Pro-Duterte Group or Individual Likely Behind Deepfake Audio of Philippine President

In mid-April, a video message allegedly made by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. emerged on YouTube and Facebook. In the message, Marcos called for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to “act against a foreign country” during a discussion of the tensions in the South China Sea. However, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) released on April 23rd a statement saying that the message was a deepfake produced using artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and the president did not make or issue any directive.

Presidential Communications Office statement released on April 23rd (Photo: X, @PCOGOVPH)

Deepfake Message and Dapat Balita News

The Philippine National Police-Anti Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) became aware of the Marcos deepfake video after they received a tip from a “concerned citizen.” The PNP-ACG then located the video on Dapat Balita News’ YouTube profile. Furthermore, the YouTube profile also hosted several other “deepfake videos” that discussed the tensions in the SCS. The video contained an audio clip of Marcos saying, “Attack China! Order to attack has PBBM’s [Marcos’ initials] go-signal” in Tagalog, with a montage of pictures of Marcos and incidents between the Chinese and Philippine Coast Guards played in the background. Another YouTube account with the same name reposted the videos. The profile that initially posted the deepfake audio message contained 13 videos; the other profile had 14 videos; and both profiles had around 127,000 subscribers each.

Dapat Balita News also hosted a Facebook page created in April 2021, whose managers’ country locations are in Pakistan and the Philippines. The page’s managers published several articles containing information designed to mislead readers or push false narratives regarding Marcos’ policy decisions regarding the SCS. However, readers made several comments, pointing out the misleading information in the various posts on the page. After initially examining the profiles, the PNP-ACG requested that both YouTube and Facebook deactivate the accounts and preserve the information for further investigation. Both companies complied with the request, deactivated the accounts, and preserved the information. Furthermore, YouTube, Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and other social media platforms will work with the Philippine authorities on the investigation.

Investigation and Potential Charges

The Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesperson, Col. Jean Fajardo, said the PNP-ACG and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) are coordinating on the investigation during a press conference on April 27th. Fajardo said cooperation is required since the PNP is attempting to locate the individual who uploaded the video and manages the accounts. However, she pointed out that the process is difficult since both the PNP-ACG and DICT do not know the number of individuals involved. Fajardo also said that the individuals could face charges related to the misleading content in the video “since it affects the chief executive and the country’s national security.” The potential charges include violating “Article 154 (unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances) of the Revised Penal Code in connection with Section 6 of Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.” Philippine Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the deepfake video on April 25th.

Analysis

While various government agencies attribute the deepfake video of Marcos to different sources, a pro-Duterte group or an individual associated with one is likely responsible. There are several pieces of evidence that indicate that this is the most likely scenario. The comments used in the video are the biggest indicator since they are associated with pro-Duterte or pro-China groups. The groups specifically use similar phrases to criticize Marcos’ decisions and how they increased tensions with China in the SCS. Furthermore, the wording creates the narrative that Marcos is responsible for the incidents that occurred at the Second Thomas Shoal and Scarborough Shoal.

Another narrative that the groups want to create is that Marcos is increasing tensions between the Philippines and China, so the country can invoke the Mutual Defense Treaty and the United States can become involved in the conflict. Several officials from the Duterte administration, such as Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, use phrases that specifically refer to this narrative. The goal of these narratives is to force the Philippines to abide by the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” that Duterte made with China during his administration. Furthermore, Marcos would also stop increasing defense and security ties with other countries to push back against China’s claims in the SCS. The narrative also hopes to force the Philippines to remove the BRP Sierra Madre from the Second Thomas Shoal.

Another piece of evidence is how several Philippine Representatives made statements that indicate the individual created the video to sabotage Marcos’ initiatives and take attention away from more important issues. For example, one Representative said the video was created and used by the political opposition to “sabotage the President’s foreign policy.” The representative pointed out that the video also represented the opposition’s desperation regarding Marcos’ handling of the country’s foreign policy. Another representative said the video was allegedly a political maneuver designed by the opposition to decrease Marcos’ support.

The congressman highlighted the likelihood that the video is connected to politics, but that the group or individual is now “treading a fine line with national security concerns” and that it is a “very dangerous prospect.” However, another representative voiced the opinion that the individual likely released the video to draw attention away from important foreign policy issues that Marcos is attempting to solve. For example, the representative said that the video was designed to diminish Marcos’ choices, such as reinforcing partnerships with allies such as the United States, which shows his administration’s “commitment to addressing genuine concerns.”

The individual or group likely received assistance of some kind from China to develop the deepfake video of Marcos. The audio clip’s sophistication and similarity to the Philippine president support this rationale. For example, the individuals created the video using software that incorporated generative A.I. into its program, such as ChatGPT. China likely provided domestically developed generative A.I. programs such as Alibaba’s EMO to the individual or group that allowed them to create the clip. Alternatively, China could have created the audio clip and provided it to the individual or group to use as part of their disinformation campaign against Marcos. While the deepfake audio sounded very similar to Marcos’ authentic voice, the clip had indicators that would indicate they were fictitious.

The most significant indicator that appeared in the video were voice breaks, which are associated with A.I.-generated audio. Another indicator is how the audio lacked the natural feel and fullness normally associated with human voices. The deepfake’s audio felt fake and lacked enough similarities that people could tell the difference if they carefully listened to the video. Furthermore, the audio lacked the emotion, i.e., sounded flat and dry, that would be associated with the type of phrasing used in the video. The audio also lacked the fullness that real voices have, especially the fullness associated with Marcos’ real voice. The lack of fullness prevented the deepfake from sounding more like Marcos’ authentic voice than what the audio clip sounded like.

Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin Camarena
Joaquin the panda began Sino Talk in 2022 primarily to give an objective, unbiased view on China related topics as well as other issues related to the Indo-Pacific region. He spent several years studying and traveling throughout China and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region. In another life, the panda was also a U.S. Marine intelligence analyst who enjoyed bamboo MREs and drinking bourbon and soju. Indo-Pacific Division Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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