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Philippines militants use cyberspace to recruit and organise

03 December 2018 Mark Wilson

This is an extract from an article published in Jane's Intelligence Review and available as part of Jane's Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre.

The Philippine government has said that the country's communist insurgency will be defeated by mid-2019. However, Mark Wilson shows that the insurgency is thriving in cyberspace, using multiple social media platforms to carry out recruitment campaigns and to spread its ideology.

Key Points

  • Open-source research reveals an online network of Philippine communist insurgents who use social media to disseminate their propaganda and recruit new members.
  • Jane's classifies this online network in two broad categories: local militant commands and politically focused organisations.
  • The militants will likely remain active on the mainstream social media platforms of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as they face little in the way of online crackdowns.

On 31 October, Philippine Secretary of National Defence Delfin Lorenzana announced that the military was on track to defeat communist militants who have waged a five-decade insurgency against the government. He said that in 2018 alone, 907 rebels had voluntarily surrendered, 1,238 rebel firearms had been seized, and 210 barangays (local government districts) had been cleared of communist influence.

The insurgency is led by the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). In July 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire with the communists in an attempt to forge peace. However, those efforts fell apart, with the government claiming that the NPA was still carrying out attacks while negotiating for peace. On 23 November 2017, Duterte terminated the talks and declared that the CPP and NPA were "terrorist" organisations.

Nevertheless, although the government is focusing on the ground war, Jane's research shows how the NPA and the CPP have cultivated a strong online presence across the social media platforms of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. This presence is reinforced through retweets, mentions, and hashtags that link NPAcommands with official CPP media outlets, as well as the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), an umbrella leftist organisation that has conducted peace talks on behalf of the NPA-CPP.

NPA Commands

Jane's has classified the insurgency's online activity into two categories: the NPA commands that claim attacks, drive recruitment campaigns, post photographs of life in militant camps, and promote Maoist ideology; and CPP and NDFP activities, which play a more strategic role in offering guidance to NPA militants, defending the militants from criticism, and boosting the fighters' morale. These posts also try to bolster NPA recruitment by exploiting political and military developments on the ground.

Jane's has identified at least 19 NPA commands with an online presence. Six of these commands limit themselves to the blogging platforms Blogger and WordPress. The rest are more social-network focused, using Facebook and Twitter as their media outlets.

The commands are located throughout the Philippines. Jane's mapping of their online presence indicates that commands in certain regions tend to gravitate towards the use of particular social media platforms. For example, those on the southern islands of Mindanao, Negros, and Palawan tend to use Facebook, while those in the central regions of Bicol, Calabarzon, and Visayas favour Blogger.

When claiming an attack, NPA commands post written statements, but the NPA commands on Facebook and Twitter have adapted their approach, creating stylised images with key details of an attack that lend themselves to being easily shared on social media.

This is an extract from an article published in Jane's Intelligence Review and available as part of Jane's Military and Security Assessments Intelligence Centre.

Posted 03 December 2018 by Mark Wilson, Consulting Principal, Aerospace, Defense & Security, IHS Markit

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