For the first time, the Armed Forces of the Philippines confronted a battle on a medium entirely unknown to us – operating in a social media world. Team Tabak had to quickly improvise a social media center capable of creating an effective counter-offensive and proactive messaging – the voice of truth. Truth truly sets the Filipino people free.
Truth Conquers all – lies, deceits, falsifications, disconceptions on digital media succumbed to the power of TRUTH.
The digital stage and the air waves were bombarded with disinformation, fake news, acts of terrorism, and the deceitful blame game tactics, all deemed at hoodwinking the people towards their evil agenda. But the JTF Marawi optimized its Social Media Operations capability to conquer the lies with the prevailing truth.
Foreword: Efficient Planning and Strategy
“This book reveals the power of social media as an effective tool for engagement. The Philippine Army must rise to address this challenge, and prepare its personnel, by equipping them with the knowledge, skills, and equipment for efficient engagement in the dynamic world of social media.” — Lt Gen Rolly Bautista AFP
Our careful planning and optimal strategy in Social Media Operations resulted in the general public’s overwhelming appreciation for the military at the height of the Marawi crisis. The tremendous positive sentiments obtained from social media provided us with an opportunity to project an enhanced and positive image of the Philippine Army in the digital world. These positive sentiments generated an enormous outpouring of public support in the form of care packages, voluntary support, service, and donations.
While persistent negative and false information lurked in the digital world, the Joint Task Force (JTF) Marawi’s digital team along with various units of the Armed Forces initiated focused, reactive, and proactive actions to deal with these posts accordingly. We imposed our own ethical standards and guidelines for the conduct of our Social Media Operations.
This book has proven that engaging in social media is the medium of today’s world. The Philippine Army must now include guidelines for responsible social media management for all our troops.
LTGEN ROLANDO JOSELITO D BAUTISTA AFP
Commanding General, Philippine Army
Former Commander, Joint Task Force Marawi/
1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army
Introduction: Enhancing the Army’s Image Online
“This book narrates the historical experience of JTF Marawi’s Information Operations Cell’s utilization of social media as a vital capability for the conduct of operations to liberate Marawi City. It is an enduring documentation of the Philippine Army’s extensive use of social media in the defense of our country.” — Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera
The increasing use of social media and the Internet has created a significant impact in our military organization, in the field of public information, counter-propaganda, information support affairs (PsyOps), countering violent narratives, and in the realm of cyber operations. The Philippine Army’s online presence during the Marawi crisis and its constant operational updates, including monitoring and countering negative sentiments, were pivotal in projecting an enhanced and positive image of our soldiers in the digital world.
The strategies we employed successfully shaped the operational environment and protected our troops from the propaganda, lies, and disinformation spread online by the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group and their sympathizers.
This book humbly recommends that the Philippine Army revisits our social media plans, strategies, adaptations, challenges, innovations, and lessons learned from the Battle of Marawi experience. All of these are discussed in detail in this book.
LTC JO-AR A HERRERA (INF) PA
Director, Operations Research Center, PA
Former Spokesperson/AC of S for CMO (G7),
Joint Task Force Marawi/1st Infantry (Tabak)
Division, Philippine Army
Chapter 1: Social Media in the Time of War
“As JTF Marawi gained the initiative in the Main Battle Area over the ISISMaute Terrorist Group during the first few days of the crisis, we immediately needed to counter the spread of lies, deceit, and negative narratives directed against our combined AFP, PNP, PCG forces over the Internet.” — Cpt Michael Malacad
There is no denying the magnificent way by which social media has penetrated human lives. Facebook (FB), Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other social media platforms are now part and parcel of our daily routines as we hurry to check our account to get our daily dose of updates – be it the news, comments from friends, private messages, or the latest tidbits from our community. In January 2017, about 60 million Filipinos were actively using these platforms.
It has become so pervasive that it has entered the boardrooms of corporations where marketing activities are planned. It has made a dash for the august halls of government where information and education campaigns are discussed.
And, it has also set foot on military headquarters where tactics and strategies for war are established.
Such was the case of the Marawi experience. The Marawi crisis raged for five months in the City of Marawi, Lanao del Sur — the longest urban war in the modern history of the Philippines.
And for five long months — from May 23, 2017 to October 23, 2017 — the eyes of the world were upon us as we Filipinos prayed and our government wrestled with a major armed terrorist group and gave the Duterte administration one of its harshest challenges to date.
Meanwhile, the Philippine military, quietly yet intensely, was cooking up a storm — in the digital space.
Seventy men from various units of the Philippine Army’s 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division (1ID), were in the thick of training. But it wasn’t a field training; instead, it was tech training, familiarization, and immersion for the men and women in uniform, specifically for Digital Media Capability Enhancement. The last series of training sessions focused on Social Media Management. The last week of the three-week period during which the social media training was conducted would have been devoted to practical applications by the 70 participants.
Instead, training was disrupted. On the second week of this period, the terrorists and government security forces started to open fire, signaling the start of the Marawi crisis.
The terrorists, members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS), including the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, were also cooking up their own storm. They and their supporters were fueling their own digital media operations.
Using more than 100 personal accounts, the camp stormed Facebook with fake news about the fighting in Marawi City. On the first week, they uploaded 5 to 10 posts a day including photos and videos that misrepresented the real situation.
