Philippines

Resilient
Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
High
41 85
Local Resilience & Response
High
50 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

  • Steady influence efforts: Over the past three years, the Chinese regime’s efforts to influence media in the Philippines has remained steady, building on important gains achieved before 2019. Notable during the coverage period of 2019–2021 was the presence of a Beijing-linked disinformation campaign.
  • Limited impact, strong public skepticism of China: Available data show that Filipinos have shifted away from perceiving the Chinese government as a positive influence or model, and that they still prefer the United States and other countries as partners. Filipinos display widespread skepticism toward Chinese state media narratives, especially amid a worsening territorial dispute between the two countries in the South China Sea. They have also increasingly conflated programs that promote Chinese culture with Chinese government narratives, contributing to the reduction of Chinese-language media programming in the Philippines. Public backlash has also disrupted coproduction agreements between Chinese state media and Philippine media (see Impact).
  • Close ties with local state broadcaster and other partnerships: Chinese state media succeeded in establishing close ties with President Rodrigo Duterte prior to 2019, leading to the signing of formal media cooperation agreements that are still active. Chinese state media regularly provide content, including inserts, to state broadcaster People's Television Network and major pro-government Philippine dailies like the Manila Bulletin and the Manila Times. The Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer, two of the country’s most popular outlets, have also published inserts and articles from Chinese state media (see Propaganda).
  • Active social media presence but limited user engagement: Chinese diplomats and state media have an active presence on social media platforms like Facebook, posting in both Tagalog and English. Some accounts have over 100,000 or even a million followers, though user engagement is limited and the number of fake accounts should not be underestimated (see Propaganda).
  • Subsidized press trips: At least 36 people from the Philippine media industry went on a subsidized trip to China in 2019, with some participants parroting Chinese state talking points upon their return. These trips stopped as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 (see Propaganda).
  • Targeted disinformation: The Philippines is vulnerable to disinformation by pro-Beijing actors due to gaps in the country’s legal and policy safeguards as well as in public expertise and knowledge on the issue. A China-linked disinformation network operated unchecked for months in 2019 until it was identified and removed by Facebook; it included pro- Duterte messages and received high engagement from the Filipino online community while active (see Disinformation).
  • Strong influence on Chinese diaspora media: Chinese-language media in the Philippines are dominated by pro-Beijing content, which can influence local politics given that members of the Chinese diaspora are active in business and public affairs (see Diaspora media).
  • Low penetration in television and radio: Partly due to public pushback and lack of local interest in their content, Chinese state media have not been successful in influencing television or radio, the two most trusted sources of news for Filipinos, despite the existence of a bilateral state broadcasting cooperation agreement (see Propaganda, Resilience and response).
  • Diverse and critical local media: The Philippines’ diverse media landscape offers substantial resilience to Beijing’s influence efforts, providing varied and critical coverage of China and Chinese Communist Party influence, including through international newswires. Even generally pro-Beijing outlets are occasionally critical of the Chinese government, especially regarding the South China Sea. Several Philippine media outlets have a culture of watchdog journalism and significant capacity for investigative reporting. As a result, pro-Beijing narratives do not dominate coverage of China (see Resilience and response).
  • Increased media and civil society attention to Chinese Communist Party influence: Filipino journalists and editors have pushed back against Chinese state efforts to publish misleading or unlabeled content. The Philippines’ vibrant press freedom community has increasingly mobilized against perceived Chinese state influence. In March 2022, the National Union of Journalists published guidelines for reporting on China, which urge journalists to maintain independence while asserting the Philippines’ position on the South China Sea. There are also emerging signs of civil society attention to disinformation and environmental harms related to Chinese investment (see Resilience and response).
  • Media vulnerability to political influence, violence, and legal reprisals: Despite moderately robust transparency laws, the Philippines does not have laws against partisan ownership or cross-ownership of the media. As a result, domestic outlets are vulnerable to political influence. Further vulnerabilities exist due to high levels of violence against journalists and a constitutional ban on foreign investment in mass media, which has been wielded to penalize independent outlets critical of the Philippine government like Rappler (see Resilience and response).

