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Chinese accounts pounce on Mindanao secession issue to warn of 'civil war' in Philippines

The call to secede Mindanao triggered not just a flurry of controversy among Filipinos. It also fed a coordinated campaign by Chinese social media users to spread rumors of a supposed civil war in the Philippines caused by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s “provocations.”

MANILA, Philippines — Several anonymous accounts on Chinese social media were quick to seize on a Filipino politician’s proposal to secede Mindanao from the Philippines to fuel speculation of a brewing “civil war” in the country, with several attributing the alleged unrest to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s “pro-United States” stance. 

The coordinated campaign to spread rumors of impending conflict in the Philippines took off days after Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez (Davao del Norte, 1st District) issued a statement in November 2023 calling to make Mindanao independent due to Marcos’ policies in the West Philippine Sea. Within days, over 60 posts and articles about the Mindanao independence campaign were published on Chinese platforms. 

Besides anonymous accounts, the campaign was also amplified by one prominent Chinese media entity that is known to be an active distributor of the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda.

Monitoring by in collaboration with the Taiwan-based Doublethink Lab from November 2023 to February 2024 showed that Chinese social media users already actively produced content alleging an imminent conflict in the Philippines even before former President Rodrigo Duterte publicly called to secede Mindanao in January 2024.

Several articles that reported Alvarez’s remarks implied through their headlines and text that Beijing was important enough to compel Mindanao to protest the government’s, and hence, Marcos’ handling of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, which they claimed to be “provocative” and “dangerous.” 

These posts echo another similar months-long campaign to paint the Philippines as an unlawful and aggressive country in the tense waterways.

RELATED: Chinese media pushes 'Philippines as aggressor’ narrative before viral Marcos deepfake 

The coordinated spread of this narrative, among others, has some of the markings of an influence operation that