wasn’t explained how, in so doing, he could distinguish or separate his personal capacity from his official responsibility and accountability.

What needs deeper examination was Monteagudo’s claim that the FB pages he posted from anonymous on-line news agencies and other bloggers were his “personal choice and had nothing to do with his being an official of the government.” Moreover, the Bulletin report noted that the NICA chief “adamantly declared that what he did was correct based on his personal belief.”

Further worsening the situation were remarks made by Rep. Ruffy Biazon, who sponsored the NICA budget proposals in the plenary deliberations. He pointed out that Monteagudo shared the questionable posts to his personnel because sharing intelligence information is part of NICA’s mandate. He was also quoted as saying, “If the NICA director general will stand [by] that position with regard to the Facebook share or like, this sponsor cannot impose on him.”

The Makabayan bloc representatives, who raised questions for Monteagudo to answer, pointed out the social media pages shared by the NICA chief have been red-tagging and vilifying them as “communist terrorists stealing public funds to fund terrorism.” That prompted Kabataan Party Rep. Sarah Jane Elago to ask, “Shouldn’t the NICA chief be more responsible since he is the director general of the premier intelligence agency of the government?”

Deputy House minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate flatly denied the social media accusations against the Makabayan bloc, emphasizing that “these postings are a direct affront to us, to the members of this Congress.” He reminded Monteagudo that irresponsibly sharing fake information and unfounded accusations is a violation of RA 6713. The law states that public officials are expected to act with professionalism and the highest degree of integrity.

Beyond invoking his “personal capacity” as different from his being a public official – which plainly is a ploy to avoid accountability for his social media activities – Monteagudo ought to have taken into account the mandates to the NICA and to him as its head, as laid down in presidential issuances.

Under Executive Order 246, the agency is denoted as the “focal point for the direction, coordination and integration of government activities involving national intelligence” and for the “preparation of intelligence estimates of local and foreign situations for the formulation of national policies by the President.” And under Administrative Order 68, the NICA chief chairs the National Intelligence Committee, a collegial body that “prescribes policy guidelines and directives to various national government units, agencies and offices engaged in intelligence activities.”

In addition, under both the Human Security Act of 2007 (the old anti-terrorism law) and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 that replaced the HSA, the NICA is designated as secretariat of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC). This body, constituting of appointed executive officials, is tasked to identify and recommend organizations and individuals to be declared as terrorists by the Court of Appeals.

Obviously, Monteagudo’s dabbling with social media in proliferating fake news and unfounded accusations detracts from the explicit written mandates of his agency and his top position in it.

But given the NICA’s role under the ATA, which is an added potent but dangerous arm for the Duterte government’s headlong pursuance of its overarching counterinsurgency campaign, Monteagudo could feel confident he had been “correctly” doing his part in the campaign.

The campaign, began in early 2019, is being carried out under Duterte’s EO 70, via the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Headed by Duterte himself as chairperson (his national security adviser, Hermogenes Esperon Jr., as vice chairperson), the NTF-ELCAC is the prime purveyor of tagging activists and progressive people’s organizations as “terrorists” and “enemies of the state.”

Invariably in several instances across the country, such red-tagging has led to the extrajudicial killing of the targeted individual or the the filing of trumped-up charges against both the targeted individuals, groups or organizations. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has expressed deep concern about these incidents, in her June 2020 comprehensive written report to the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in the country. On Oct. 5, the latter body is due to vote on a resolution calling for an independent international investigation as follow-up to Bachelet’s report.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that Duterte has called out Facebook for having taken down FB pages linked to the military and the police, and that the Armed Forces of the Philippines has demanded the restoration of the pages of private pro-military “advocacy” groups, which Facebook said were more than 100 fake accounts and pages.

These accounts, Facebook said, appear to have been part of a systematic propaganda against “communism, the (CPP) and its military wing, the (NPA) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.” Their operations, it added, intensified between 2019 and 2020, coinciding with the debate over the ATA. Facebook found one page being administered by Army Capt. Alexander Cabales, chief of the Army Social Media Center.

Of late, Karapatan called on the AFP, PNP and NTF-ELCAC to disclose the “advocacy groups” and their FB accounts that they are supporting, as well as “how much of the people’s taxes are being spent” on what it called the government’s “fake online propaganda machinery taken down by Facebook.”

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Published in Philippine Star
Oct. 3, 2020

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