header2 Background

The Philippines is a constitutional democracy and has a status of Partly Free in the 2022 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties.1 The country also has an internet freedom status of Partly Free, according to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report.2 Critics of the government have been intimidated and harassed online through a process known as “red-tagging,” in which they are publicly accused of ties to communist insurgents.3 Critical news outlets and civil society groups have also been subject to technical attacks.4 Under President Rodrigo Duterte, who took power in 2016, the government in 2020 revoked the terrestrial broadcasting license of ABS-CBN, until then the country’s largest free-to-air television network. ABS-CBN’s news coverage had been critical of the government.5 The outlet continues to broadcast online and via cable and satellite systems.6 Many media companies are also hounded by financial troubles exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to staff reductions, the closure of community newspapers, and a transition to less expensive digital formats such as podcasts.7

Filipinos reportedly spend more time online and on social media than users anywhere else in the world, and an estimated 87 percent of news consumers in the country turned to online sources in 2021.8 Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were the most widely used platforms for news and public conversation, with Facebook remaining by far the most popular.9 Social media influencers have played a growing role in the Philippine media environment,10 and TikTok has increasingly become a source of news.11 However, despite a decrease in viewership following the end of ABS-CBN’s terrestrial broadcasts,12 television is still used by 61 percent of the population and considered the most trusted source of political information.13 In contrast, trust in social media as a news source is only 20 percent according to one survey from 2021.14 Radio also remains influential especially in the country’s more geographically remote areas, though it does not feature prominently in national-level consumption statistics.15 Print media usage in the country is at just 16 percent in 2021.16  

China and the Philippines normalized bilateral relations in 1975, triggering a new wave of Chinese migration and investment. Prior to 1975, the Philippines’ close ties with the United States and US partners like Taiwan, along with the Philippine elite’s anticommunist politics, had resulted in an antagonistic stance toward Beijing. The Philippines currently has a close economic relationship with China. In 2019, China was the Philippines’ top source of imports and one of its top three export markets.17 After the Philippines joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2017, Chinese investors have funded various infrastructure projects and sought to link the BRI with President Duterte’s ambitious domestic infrastructure revitalization program “Build, Build, Build.” However, many of these projects have met public resistance, sometimes after Chinese actors were accused of accommodating the interests of incumbent Filipino elites at the expense of local communities.18

Filipino resistance to Chinese infrastructure projects is exacerbated by the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, which worsened in 2016 when Beijing refused to accept an international tribunal’s ruling in favor of the Philippines.19 Moreover, xenophobic backlashes against Filipino citizens with Chinese ancestry, who are popularly perceived to be foreign and economically privileged, has complicated relations between Manila and Beijing.20 Although President Duterte has famously pursued friendly ties with Beijing, in 2021 Sino-Filipino relations appeared to be under growing strain, with Filipino interlocutors, including the president himself, increasing criticism of Chinese incursions in the South China Sea.21

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives

Key narratives

The main narratives pushed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the Philippines follow the standard Chinese state propaganda package, with a mixture of rapport building, positive promotion of China, and counternarratives against criticism. In the Philippines, there is a particular focus on the contentious South China Sea issue and on Manila’s relationship with the United States. One key narrative portrays China as a better “friend” to the Philippines than the United States, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a common refrain: “A friend in need is a friend indeed, and time will tell. The pandemic is a test for friendship.”1 Chinese state media frequently cite Chinese vaccine donations to the Philippines while attacking US policies, suggesting for instance that the United States is politicizing investigations into COVID-19’s origins.2 Beijing argues that US-China cooperation will benefit the world and that confrontation will cause everyone to suffer, glossing over valid criticisms as efforts to antagonize and undermine China.3 Similarly, the CCP calls for “win-win cooperation” between China and the Philippines on the South China Sea dispute, emphasizing that the countries’ common interests are far greater than their differences.4 The Chinese government portrays itself as a good model for governance by touting the alleged successes of its antipoverty work and the BRI.5 It also works to undermine its international critics, countering reporting on rights violations in the Xinjiang region and Hong Kong while portraying itself as a cooperator on the global stage.6

Key avenues of content dissemination

Chinese state media content is available in English and Filipino (a standardized version of Tagalog7 ), the country’s official languages. While English is not a native tongue for most Filipinos, more than 70 percent of the population is able to read or understand spoken English.8

