FACT CHECK: Socmed accounts wrongly posts photo and news on Balikatan

Apr. 05, 2024

Two social media posts during the past week announced the arrival of 17,500 American troops along with armaments last week in preparation for a US-Philippine Balikatan Exercise in Subic.

Twitter/X account GhostOperator made this claim on his post last March 23.  His post uploaded two photos, one purportedly showing Caucasian military personnel unpacking anti-tank Javelin missiles and another showing uniformed Caucasian troops asleep while onboard an aircraft.

GhostOperator is an account followed by 1,780 people which posts on issues pertaining to China such as politics, foreign relations and news.  His post on the American troops deployed was shared 88 times on Twitter/X.

Broadcaster Jay Sonza posted on his Facebook account a similar story on March 28 using the photo of the troops asleep on an aircraft, saying “and daming nag holy week break sa Pilipinas (Lots of people having their Holy Week break in the Philippines)”. His post was shared 156 times as of April 1.

Sonza, who is from Davao City, is a retired broadcaster who once hosted the popular TV talk show Mel and Jay on GMA-7 (which actually started on ABS-CBN). He now posts commentaries and news on his Facebook account which is followed by more than 4,100 people.

Why is this information false?

A reverse Google search on the photographs posted by GhostOperator turned out that these were copied from previous news stories that are not related to American troops.

The photo of soldiers unpacking anti-tank missiles are actually Ukrainian servicemen photographed in 2022 by the Associated Press and was uploaded on the website Washington Times.

The photo of soldiers asleep on an aircraft were British soldiers, posted in LinkedIn in 2022 by a retired British military officer Lieutenant Colonel Simon Midgley.  Midgley described the photo saying soldiers were resting after conducting Operation Pitting.

Operation Pitting was a British military mission in Afghanistan in August 2021 that ferried 15,000 people out from Kabul, Afghanistan. The British Royal Army website posted that the operation also transported clothing and food for “evacuees” as well as ammunition and weapons for their forces.

The said photo was manipulated In the post of GhostOperator where it added an American Flag hanging on the aircraft wall to make it appear that the soldiers were Americans.

Facts about the US-PH Balikatan activities

The US-PH Balikatan Exercises are conducted regularly where American troops train Filipino soldiers on military combat maneuvers and on the use of new military weapons.

There was an actual training on the use of Javelin missiles that was conducted on April 13, 2023 in Nueva Ecija.

Balikatan exercises are not happening in Subic, but at sea, set from April 22 to May 10. Possible staging point at Laoag, Ilocos Norte.

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