Among others, they made it appear that the soldiers were not the decent, respectable men and women they were supposed to be. Instead, they were killing machines with no regard for religion, thus painting a harshly negative image of the military.
But the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) particularly the 1ID was prepared to counter these efforts. They were on the lookout for such activities of the enemy. As the AFP continued to eliminate and disable the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group in the Main Battle Area (MBA), the Information Operations Cell (IO Cell) was turning tactical gains to strategic victory. Meanwhile, they were protecting the soldiers from black propaganda and boosting their morale through the digital world.
Prior to the war, the 1ID had already developed a social media strategy dubbed “Veritas Vincit” or “Truth Conquers” to promote the #TeamTabak website and FB page. The objectives were:
1) To build an audience for both the website and FB page;
2) To generate greater awareness about the concerted efforts of the 1ID and the rest of the Philippine Army in working for peace, security, and development in the country. In so doing, it hopes to improve the image of the military and government and restore the public’s trust in them. It also aims to build mass base support and advocacy among netizens for the Division as well as the Joint Task Force ZAMPELAN (Zamboanga Peninsula and Lanao);
3) To clear the path toward the Army’s vision of becoming a world-class institution and a source of pride for Filipinos;
4) To formulate security guidelines, safeguards, and self-imposed ethical standards for the Army’s Civil-Military Operations (CMO) planners and operators in disclosing information.
Data and other important information were collected from interviews with military personnel, actual observations, and research. Via digital media, information gathered from these activities was relayed to the different brigades down to the various battalions. These were linked to the local government units, non-profit organizations, and government agencies as well to assure an even bigger audience which included the general public of course, not to mention famous personalities and influencers.
When the fighting started, Joint Task Force (JTF)Marawi used this social media strategy, handed over to them with the help of then Ground Commander BGen Rolando Joselito Bautista and enforced by the IO Cell of the Civil-Military Operations Coordinating Center led by Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera.
For the Marawi crisis, the social media strategy was geared toward enhancing the image of the soldiers by disseminating accurate stories of their efforts to promote peace and security in the affected areas, including their community engagement activities.
In creating the social media posts, the IO Cell members used data-driven social media insights to make sure these will be interesting reading and viewing fare for netizens and generate favorable response from them.
Through social media, behavioral and cognitive psychological analyses were also undertaken. The objective was to interpret how supporters of the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group and the general public disseminate and receive information to negatively and positively influence others. Their behavioral patterns, as found in the analyses, were used to determine the application of storylines for the social media posts. This was done to give genuine voice to the stories of the soldiers and thus touch on the emotional core of netizens.
This was consistent with studies conducted by Ulric Gustav Neisser, German-born American psychologist who was a pillar of the 20th century Cognitive Psychology. His experiments have found that “the knowledge of how the world works leads to the anticipation of certain kinds of information, which in turn directs behavior to seek out certain kinds of information and provided a ready means of interpretation.”
The Classical Conditioning argument that learning a new behavior is attained through the process of association is backed up by Neisser’s own Theory in Perceptual Cycle Behavioral and Cognitive Method.
The stories posted on the FB page aiming to build up a positive image of the soldiers led to direct favorable responses from the netizens. On the other hand, the enemy camp’s social media content consisting of distorted information about the ongoing war was not as well received in Lanao provinces where there is a mix of cultures and languages.
This translated into massive outpouring of public support for the battle-weary but brave soldiers of the Army, in monetary form, in kind, or through volunteerism.
Chapter 2: Gearing Up for Battle
“The responsible use of social media was an advocacy that we created in order to create an impact in our organization and the people that we serve.”
— Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera
On March 15, 2017 – less than two months before the start of the Marawi crisis – then 1ID Commander BGen Rolando Joselito Bautista instructed Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil-Military Operations (G7) Lt Col Jo-Ar Herrera to assess the state of the Division’s Civil-Military Operations (CMO).
These were the findings:
1) Appreciation for the Division’s CMO by the rest of the organization was sorely lacking. There was a designated consolidation area for CMO activities. Other than this, no other structure, activity, or gesture reflected real, heartfelt appreciation for their operations.
2) Division personnel did not have enough knowledge of digital media and therefore lacked the necessary skills. This may be partly attributed to the lack of equipment.
3) Leadership was unstable. There were no plans for personnel capability development.
4) As CMO operators, the personnel did not have a strong sense of purpose.
The Division’s unfamiliarity with digital media particularly became obvious when Lt Col Herrera instructed the Division of Public Affairs Office (DPA) to flex its creative and digital muscle and come up with eye-catching, effective campaign materials for community engagement like flyers and posters. Two weeks passed and the materials had still not been completed. The reason? The people simply did not know the basics of creating such paraphernalia using modern computer technology and how to go about the production process.
To solve the problem, Lt Col Herrera came up with the idea for a series of CMO Enhancement Capability Training to train the personnel on digital media. Hence, the initiative was born, with funding provided by the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Education and Research (OG8).
The CMO Enhancement Capability Training included the following:
● Stakeholder Engagement Seminar and Harnessing Community Support Training for different methodologies of facilitating and conducting peacebuilding initiatives
● Radio Broadcasting Training for mounting radio programs for information delivery
● Digital Media Management Training Series for Digital Product Development, Website Development, Social Media Management, and Digital Art Theories and Applications. These include layout, color composition, photography, videography, and image editing.