  • Diplomatic communications in print and online: In recent years, China’s foreign policy has become more assertive and proactive, using social media as a primary means of public diplomacy.9 During this report’s coverage period (2019-21), social media activity aimed at Filipinos increased in volume, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, who came into office in December 2019, regularly posted and engaged with users on his Facebook page, which was founded in December 2020 and had more than 47,000 followers as of January 2022.10 The Chinese embassy in Manila created English-language accounts on Twitter and Facebook before 2019 and had 13,400 and 123,000 followers, respectively, as of January 2022.11 At the same time, the embassy continued to leverage more traditional forms of public diplomacy. During the coverage period, Huang published at least 10 op-ed pieces in popular progovernment outlets, the Manila Times12 and Manila Bulletin,13 as well as The Daily Tribune, another progovernment, but much less popular, daily.14
  • China Radio International and other Chinese state media: China Radio International (CRI) is the only Chinese state media outlet that has a significant Philippines-specific presence,15 including social media posts presented in Tagalog on Facebook and YouTube.16 Its Facebook page, founded in May 2011, has over a million followers, though user engagement is relatively low. From mid-2018 until May 2020, when public backlash brought the arrangement to an end, the Philippine state-owned radio station Radyo Pilipinas was a distribution channel for CRI programming;17 the partnership produced Wow China, featuring a Manila-based CRI correspondent who used both Tagalog and English to communicate with his Filipino cohost.18  China's leading state news agency Xinhua and Guangming Daily, a bilingual daily controlled by the CCP, have an in-country offices,19  while another top news agency China News Service reportedly has journalists based in the country.
  • Media partnerships: On May 15, 2017, the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), an executive-branch agency that oversees the Philippines’ state-owned media, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to promote media cooperation with China International Publishing Group, a CCP-owned foreign-language publishing entity.20 Following this, Chinese state media have attempted to form active partnerships with Philippine outlets, achieving mixed results. In 2017, the Philippine state broadcaster People’s Television (PTV) started simulcasting programs from China Global Television Network (CGTN), a CCP-owned English news channel.21 In October 2018, PTV4, which has a relatively small viewership,22 was slated to start airing Filipino-dubbed Chinese documentaries and other shows through a program called “China TV Theater,” but cancelled the program after a public backlash and a planned congressional probe.23  PTV and the state-controlled Philippine News Agency (PNA) are part of a Chinese state-sponsored network that promotes the active sharing of Beijing-backed BRI content.24 One of the country’s top newspapers, the Philippine Daily Inquirer,25 is part of a regional news alliance called the Asia News Network, which the China Daily is also a part of.26 During the coverage period, the Philippine Daily Inquirer regularly published content from China Daily as a result of its participation in the Asia News Network.27 In November 2018, China’s National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) and the PCOO signed a memorandum of agreement on Sino-Philippine broadcasting and television cooperation, aiming to “strengthen cooperation with the Philippines in the fields of news exchange, program production, technology R&D, industrial development and human resources construction.”28 Media workers interviewed by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) for a survey on CCP influence voiced their concerns about Beijing’s seemingly successful co-optation of Philippine government media to produce “brazen propaganda and even disinformation,” in addition to noting the apparently close ties between the progovernment dailies Manila Bulletin and Manilla Times and the Chinese embassy.29
  • Free content and advertorials for local papers: Chinese state media regularly offered content print and online content for free to local newspapers. They also routinely inserted advertorials into the print editions of major dailies, ranging from widely acknowledged government mouthpieces like the Manila Bulletin to other popular papers like the Philippine Star.30 The Manila Bulletin and the Philippine Star each ran a weekly segment on China featuring reprints of articles from Chinese state media like the People’s Daily and Xinhua, respectively called “Many Facets of China” and “Window to China.”31 Both the Manila Times and Manila Bulletin websites regularly offered content from Xinhua and Global Times, a CCP-controlled tabloid. There were also reportedly some inserts in 2019 in BusinessWorld, a leading conservative business paper,32 but searches on the outlet’s website in December 2021 revealed little Chinese state media content.
  • Subsidized press trips: Since 2014, Chinese officials have increased efforts to provide trainings and trips to foreign journalists, largely from Africa and Asia.33 Filipino journalists’ participation in such trips became more frequent after Duterte took power in 2016.34 Since January 2019, at least 36 Filipino journalists, editors, or media executives have traveled to China for media trainings and junkets, mostly representing state-owned or government-friendly media outlets.35 Some of the participants produced friendly news reports, interviews, and feature stories, touching on China’s advanced technology, the BRI, poverty-eradication efforts, and media expertise during and after these trips. After a 2019 trip, a reporter from regional outlet iOrbitNews wrote a piece praising China’s poverty alleviation through tourism.36 According to the International Federation of Journalists, some journalists from the island of Mindanao, home to the majority of the country’s Muslim population, visited Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland and location of atrocity crimes against Uyghurs, and then wrote “stories praising China for cracking down on terrorists.”37 A former Manila Bulletin manager echoed CCP talking points while recounting his participation in a 10-month training arranged by the China Public Diplomacy Association, which he took part in from 2018 to 2019 while serving as a PCOO officer. His story was published by Xinhua and the Philippine News Agency.38
  • Political support in the media: For much of his tenure, President Duterte was a major proponent of closer ties with the PRC. He often echoed Beijing’s rhetoric by promoting “win-win” cooperation, thanking Chinese president Xi Jinping for help during the pandemic, defending Beijing’s position on the origins of COVID-19, and ordering his cabinet not to speak about the South China Sea dispute.39 He also supported increasing Chinese investment and military ties while vocally criticizing the United States. Under the Duterte administration, the Philippine Department of Information and Communications Technology had friendly ties with the CCP. The Philippine News Agency, which is controlled by the office of the president,40 was noticeably friendly in its coverage of China and Chinese activities in the Philippines.41

