On the Duterte-AFP-US information control in Marawi

“Dominate the information environment.” This is one of the key tasks identified in the AFP’s Operational Directive released as part of its implementation of martial law. It is in line with this task that the AFP has seized control of the “information environment” in Marawi City which has been besieged and under total lockdown by AFP troops for 50 days now. This is among the tactics which the US military has taught them. As a result, the Filipino people are being kept completely in the dark as to the real situation inside Marawi and have only the AFP as source of news. The entire narrative of the Marawi siege has been dictated by the AFP’ absolute control of the “information environment” under martial law. The AFP continues to come up with claims and news releases to justify martial law and its extension. The complete truth will remain buried as long as martial law remains enforced in the entire Mindanao.

Over the past 50 days, the AFP has been setting the information rules, including where to go and who can be interviewed. This is largely limited to the AFP spokesperson. Others who have been vetted or briefed by the AFP can be interviewed only under close watch of AFP information controllers. People in media have no means of verification as the military put their movements and sources of information under its complete control. Social media accounts identified by the AFP as being used by “terrorists” have been targeted for takedown.

For weeks now, the AFP has been making assertions and increasingly wild claims completely without proof, at times revealing inconsistencies suggesting the bigger lies underneath. Of course, the aim is to make the AFP look good by painting their enemies like bloodthirsty demons and hiding their own crimes. It has accused the so-called Maute Group of arming its hostages and children and forcing them to fight and insisting “there is nothing much we can do.” Such claims of the AFP are being made amid questions concerning AFP information that only 39 civilians have been killed. The AFP logic assumes that cadavers recovered across Marawi are so-called terrorists before they are proven otherwise.

Recently, it claims snipers of the so-called Maute Group are positioned in “high-rise buildings” (typically defined as buildings with at least six stories) in order to justify the relentless bombing runs over the city which has been roundly condemned by the people of Marawi, the Moro and religious leaders, as well as by progressive groups, human rights advocates and many other sectors.

It claims around 300 so-called terrorists were able to “escape” Marawi after declaring that only 80 are left while around 380 have been killed. The AFP originally claimed there are around 50-100 Moro fighters in Marawi, then raised the number to 200, 400 then 700 as the AFP siege of Marawi dragged from one week to the next. Apparently, the AFP is not really sure how large a force they are up against especially as more and more people are reportedly joining the resistance to the AFP siege as they are left with little choice by the complete destruction of their homes and livelihood.

On the other hand, the AFP has been relentless in attacking anyone who questions its claims as being “unpatriotic” and “siding with the terrorists.” They have kept attention away from the role of the US military in the Mamasapano-like operation to capture Isnilon Hapilon on May 23 which sparked the initial gunbattle. They have also exerted great effort in keeping the lid over information of widespread civilian deaths as a result of AFP bombardment as well as AFP looting of homes in the “safe zones” (areas under control of the AFP) with pictures of soldiers carrying oversized backpacks after “clearing operations” and so on.

Duterte’s Mindanao martial law has violated the people’s freedom of expression as well as the right to know the truth. This is bound to worsen with the AFP’s proposal to extend the Mindanao martial law and threat to impose martial law nationwide.

The people of Marawi and the entire Filipino people demand genuine enlightenment as to the real story and situation in Marawi. The victims of the AFP war of death and destruction, are especially determined to reveal the facts. However, they can not do so as long as martial law and military rule remain.

In the end, however, the Duterte-US-AFP’s alternative version of reality in Marawi won’t be able to withstand the people’s struggle to reveal the entire truth.

On the Duterte-AFP-US information control in Marawi