Seventy men from different units of the Division attended these training sessions to retool and acquaint themselves with these concepts and cutting-edge innovations. The rest, as they say, is history.
Soon after, the 70 participants reaped the fruits of their training as they brought their newly acquired skills and knowledge to the Marawi battlefront. But this time, it was a different kind of warfare – one fought within the digital space.
Their weapons: FB, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram accounts; TeamTabak.com; laptops and desktops; the Internet; smartphones; digital imaging and video editing softwares; cameras including videocams; hashtags (#TeamTabak), plus their own adaptation, innovation, creativity, strategy, implementation, dedication, and patriotism.
Chapter 3: Personnel Empowerment
“Enabling our people to acquire the appropriate knowledge and skills intended to achieve a particular mission’s goal was the best asset of our organization.” — BGen Ramiro Manuel Rey
The brand name #TeamTabak was actually launched while the training seminars were being developed. #TeamTabak turned out to be not just a brand name; it soon evolved into the Division’s own digital identity and was the face of the IO Cell of JTF Marawi.
On April 22, 2017, during the Media Fellowship held at the Kuta Major Cesar L Sang-an in Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur, the Division launched its website, TeamTabak.com and its social media accounts under the theme “Strength in Online Presence, Enhancing Digital Media Capability.” The twin launchings set the Army’s digital attack against the terrorist forces in motion, though the warring parties had yet to fire their first shot.
With the website in place, the Division can now relay real-time news information 24/7 to more people other than its constituents, not just in the Philippines but in the rest of the world. Plus, it can now begin to clean the tarnished image of the military, not with another pack of lies as perpetrated by the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group camp but with the truth. #TeamTabak was actually branding and positioning itself with the truth, and not some half-truth or twisted advertising claim.
“We were able to establish a platform that would make communication easier and paint a picture of what Tabak really is,” said BGen Bautista. “And as we reach and engage more people in the digital world, our website would pave the way for a meaningful form of communication with our Brigades, other AFP and PNP units, the local media, and other agencies and stakeholders.”
He continued, “Over the years, we have conducted several medical and dental missions, and other community service activities that have reached out to barangays in our area of operations. Through these, we were able to change the mindset of the general public that we, your soldiers do good, and we were able to change what we were perceived to be.”
A Social Media Monitoring Team was also formed to manage the social media accounts. To learn the rudiments of the task, the team composed of selected officers, enlisted personnel, and civilian-volunteers from the OG7, 1ID and Division Public Affairs Office including Cpt Salvador Seville, SSg Danilo Banquiao, Cpl Minao Habibun, Cpl Kevin Idio, Pfc Jerry Sibuyan, Pfc Eva May Abian, and Pvt Edgar Bryan Gevela underwent a crash course facilitated by civilian volunteer Marlon Magtira. A team building activity was led by Lt Col Herrera in order to be able to assess each one’s knowledge, familiarity, and skill in the use of social media. Goals, specific objectives, ethical standards, guidelines/rules for engagements, and a time table were set. The courses/trainings were kicked off by Lt Col Herrera and Mr. Magtira. The OG7 support personnel were Sgt Roy Pepito, Pfc Kenny Lorwin Reyna, Gilbert Aggabao, Pvt ASN Alvie Mae Manantan, and Pvt Jackielou Vergas. They later became the facilitators of various digital media enhancement capability trainings conducted in the next weeks.
At the opening, Lt Col Herrera stressed to all participants that engaging in social media is anyone’s right, however, with the use of social media comes a responsibility to tell the truth, and to submit to self imposed ethical standards for the division. Then BGen Bautista said, “with this opportunity afforded to you to familiarize and better yourselves with the use of social media, comes the obligation to be professional, accountable, and morally upright.”
Journalists and Digital Content Specialists in Uniform
For the website and FB page, the monitoring team worked like true modern journalists and editorial professionals. First, they drew up an editorial calendar to establish the schedule for releasing of posts, news and feature articles, photos, videos, posters, infographics, and other content. The calendar helped the team to manage their digital media products, branding, and messaging.
And like true digital content specialists, they tinkered with social media and posted timely web articles and posts in precise clockwork fashion: within a 24-hour basis, these materials were shared with their other online properties.
Lt Col Herrera discovered that Pvt Eva May Abian, one of the participants, had a private FB account with a growing list of followers, whom she kept informed daily about the division’s activities and any interesting positive news happening in their area of responsibility. She then decided that this would be the ideal platform to launch a Team Tabak fan page and the rest is history.
The digital team in Pulacan now had a public FB page as well for their own product collaboration and development. This eventually became the FB page that we used during the Marawi crisis.
In addition, they made a video of Sgt Ronie Halasan singing his first own composition titled “Bangon Marawi”. Sgt Halasan was then serving in the Battle of Marawi. His video became a sensation in social media as it quickly went viral, registering more than 15 million views as of October 20, 2017 while serving as an inspiration to the victims of the war-torn city.
Social Media Team: The Frontline for the Digital Media War
JTF Marawi’s Social Media Monitoring Team was formed in Marawi City as part of the efforts by the task force’s IO Cell led by Lt Col Herrera. Forming the core of the team were participants of the Team Tabak 1ID training.
“The trainings were part of the Division’s digital media initiatives to equip its personnel not only for actual combat operations but also to enhance our digital capability in facing another kind of battle using Internet technologies for disseminating information online,” said BGen Bautista.