Disinformation campaigns

For the purposes of this report, disinformation is defined as the intentional dissemination of false or misleading content, especially through inauthentic activity—such as the use of fake accounts—on global social media platforms. In the Philippines, Chinese state-affiliated actors openly promote misleading information on topics such as Beijing’s territorial claims on Taiwan and the West Philippine Sea—the portion of the South China Sea that is within the Philippines exclusive economic zone.42 More concerning are disinformation campaigns that are intended to build covert networks of influence.

During the 2019–21 coverage period, there was at least one documented disinformation campaign that targeted news consumers in the Philippines. On September 22, 2020, Facebook took down a pro-Beijing network that used coordinated fake accounts, pages, and groups with origins in China on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.43 Disinformation networks tend to first create online groups and pages and then use fake individual accounts to boost them. This particular network targeted several countries, starting in 2016 with Taiwan. It created five major Philippine assets from March 2018 to March 2019 and established 55 fake accounts between March 2018 and July 2019.44 The network regularly praised Duterte, his family, and his political ally Senator Imee Marcos, while attacking opposition figures and critical independent media outlets like Rappler. A significant minority of posts focused on defending the benefits of trade with China, Chinese COVID-19 aid, and Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea. The campaign garnered a relatively large audience in the Philippines. For instance, a group in the network that focused on the Philippines grew to more than 50,000 members, whereas none of the groups targeting other countries gained more than 2,000 members.45

Censorship and intimidation

While no specific incidents of censorship have been identified, Philippine state media's limited coverage of subjects that would be politically sensitive for the CCP—with the exception of the South China Sea—suggests that editors have taken action to suppress coverage critical of Beijing.46 Private progovernment outlets like the Manila Times also largely did not carry news or commentary critical of the BRI, of rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, or of China in general.47 A reporter from the Manila Bulletin said that the outlet’s China-related stories tended to have a softer, safer angle after going through the editing process.48

Journalists and media commentators sometimes face intimidation from Chinese officials or state-aligned internet “trolls.” During a lunch hosted by the Chinese embassy in Manila, a Chinese government representative reportedly berated Filipino journalists for their reporting about Taiwan and lectured them.49 According to then-Rappler journalist Camille Elemia, the Chinese embassy would sometimes not invite outlets critical of Beijing to embassy briefings. After reporting on the partnership between the pro-Beijing program Chinatown TV and ABS-CBN, Elemia received numerous spam messages on Facebook Messenger. Similarly, an ABS-CBN reporter was criticized by online trolls after chasing after a story in disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea.50 A highly respected former Supreme Court justice and media commentator has been attacked by pro-CCP trolls in the comments section of his columns that are critical of Beijing.51 The combined fear of losing access and intimidation incentivizes self-censorship among reporters, commentators, and editors, especially those working for Philippine state media.

Control over content-dissemination infrastructure

Several China-based companies with close CCP ties or a track-record of enabling digital surveillance and control inside or outside China are involved in the Philippines’ information infrastructure. For example, as of December 2021, equipment for the Philippines’ fifth generation (5G) wireless networks was still mostly supplied by the China-based telecommunications company Huawei, which has a record of building censorship and surveillance systems.52 While some Philippine telecommunications companies have begun voluntarily switching to other suppliers, the government has not provided incentives to do so as of August 2022. By late 2020, 85 percent of the 5G networks operated by the telecom firms Globe and Smart were supplied by Chinese companies.53 There is no evidence to date of Huawei equipment being used for censorship or surveillance in the Philippines.

