A ranking Philippine Army officer made quite a ruckus on social media over the weekend after posting a photo which showed how the New People’s Army (NPA) allegedly influences indigenous people’s (IP) schools in Mindanao, a claim branded as a “fake news” by a Lumad school.
Colonel Harold Cabunoc posted a digitally enhanced photo on his Facebook page on Friday showing what appears to be students of Lumad schools holding made-up firearms.
The photo described the students to be “demonstrating how to ambush and attack government installations” during a graduation ceremony of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. (ALCADEV), a Lumad school, in Surigao del Sur.
“Freedom of expression lang daw ‘yan ng mga estudyante ng ALCADEV. Ganern? ‘Di ba kung binibisita ng Army ang lumad communities, pabebe agad ang mga front organizations ng komunistang grupo ng “militarisasyon”! Eh, ‘yon pala ayaw nila ang presensya ng militar kasi ang ginagawa nila ay NPAzation ng mga Lumad,” Cabunoc said in his post.
(It was just a freedom of expression by the students of Alcadev, they say. Is that so? When the Army visits lumad communities, these front organizations of the communist group cry of “militarization!” It turns out they don’t want military presence because of their recruitment of Lumads into the NPA.)
In a statement released by ALCADEV on its own Facebook page, it called out Cabunoc for allegedly spreading fake news.
ALCADEV said the photos were taken during the graduation rites of its students in December 2018 and March 2019.
Alcadev said the students were enacting a play on how the military allegedly harrased IPs in several operations in August 2018, and how Lumad farmers Emel Tejero and Randell Gallego were killed in January 2019.
Tejero and Gallego were killed in military operation against alleged communist rebels in Lianga, Surigao del Sur on January 24, 2019. Human rights group “Barug Katungod Mindanao” said Tejero and Gallego were not NPAs but ordinary farmers.
“Patunay lamang ito na puro kasinungalingan ang pinagkakalat ng AFP! Bilyon-bilyon ang pondo sa kanila para lang magkalat ng kasinungalingan. Kaya din pinapa-take down ng Facebook ang kanilang accounts dahil dito (This is a proof that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is spreading lies! They have billions of fund to spread lies. This is why Facebook took down their accounts),” Alcadev said, reffering to the recent takedown of social media accounts linked to military and police for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
However, Cabunoc maintained that ALCADEV is being used by the NPA for the recruitment of its young fighters.
He claimed that the photos were sourced by a former ALCADEV student who was saved by the military after joining the NPA.
“Panay hatred towards government, protest rallies, at teatrong pangrekrut ng NPA ang itinuturo niyo (You’re teaching students about hatred towards government, protest rallies, and NPA recruitment theatrics),” said Cabunoc on a separate social media post on Sunday in response to the ALCADEV’s statement.
A tech-savvy officer, Cabunoc was designated in June 2020 as the chief of the Army’s Operations Research Center.
In 2014, he served as the AFP spokesperson for two months before he was relieved after reportedly engaging social media users in a fight because of their posts critical of the military.