Lt Col Herrera and Mr Magtira noted that only Pfc Jerry Sibuyan possesed the basic skills necessary for digital layout work and made sure that he would receive adequate training to further his skills. Sgt William Sajul was discovered to have writing abilities and as such was equipped with the tools necessary to develop his creativity with the use of the pen/laptop, both of which enabled him to draft messages to be incorporated for use with our various products. Pfc Marlon Malalis had an innate artistic ability which we tapped to be able to prepare him to render digital art for our product developments.
Serving as the frontline armada for the digital combat zone, the team monitored online news content about the fighting in Marawi City, including the negative ones. They countered such smear campaign through with own web materials and social media posts.
The group likewise analyzed the online behavior of the enemy camp. According to a report by Lt Col Emmanuel Garcia, Commander of the 4th Civil Relations Group, Civil Relations Service, AFP in coordination with the JTF Marawi IO Cell dated September 12, 2017, the following patterns were discovered:
● Through their own digital mechanism, the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group and its supporters underscored religion as the main reason for their attack on Marawi City without mentioning the various forms of injustice inflicted on Muslim Filipinos.
● They implied that the government was no longer in control of the situation.
● Their posts suggested that it was the soldiers and the police themselves who were creating havoc in the city.
● The group sourced their information for tactical and propaganda purposes from Facebook.
● They generated support for the terrorists among the netizens, particularly the youth whom they tried to lure into their fold.
The Social Media Management Training Class 01-2017 of the 1ID held its closing ceremony in Marawi City on October 3, 2017 – almost five months after the series of trainings commenced and 20 days before the fierce armed struggle officially ended.
During those tension-filled days, the 70 men in uniform who sought to embrace the latest innovations for their own professional use not only learned new knowledge; they were able to use them as well in real-world applications. A world as real and fierce as the battlefield of Marawi City—both physical and digital.
As the newly promoted MGen Bautista declared in his keynote message during the closing ceremony, “We have successfully reached out to the public via social media through our forward planning, clear strategy, adaptation, implementation, guidelines, and ethical standards. We will continue to sustain the gains of these initiatives aimed at reaching significant potentials in creating a positive and enhanced image of our organization.”
When the Battle of Marawi broke out, immediately, the Social Media Team proceeded with the task at hand.
Their office operated 24/7 in three shifts: 8 AM – 4 PM, 4 PM – 12 AM, and 12 AM – 8 AM. Day and night, the dedicated group, who by now had acquired a new level of tech-savviness, tracked down propaganda accounts belonging to jihadists and their supporters. In the first week alone, they monitored more than a hundred accounts and a thousand posts.
Such accounts, supposedly owned by fake individuals to escape identification, contained false information and tried to gather support for the terrorists. The public was being fed with these lies and insults, deceived with the notion that government had been remissed in its duty to protect the people, in this case, the people of Marawi. Our Social Media Team countered these disinformation and black propaganda.
At this stage, the enemy was persistent in flooding FB with their destructive narratives against our troops. As reflected in Neisser’s Perceptual Cycle Behavior and Cognitive Method, the negative perception of the general public about the Armed Forces and Police did seem to have been shaped by the barrage of propaganda instigated by the terrorists.
But then again, we came prepared.
On June 10, less than 20 days after the fierce battle started, JTF Marawi Spokesperson Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera, announced that the Social Media Team discovered 63 of these FB accounts.
“These 63 jihadist accounts, using fake personalities to hide their real identification, were spreading malicious information and propaganda that affected the information landscape and the mindset of Filipinos,” Lt Col Herrera said. “The Armed Forces has already undertaken the necessary measures to request Facebook.com to take down these fake accounts.”
According to a statement by FB published on Inquirer.net, “When asked about the military’s request, Facebook told the AFP it would remove accounts that promoted terrorism. We want to provide a service where people feel safe. That’s why we have community standards that explain what you can and cannot do on our service. Our community standards do not allow groups of people that engage in terrorist activity, or posts that express support for terrorism. Fake accounts are also prohibited.” (Inquirer.net. AFP asks Facebook to close jihadist accounts. https://technology.inquirer.net/63791/afp-asks-facebook-close-jihadist-accounts (Retrieved Nov. 27, 2017)
Chapter 4: Closing Ranks with the PIA
“Teamwork and collaboration among like minded individuals brings about fruitful results.” — USec Harold Clavite
On the second week of the Marawi crisis, the IO Cell partnered with the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) for the production and dissemination of news articles. Functioning under the Presidential Communications Operation Office, the PIA was led by Executive Director Harold Clavite.
Under this partnership, the team in Marawi City along with that in Pulacan, Zamboanga del Sur forwarded stories on non-combat operations, including articles and videos, to PIA for online publication and live TV broadcasts. For its part, PIA advised the IO Cell on the production and management of content for the #TeamTabak page.
Selected PIA staff were on hand to serve as co-administrators, facilitating the administration and boosting for the page in order to garner a larger audience and to facilitate a stronger reach. PIA likewise played a part in FB’s verification of the #TeamTabak page, confirming that it is indeed the official, authentic profile for the 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division of the Philippine Army.
Prior to the partnership, the PIA Region IX was only documenting the MBA and the evacuation centers. This partnership allowed the PIA to include our CMO activities and other forms of soft power apporach as part of their coverage.