As the global popularity of China-based social media platforms has increased, concerns have grown about relative opacity of their content moderation policies and susceptibility to CCP influence. WeChat, which is owned by the China-based technology company Tencent, was used by approximately 21 percent of Filipino internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 in 2021.54 There is evidence that Filipino users have been exposed to disinformation about COVID-19 on official WeChat accounts, which must be registered inside China and are subject to the CCP’s domestic censorship regime. However, Filipinos surveyed reported that they use WeChat almost exclusively as a messaging app, ignoring most of its other features, including news, likely limiting the platform’s potential as a vehicle for disinformation.55

In 2021, TikTok, the global subsidiary of the Beijing-based social media company ByteDance, was the Philippines’ fifth most downloaded app and one of the top seven apps in terms of active users.56 There have been some documented cases around the world of TikTok removing or downplaying politically sensitive content, including content that violates domestic Chinese censorship guidelines, though the company subsequently claimed to have corrected such problems.57 A media report from June 2022 based on leaked TikTok meetings raised concern that statements made by ByteDance regarding data privacy of US users were false, and more broadly called into question other statements the company has made regarding its policies.58 There was no clear evidence of censorship or content manipulation via TikTok in the Philippines during the coverage period.

Apart from the risks associated with technology from China-based companies, there is some vulnerability associated with Chinese investment in Philippine telecommunications companies, which could grant influence and leverage to the Chinese stakeholders. In March 2021, the Philippine company Dito Telecommunity, in which the Chinese state telecommunications company China Telecom holds a 40 percent stake, launched its mobile services in the country.59

Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

In addition to encouraging local journalists and media industry representatives to repeat CCP propaganda narratives, subsidized press trips to China can also influence the adoption of Beijing’s media norms and tactics. One Filipino journalist who travelled to China on such trips four times since 2017 said, “They [Chinese media trainers] insinuate the promotion of the [Chinese] kind of journalism versus Western journalism through lectures and briefings with the Philippine media delegation.”60 He added that Filipino journalists know that the training sessions are propaganda and consequently do not apply what they are taught.61 However, two other journalists who participated in similar trips expressed their admiration for China and argued that he does not see "anything wrong” with the Philippines seeking media guidance from Beijing instead of the United States because of cultural similarities between China and the Philippines.62

Chinese diaspora media

The CCP views the global Chinese diaspora as a primary target for influence and has made significant efforts in promoting Beijing’s preferred narratives among Chinese-language media. The CCP has becoming increasingly active in its outreach to the Filipino Chinese diaspora community through the Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau, which has been overseen by the party’s United Front Work Department since 2018.63 Around 1.35 million Philippine residents—representing roughly 1.2 to 1.8 percent of the population—have a Chinese parent, and as much as 25 percent of the Filipino population is estimated to have Chinese ancestry.64 Diaspora elites in the country also have strong economic and political influence,65 raising the possibility that a successful Chinese-language media influence campaign could have a significant impact on Philippine politics.

Chinese-language media currently provide the main sources of information for expatriate businesspeople and some residents of Chinese descent, particularly the jiuqiao, those who immigrated to the country between the 1950s and 1980s.66 Most readers of Chinese-language dailies are age 65 and older, and younger generations rarely involve themselves with diaspora activities or organizations.67

Most Chinese-language media in the Philippines are pro-Beijing in orientation.68 Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists from Chinese-language networks often attended parties, trips, and fellowship events sponsored by the Chinese embassy. Conversations with members of the Chinese Filipino community reveal that they largely encounter critical information about China from international news sources, as such reporting is not “front and center” in local Chinese-language sources.69 A review by Freedom House confirmed this pattern. Eight Chinese-language WeChat accounts targeted to Philippine audiences featured largely pro-Beijing narratives.70 Three Chinese-language publications used content from the China News Service for international reporting, including news on China, though they still produced their own content on the Philippines.71 Six diaspora print publications including Yazhou Zhoukan, an international publication that also publishes in the Philippines, featured special issues to honor the 100th anniversary of the CCP in 2021.72 In 2020, the Manila Bulletin, owned by a Chinese Filipino proprietor, launched its own Chinese-language website,73 becoming the first mainstream news outlet in the Philippines to do so. Its Chinese-language content is in line with its English-language content.74

Chinese television content distributed in the Philippines is largely cultural, with little to no political material. ChinoyTV, a popular show among the diaspora, is emblematic of this profile. Another show, Chinatown TV, regularly airs content from China’s national broadcaster CCTV, including on topics like the BRI. The company that produces Chinatown TV also produced a controversial music video supporting Chinese state narratives on the South China Sea and attempted to coproduce a trilingual daily newscast with ABS-CBN News before a public outcry cancelled plans.75

header4 Resilience + response

Underlying media resilience

  • Investigative reporting capacity and culture: The Philippines has a robust culture of watchdog journalism, although President Duterte displayed a dismissive and often combative attitude toward the media during his time in government. Influential outlets in the country generally have the expertise and skills to conduct investigative reporting. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, for instance, provides funding and other opportunities to do investigative reporting.1 News outlets have published reports that contributed to major political changes, such as the ouster of corrupt officials up to and including presidents. News outlets also occasionally published articles on domestic disinformation.2
  • Diverse print and online media environment: The Philippines’ print and online media landscape is very diverse and fragmented.3 There is little formal political control over media outlets and distribution networks,4 and no single outlet or political line dominates viewership or readership.5 While funding and personnel shortages can make some outlets susceptible to offers of free or subsidized training and assistance from the Chinese government, readers may choose from a diverse range of sources. Philippine media outlets subscribe to foreign new agencies for content, and international outlets like the US-based Cable News Network (CNN) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) are regularly accessed by the public.6 It should be noted, however, that ownership in the domestic radio and television markets is highly concentrated.7
  • Vibrant civil society work on press freedom: Many civil society organizations in the Philippines monitor and advocate for press freedoms. These include the Foundation for Media Alternatives, Human Rights Watch Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance, the Free Legal Assistance Group, and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP). Civil society groups that track disinformation have drawn greater political attention to the problem, though there has been little focus on China as a source of disinformation, and the Philippine intelligence community is generally focused more on domestic threats than foreign powers.8 The Philippine Commission on Elections launched a partnership with Facebook, Google, and TikTok to combat disinformation ahead of the May 2022 presidential election.9 The recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa, founder of the independent online news outlet Rappler, helped to raise public awareness on press freedom and disinformation issues.10
  • Media transparency requirements: There are laws stipulating that all companies must disclose their ownership structures to a regulatory body, where that information can be purchased, with all publicly listed companies required to publish their ownership information.11 In addition, broadcasters must acquire congressionally approved franchises in order to operate.12