Chpater 5: Statistics
“Adequate words, appropriate actions, powerful images, and the setting of standards for the practice of responsible and ethical social media – defined our terms of engagement and the development of social media products created to highlight the heroism of our soldiers.” — Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera
From May 23 – October 30, 2017, the Digital Media Team monitored Marawi crisis stories in the following:
● GMANetwork.com, Sunstar.com.ph, Inquirer.net, CNNPhilippines.com, ABSCBN.com, Philstar.com, MB.com.ph, ManilaStandard.net, Rappler.com, PIA.gov.ph, PTV4 News, New York Times, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, and BBC
Using data analytics, the group yielded the following information from its monitoring:
● 566 monitored news articles on mainstream digital media outfits from May 23 to July 9 registered 92% positive sentiment
● 1,551 monitored news articles on mainstream digital media outfits from May 23 to October 30 posted 88% positive sentiment
● As of October 16, the team churned out a total of 1,786 FB graphic images/videos, generated 41.3 million likes/shares and 94.2 million video views, and posted a total reach of 124.8 million
● One of the team’s tweets grabbed the third spot among trending topics on July 2, 2017
TeamTabak.com had a total of more than 4 million hits between May 23 – October 30, 2017.
In addition, they were also able to engage major media organizations in producing videos and news stories which showed the best of the Armed Forces and PNP thus cultivating a more favorable image and helping eliminate or subdue the negativity being spread by the opponent.
As a result, Vice News/HBO produced “On the Hunt for ISIS”; CNN Philippines came up with “Female Soldiers”; TV5 with “Female Soldiers”; PTV4/PIA with “Soldiers Human Interest Stories”; Inquirer.net with “Female Soldier/Reservists/Volunteerism Stories”; GMA News/iWitness with “Women Warriors”; ABS-CBN with “Di Pasisiil”; and GMA News with its own production.
Chapter 6: Assessment
“Our data analysis revealed that our digital media products registered a 124.8 million reach, and had a significant impact on the FMO.” — Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera
The war officially ended on October 23, 2017. The thunderous bombings and deafening rattle of gunfire had melted in the air. Calm and silence once again reigned.
The dust had finally settled and the terrorists had clearly lost the war.
Despite the lives lost, the heavy ruins, and the deep scars left in the hearts of the victims, victory can still be claimed. Yet, it was a triumph achieved not only in the physical battle arena of Marawi City. It was also an overwhelming win achieved in the digital realm.
Digital media products with 124.8 million reach made a significant impact on the military operations. With its more than 250 FB accounts, the Digital Media Team helped to strengthen the engagement of the public so that they may view the Armed Forces in a more positive light.
Third-party assessments based in Metro Manila also pointed to a high overall net satisfaction rating for President Rodrigo R. Duterte. According to an SWS survey, majority of the population was satisfied with how President Duterte handled the situation despite his declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao. It was also observed that the soldiers were highly appreciated by people from Luzon and Visayas.
Likewise, it was observed that the data collected from the group’s online media monitoring as well as the social media graphical images contributed to our tactical and strategic gains.
In addition, positive sentiments from the civilian population added to the support system of the soldiers.
Although the military operations negatively affected trade and business, tourism, health, and the environment, therefore, putting the economy of Marawi City at a standstill, the stories with unfavorable angles were not actually focused on the troops themselves.
Meanwhile, the terrorists’ smear campaign against the government security troops was successfully relegated to the background with the dominance of the 1st Infantry Division’s activities on social media.
Of the 200 fake accounts that supported the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group in Marawi City, 84 of these fake accounts had been deleted by FB while more than 300 fake accounts were removed with the help of the IO Cell.
Chapter 7: Lessons of War
“Extremist religious views were emphasized as the primary reason for staging the attacks. Unlike other Islamist armed groups, the ISIS-Maute terrorists did not mention historical injustices committed against Filipino Muslims.” — Lt Col Manny Garcia
In the course of its Social Media Operations, the team managed to uncover some gems of truth regarding the war and how certain factors contributed to its success. Along with their newfound technical know-how, the group learned some more new lessons along the way. Foremost of these is the importance of appreciation and encouragement.
The Ground Commander’s ability to appreciate and encourage innovations during this time improved the way they utilized digital media in the battlefront. The personnel themselves were appreciative of the training they received and their Ground Commander’s resolve to fully maximize the power of social media to help subdue the opponent and win the war.
Another lesson is the importance of having the right tools. The IO Cell upgraded its equipment and purchased Apple MacBook laptops for the training. Internet connection was still a problem of course but better equipment coupled with better coordination among the team members smoothened out the workflow despite the weak Internet connection.
It is also imperative to engage the communities being served. Various efforts were carried out to consult with the community members.
Chapter 7: Social Media in the Marawi Crisis: the Maranao Perspective
“Our community standards do not allow groups or people that engage in terrorist activity, or posts that express support for terrorism.“ — Facebook.com statement
One week after President Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi City, the IO Cell interviewed community stakeholders about their impressions of the Army’s social media efforts.
The interviewees acknowledged that we can now relay information and send documents to other people more quickly than ever using the various social media platforms. They also recognized the fact that though social media is a powerful channel for information, it does have its ugly side, with the proliferation of trolls whose fake accounts allow them to evade identification.