China-specific resilience

  • Growing media and civil society attention on Chinese influence: Although Philippine news outlets generally do not have dedicated China reporters, there are journalists who focus on foreign affairs. Some outlets have produced reports on Beijing’s media influence. The Philippine Daily Inquirer covered Freedom House’s past research on the topic,13 and Rapper published an investigative report on Chinese media influence in Cambodia and the Philippines, with funding from Japan’s Sasakawa Peace Foundation.14 Outlets also republish work from international news sources, such as an investigation into Chinese disinformation by the US-based digital outlet Coda Story.15 Journalists from certain independent outlets such as Rappler have been invited to occasional academic events on topics like Chinese information warfare. There has been increasing news coverage on CCP influence more broadly by a variety of outlets across the political spectrum. For instance, the pro-government and generally pro-Beijing Manila Times occasionally publishes opinions and articles that raise questions about China and its influence in the country; it has also republished critical China reporting from international news agencies like Reuters and Agence France-Presse.16 The themes addressed by such stories include public debt concerns surrounding Chinese-built infrastructure projects,17 the mixed benefits of Chinese investments and donations,18 and possible immigration violations by Chinese workers.19 Similarly, civil society groups such as the nongovernmental organization Pinoy Aksyon for Governance and the Environment have raised concerns about the environmental costs of Chinese investments.20 However, media coverage on China is more limited on television and radio, as the topics involved are not seen as a priority for broadcast media audiences.21
  • Editorial pushback against Chinese influence attempts: At least one national outlet is known to have denied a request by the Chinese embassy to publish an op-ed without proper labeling.22 An editor from a national English-language paper said their paper rejects advertorials that are not identified as such.23 A Philippine Star journalist said that false ads are not allowed in their paper, adding that this could be the reason why the Chinese embassy largely limits its advertising in the outlet to straightforward promotion of its own projects.24 The Philippine journalism community has also displayed solidarity in the face of perceived threats from the Chinese government, such as when the ABS-CBN reporter was allegedly chased by Chinese ships and then criticized by pro-Duterte and pro-Beijing commentators.25
  • Reporting guidelines on China: In March 2022, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, an independent association which represents the interests of Filipino journalists, published guidelines on reporting on China. Its recommendations emphasized transparency, editorial independence, as well as avoiding racist language and asserting the terminology of “West Philippine Sea” (over the South China Sea). The impetus for these guidelines was noted as the result of “China’s increasing influence in the region in general, and in the Philippines in particular.”26 Prior to this, the Philippine Press Institute, the country’s oldest professional media organization, had published a code of conduct with generic language on protecting coverage from the influence of “personal motives or interests.”27 In journalism classrooms, CCP media influence tactics are beginning to be discussed, such as when Facebook announced that it was removing China-linked disinformation networks.28
  • Strong public skepticism: Filipinos tend to be highly skeptical toward China and the CCP; observers suggest that this is rooted partly in the legacy of US influence in the Philippines. While Duterte’s somewhat warmer relations with Beijing may have affected many people’s views at the beginning of his tenure, his sway over public opinion on the issue apparently faded over time, especially as the territorial dispute in the South China Sea became more of an emotional topic for Philippine citizens. When news arose of a Chinese vessel striking a Philippine fishing boat in an apparent “hit and run,” Filipino users grew angry over the Chinese government’s initial response, which tried to downplay the incident and seemed to blame the Filipino fishermen.29 The Chinese embassy’s music video Iisang Dagat (One Sea),30 which promoted Chinese medical assistance and bilateral friendship amid the pandemic, also drew criticism from Filipinos on social media who saw it as blatant propaganda for Beijing’s stance on the territorial dispute. The video was released on April 23, 2020, via the social media accounts of the Chinese embassy and several Philippine state-owned media outlets,31 earning 100,000 dislikes on YouTube in less than a week.32 In April 2021, the same agency that helped produce the video entered into an agreement with mainstream cable channel ABS-CBN News for a trilingual (Filipino, Mandarin, English) daily newscast, but the agreement was canceled after a public outcry.33 The public is also skeptical of Chinese propaganda tactics in the local press. Some social media users criticized the Philippine Star for its weekly feature on China, saying the paper was allowing itself to be a “mouthpiece” of the CCP.34 A poll by Reuters and Oxford University found that only 32 percent of news consumers in the Philippines have trust in the news overall, which is one of the lowest figures among the 40 countries examined.35 This lack of trust can be a double-edged sword, as it provides both resistance to Chinese state narratives and vulnerability to disinformation.
  • Political pushback: In addition to widespread pushback on China’s actions in the South China Sea, which included summoning the Chinese ambassador over the presence of Chinese vessels in disputed waters in April 2021,36 Philippine politicians have also expressed their concerns about media influence from Beijing-backed outlets. For instance, when the Philippine state media sought to broadcast Chinese programs in 2018, opposition senators issued a resolution calling for a probe into the airing of Chinese content by state-run media.37

header5 Vulnerabilities

Gaps in local China expertise: Independent expertise on China exists in the Philippines, but it appears to be largely confined to academic circles. Most top universities in the country have an Asia studies department, with some, namely Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University, offering China studies programs. The extent to which academic experts are consulted by journalists is unclear, but most of those cited in the media discuss topics immediately relevant to bilateral relations like the South China Sea. Focusing primarily on such topics, as opposed to the nature and key components of the Chinese party-state’s internal politics, governance, and influence tactics, can be detrimental to shoring up resilience to the coercive or corrupting aspects of CCP influence. The Philippine Association for Chinese Studies links a robust developing community of China scholars, but some of their public events appear to gloss over sensitive issues like the crackdown on civil society in Hong Kong and Beijing’s systemic persecution of targeted religious and ethnic minorities.1 The Manila-based Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI), which is run by a Chinese Filipino businessman, shares questionable content on Facebook, most of it pro-China and anti-US, including articles from pro-Beijing, pro-Duterte newspapers like the Manila Times.2

Despite the presence of pro-Beijing voices in media commentary, most public opinion leaders in the Philippines appear to be relatively critical of the Chinese government. Moreover, foreign academics are often cited in media reports, suggesting that even if China expertise is limited in the Philippines, it can still be accessed by informed and well-connected journalists. At the same time, the shortage of independent China expertise based in the Philippines raises the risk that coverage will lack either local nuance or insight on broader China-related dynamics. It could also lead to ill-informed hostility toward Chinese Filipino cultural institutions and the Chinese diaspora itself.

Gaps in labeling of sources and Chinese state media content: There is no guidance from regulatory or self-regulatory bodies on whether or how to label sources in the media. Content from Chinese state media is not explicitly labeled as having government origins, even if the name of the source is provided. Sometimes even the name is difficult to find, as with articles on the PTV4 website, in which the names of the Chinese outlets appear in very small letters at the bottom of the page.3 Other outlets do not provide any indication of authorship. The Manila Bulletin, for instance, often obscures the fact that its news reports come from Taiwan’s Central News Agency. In terms of international platforms,4 as of November 2021, Facebook had only labeled some of the pages run by Chinese state outlets for the Philippines; the pages of Guangming Daily and China News Service,5 among others, had not been labeled. Also as of November 2021, YouTube had not yet labeled CRI Filipino.6

Limited safeguards against media concentration, political influence, and violence against journalists: The Philippines does not have laws against partisan ownership of the media or restrictions on cross-ownership across media formats.7   Despite a new anti-trust body established in 2014, the radio and television sectors remain highly concentrated.8 The country also remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, due to attacks—some fatal—from both state and nonstate actors. President Duterte’s hostile rhetoric toward members of the media exacerbated an already perilous situation.9

Politicized use of ban on foreign ownership: The Philippine constitution completely bans foreign ownership of mass media, 10 whereas most democracies permit a 10-49 percent foreign ownership limit. The country’s ban against foreign mass media investment has been wielded as a tool against outlets critical of the ruling government. In June 2022, Rappler was ordered to shut down in violation of foreign ownership laws, among other regulations, in a case that drew widespread criticism from press freedom groups.11

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

Despite the efforts exerted by the Chinese government and a tone of accommodation set by President Duterte, public opinion polls from the past three years indicate that Filipinos do not trust Beijing and have shifted away from perceiving China as a positive influence and model. In July 2020, the polling company Social Weather Stations (SWS) found that Filipinos’ trust in China fell from “poor” to “bad,” representing the lowest level reported since April 2016 and a decrease of 9 points from survey responses recorded in December 2019.1 Three out of five Filipinos surveyed by SWS in July 2020 believed that Chinese officials withheld information on COVID-19 from the world, and 70 percent of survey respondents believed that China should be held accountable for the pandemic.2 In 2022, a survey conducted by the Singaporean ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute found that 76 percent of Filipino respondents expressed concern over China’s economic influence in Southeast Asia and only 1.5 percent viewed it as a “benign and benevolent power.”3

Multiple surveys from the coverage period confirm that Filipinos have greater trust in and also prefer for the United States and other countries over China as a bilateral partner.4 A SWS survey from September 2018 found that 87 percent of Filipinos considered it important for the country to regain control of Chinese-occupied reefs.5 A June 2021 SWS survey showed that such sentiment remained strong: 69 percent of the population supported the move of building structures on disputed territory to counter China’s influence.6 However, the June 2021 SWS survey also indicated that 40 percent of the population remained undecided as to whether Beijing’s relationship with Duterte was beneficial.7

Public distrust of China has led to some xenophobic backlash, creating an atmosphere of fear for some in the Chinese-speaking community,8 as well as reducing the availability of Chinese cultural products in the Philippines.

header7 Future trajectory

The following are potential developments related to Beijing’s media influence in the Philippines that should be closely monitored in the coming years.

  • Increasing Chinese state media footprint on social media: Domestic efforts to combat disinformation and other forms of covert Chinese influence may not keep pace with Beijing’s investments, leading to an increased Chinese state media footprint on social media.
  • Post-COVID financial troubles: Financial challenges in the media industry, exacerbated by the economic effects of COVID-19, may provide more opportunities for Chinese state media influence.
  • Changing political attitudes toward China: The country’s foreign policy toward China could change under the new president Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June 2022. It is likely that Marcos will support stronger relations with China while not backing down from a strong stance on the South China Sea.1
  • Reporting on China: In March 2022, the Philippines National Union of Journalist released a set of guidelines outlining how to report on China, the first of its kind in the region. This coincides with increased attention to Chinese government influence in the Philippines. Watch how coverage on China evolves and whether other journalist associations in the region replicate the initiative.

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