They are aware that the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group was implementing their own social media initiatives as well, mounting a massive propaganda campaign against the military. Their objective was to convince Muslim Filipinos to side with them. These terrorists had their own interpretations of the Quran which they spread in social media to convince people that their actions – waging wars, sowing fear, and terror – are actually legitimate. In doing so, the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group camp overturned Islam’s reputation from a religion of peace to that of violence.
They also knew that the enemy camp has been spreading fake news about the military, police, and their operations to distort the truth and make it appear to the public that they are the bad guys instead of being the protectors of the people.
The interviewees expressed appreciation for the military in tapping the power of social media to disseminate truthful, accurate, timely, relevant, and useful information.
Among the clutter of social media content were photos of rescue and relief missions undertaken by the soldiers in Marawi City. The interviewees saw these photos and said they appreciated such measures in the face of stories circulating around that the soldiers were killing innocent civilians and did not give consideration to Muslim civilians. Such rumors were of course courtesy of the terrorists.
Aside from pictures of humanitarian deeds, pictures of the dialogues initiated by the military and the civil society groups were also posted on social media, encouraging other sectors to have their own dialogues with the military as well. The talks focused on issues in Marawi City and across Lanao del Sur.
The stakeholders affirmed that Muslims and non-Muslims had a good relationship after the Marawi crisis, again debunking the false information which the terrorists were bombarding the public with. The interviewees believed that the engagement of the AFP with the youth is an affirmation that the military was concerned for the youth, and wanted to discourage them from turning into radicals in the future.
They realized that social media is readily available to both government and the terrorists. Its importance lies in how it is used for positive outcomes, in this case, delivering truthful, reliable, timely, and accurate information to create a good image of the military for the Filipino people, which exactly what our government security forces did. The ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group, however, did exactly the opposite. They distorted the facts, made up lies, and spread these in their social media accounts to besmirch the reputation of the government forces.
The affected communities became more interested in the website and social media accounts of the military due to the derived benefits that were afforded to them during the Marawi crisis.
Chapter 9: Challenges Within and Beyond Enemy Lines
“Based on our data analyses, our TeamTabak website generated more than 4 million hits during the Battle of Marawi.” — Cpt Clint Antipala
Not everything was smooth sailing, of course. There were the usual hits and misses, challenges and difficulties which were encountered on the wayside.
Before the outbreak of the war in May 2017, the Division focused more on combat and kinetic operations, paying less attention to other areas due to lack of knowledge, skills, and equipment.
This lack of knowledge extended to the digital realm. Either they lacked the skills for digital media usage or they did not have these skills entirely. In the first place, there was a lack of recognition for social media’s importance. This resulted in unutilized personnel in the other units whose digital know-how would have otherwise been useful to their own initiatives.
The necessary equipment, including compatible equipment, for a full-blown social media engine was also sorely lacking. To make matters worse, Internet connection was either weak or non-existent.
Funding was also not enough and this affected the conduct of training and purchase of equipment. To solve the problem, OG7, 1ID coordinated with OG8, PA to get funding.
Lastly, despite the numerous fake accounts taken down by FB, other fake accounts supportive of the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group persisted, translating to additional work burden for the Social Media Monitoring Team.
The Next Battle Plan: Recommendations and Opportunities
“There are different ways to do innovation. You can plant a lot of seeds, not be committed to any particular one of them, but just see what grows. And this really isn’t how we’ve approached this. We go mission-first, then focus on the pieces we need and go deep on them and be committed to them.” — Mark Zuckerberg, Co-Founder, Facebook.com
During the crisis, our troops aquired digital knowledge, overcame hurdles, and learned lessons along the way.
From these experiences, these recommendations were formulated to boost the Philippine military’s level of performance and capability: Creation of a Social Media Operations Center (SMOC) Using best practices in Social Media Operations, the SMOC will serve as the central coordinating body for all social media activities of all units under the Philippine Army.
It will oversee the Institution’s efforts, via social media, to cultivate the image of the Filipino soldier as someone with a sense of purpose — decent, responsive, responsible, God-fearing, and patriotic. The center will likewise help the Philippine Army achieve its vision of being a world-class institution and source of national pride for all Filipinos.
In particular, the SMOC will intensify content creation, product development, and the distribution of such content to various channels in coordination with the Army’s various units.
Undertake Social Media Training in CMO School
A Social Media Management Training Course should be included in the curriculum of the Philippine Army Civil-Military Operations School. The course will cater to CMO units, from Battalion to Division level, and help harmonize the various Army units’ efforts for social media. The Digital Media Team recommends that the course be institutionalized as part of Army basic training.
Revisit Social Media Policy
The Philippine Army should regularly revisit, revise, and update its Social Media Policy and include applicable scenarios from the Marawi crisis. The policy, first of all, should be treated as a continuously evolving document, hence, the need for constant updates.
Optimize Online Footprint
A Social media strategy, in order to be fully functional, scalable, and effective, should include a website where all posts will be linked. The website should be regularly updated so users can take advantage of its many benefits.
And what are these benefits? Number one on the list is access to information 24/7 at a cost significantly less than that incurred in the case of traditional advertising.
Next on the list is the opportunity to view videos instantly posted on the site, sometimes even in real-time.
Another benefit offered by a website is its interactivity. A website with interactive features can have multiple functions. It can offer a virtual tour of the office or of any property or venue, answer a user’s questions in real-time, engage their participation in forums, and more.
A website can also develop and strengthen stakeholder relations. One way of doing this is to cascade specific information to their target audiences.
In the same way, a website likewise benefits its owners. Websites aid in branding and thus help enhance the organization’s image and identity. It also gives the organization an opportunity to communicate with its customers and stakeholders on a whole new level.
It can be a vehicle for promoting certain beliefs, principles, and philosophies and reach more people — both within and beyond the borders of the country. On the other hand, an organization without a website spells disaster.
First of all, the website is an online identity. Therefore, any organization or corporation will come off as non-existent or a non-entity if it does not have a website. Its integrity will be questioned and technological capabilities will be questioned, as well.
Information-wise, people seeking information about its mission, products, services, and the like will not be able to find the information they need on the Internet simply because it doesn’t have a website. If at all they do find information, there is no certainty that this is accurate. A website, on the other hand, makes data and information official and easily accessible.
The organization will also miss out on a multitude of opportunities that the digital world offers on a global scale.
Hence, the benefits of having a website cannot be downplayed. A website with accurate, real-time news reports combined with frequent social media postings of uplifting stories will create a strong and positive online presence for the Philippine Army.
Sufficient high-performing equipment is needed to ensure a steady stream of Web and social media content. Such equipment includes: a decent workstation, desktops or laptops, and at least an average-speed Internet connection to keep up with the pace of online activities.
Harmonize Intelligence Efforts of the Community
The objective is to dismantle online extremism more effectively. With the proliferation of technologies which some groups take advantage of for their own selfish motives, online violent extremism should not be taken lightly.
Instead, it should be viewed as one of the many realities of the modern world which needs to be addressed – right now, right here.
It is this reality which reared its ugly head during the five months of fierce fighting between the terrorists and government security troops in Marawi City, causing the eyes of the world to cast its stare upon this city with a mixed look of pity and disdain.
Indeed, violent extremism is now also happening in the digital space. It happened in Marawi City. It ought not to happen again.
Information Dominance: A Battle Won
“The local terrorist groups in Marawi and their supporters have misrepresented Islam as a violent religion instead of making it a religion of peace.” — Marawi resident
Before the era of social media, wars were fought and won with the usual weapons: bullets, guns, tanks, bombs, aircraft, cannons, projectiles, and missiles. These armaments and ammunitions played their part according to carefully planned tactics and strategies laid out by the warring camps.
And then the Internet came, bringing with it an armada of technologies and concepts never before seen by man. Emails, online presence, connectivity, websites, and social media conquered our personal lives. In quick succession, these technologies marched beyond our homes to establish dominance in our workplaces as well – from the regular offices to the nerve centers of military headquarters.
Like a true revolutionary tool, modern technology has transformed modern warfare — both in terms of firepower and the information landscape.
It happened in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur. From the 23rd of May to the 23rd of October 2017, government forces and militant troops fought ferociously. Only this time, they were brandishing a new weapon: Digital Media.
The Philippine Army’s’ 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division and Joint Task Force Marawi held this weapon with expert hands. Using the website and social media accounts, they churned out news report after news report – in text, photo, and video formats which reflected the soldiers’ dedication to save Marawi City and perform humanitarian acts. By doing so, they smashed the enemy’s own digital activities into smithereens.
They connected with the communities they served and the general public which had been tricked by the lies fabricated by the enemy. But through social media, the people were able to see the truth and reality – that military men and women were dedicated and trusted defenders of the Filipino people.
Hence, support from the public poured in for the courageous men and women in battle during and after the Marawi crisis. This is not surprising at all. Thanks to social media, a new positive image of the Philippine Army and of the Armed Forces in general, now inflames the hearts of Filipinos everywhere.
Certainly, the battle for information dominance had been won by our security forces. And definitely, the Philippine Army wants to replicate this victory for all its line units, including in the digital combat zone.
After all, the strategy has proven its effectivity in a real, full-blown war in Marawi City which captured the attention of the whole world.
This is the Battle of Marawi, one that our soldiers, police, and the coast guard fought gallantly against the terrorists. One that they, and we, eventually won – in more ways than one.
- Armed Forces of the Philippines CMO School (2016). CRS AFP Strategic Communications Manual (Dated 17 Oct. 2016)
- Armed Forces of the Philippines. (2017). OPORD 04-17 HJTF-M (Dated 23 May 2017)
- Armed Forces of the Philippines (2003). Information Operations Manual (AFPM 3-03)
- Civil-Relations Service Armed Forces of the Philippines (2008). CRS AFP Manual (AFPM 7-08)
- Garcia, Lt Col Emmanuel (2017). 4th Civil Relations Group, CRS AFP: Initial evaluation re: Social Media efforts in Marawi (Dated on Sep. 12, 2017)
- OG7, 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army (2017). JTFM7 Digital Media Operations After Activity Report (Dated 10 Oct. 2017)
- OG7, 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army (2017). JTF ZAMPELAN CMO Coordinating Center After Activity Report (Dated 01 May 2017)
- OG7, 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army (2017). CMO Support Plan to 1ID PA IMPLAN “KALINAW” (Dated 30 Mar. 2017)
- OG7, 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army. Social Media Strategy “Veritas Vincit” (Dated 06 April 2017)
- Pavlov, I. P. (1897/1902). The work of the digestive glands. London: Griffin
- Philippine Army. (2015). Social Media Handbook Series of 2015
- Neisser, 1967. Cognitive psychology. Appleton-Century-Crofts: New York
- John Watson, 1913. Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review
- Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 20, 158–177
- Watson, J. B., & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned emotional reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, pp. 1–14
- Watson, J. B. (1924). Behaviorism. New York: People’s Institute Publishing Company
- https://technology.inquirer.net/63791/afp-asks-facebook-closejihadist-accounts/Inquirer.net. AFP asks Facebook to close jihadists accounts (Retrieved on Nov. 27, 2017)
- https://www.simplypsychology.org/classical-conditioning.html/ McLeod, S. A. (2014). Classical conditioning. (Retrieved on Nov. 27, 2017)
- http://teamtabak.com/2017/10/04/teamtabak-digital-media-teamefficiency-technology/ TeamTabak.com, 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army. (2017). #TeamTabak Digital Media Team: Efficiency in Technology. (Retrieved on Nov. 27, 2017)
- https://wearesocial.com/sg/blog/2017/01/digital-in-2017-globaloverview/ We Are Social PTE LTD Singapore. Digital in 2017: Global Overview (Retrieved on Nov. 27, 2017).
Book 3 Production Team
Lt Gen Rolando Joselito D Bautista AFP
Commanding General, Philippine Army
Maj Gen Robert M Arevalo AFP
Vice Commander, Philippine Army
Maj Gen Danilo Chad D Isleta AFP
Chief of Staff, Philippine Army
Maj Gen Gilbert I Gapay AFP
Former Chief of Staff, Philippine Army
Lt Col Jo-ar A Herrera (Inf) PA
Director, Operations Research Center (P), Philippine Army
Isabel Cojuangco Suntay
Editor-at-large / Production Team Leader
Marlon C Magtira
Online Editor / Writer
Atty Melvin G Calimag
Enrique A Suarez
Sgt William C Sajul (MS) PA
Pfc Jerry R Sibuyan (Inf) PA
Graphic/ Layout Artist
1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, PA
Civil-Military Operations Regiment, PA
Joint Task Force Marawi
Civil Relations Service, AFP
Maj Isidro DG VIcente (INF) PA
Deputy Director, ORC (P), PA
Maj Donny N Ravago (MI) PA
Chief, Policy Studies Branch, ORC (P), PA
Cpt Franco Salvador M Suelto (INF) PA
Chief, Admin Branch, ORC (P), PA
Cpt Glenn D De Ramos (INF) PA
Asst Chief, Admin Branch, ORC (P), PA
Cpt Leonard P Del Rosario (INF) PA
Chief, Strategic Branch, ORC (P), PA
Cpt Menard S Rocero (INF) PA
Chief, Policy and Special Studies Section, ORC (P), PA
Lt Col Elmer B Suderio GSC (INF) PA OCG, PA
Maj Jelson Buyuccan (INF) PA OCG, PA
Maj George B Delos Angeles (CE) PA OG1, PA
Maj Jan B Molero (INF) PA OG2, PA
Maj Cesar Deocampo III (INF) PA OG3, PA
Maj Donato A Molina Jr (QMS) PA OG4, PA
Maj Geomar L Pipit (INF) PA OCG, PA
Maj Maria Lourdes E Ranario PA OCG, PA
Cpt Kim L Apitong (INF) PA OCG, PA
Cpt Aris A Gerero (INF) PA OCG, PA
Cpt Jommel Ray P Parreño (INF) PA OCG, PA
Cpt Marc Anthony G Romero (SC) PA OG6, PA
Cpt Apple Ann L Belano (AGS) PA OG9, PA
Tsg Melvin P Saludes (SC) PA ORC (P), PA
Ssg Harold L Carbonell (OS) PA TDC, TRADOC, PA
Ssg Loin V Labilles (Inf) PA OCG, PA
Sgt William C Sajul (MS) PA ORC (P), PA
Sgt Ronie M Halasan (OS) PA ORC (P), PA
Cpl Renz Michael T Endaya (Inf) PA OCG, PA
Pfc Jerry R Sibuyan (Inf) PA ORC (P), PA
Pfc Marlon B Malalis (Inf) PA ORC (P), PA
Pfc Joyce T Jimenez (Inf) PA AAR, PA
Pvt Eva May S Abian (Inf) PA ORC (P), PA
Mary Chriszelle M Puzon CE OG1, PA
Jinky Marie R Semaña CE OG2, PA
Aila Marielle S Conopio CE OG2, PA
Abner H Manuel Jr CE OG2, PA
Pamela Chelsea M Ortiz CE OG3, PA
Chryss Frederick R Pascual CE OG5, PA
Samantha Nicole C Suarez OG6, PA
Melrick B Lucero CE OG7, PA
Alexis Faye A Villegas CE OG8, PA
Gayle P Bitarra CE OG9, PA
Ma Sheyna Elayne G Delos Reyes CE OAGAD, PA
Paolo K Mangulabnan CE RDC, ASCOM, PA
Mereniza D Gomez
Mavreen Jackie P Yapchiongco
Princess Fame I Pascua
Ivon Claire C Domingo
Ian Irving C Bacungan
Nenia A Dulom
Llynette Sheila R Binasoy
Bernadette N Patañag
Harold E Canlas
Jayrald M Vasquez
Juan Paolo L Magtira
Production Support Staff
Special thanks to:
The offices of Coordinating, Technical, Personal, and Special Staff of the Headquarters, Philippine Army