Screenshot of the false post taken on February 16, 2024

False posts in the Philippines repeatedly shared a fabricated report that claimed the archipelago’s fighter jets destroyed “300 Chinese fishing vessels” in the South China Sea in January 2024. While there have been tense standoffs between Manila and Beijing in the waterway recently, the incident described in posts did not happen, Philippine military officials told AFP. Clips of fighter jets and fishing boats shown in the posts were actually taken from unrelated news reports.

“Tense! 300 China fishing vessel (sic) destroyed by Philippine F 15 jets in West Philippine Sea,” reads the title of a YouTube video, using Manila’s term for the South China Sea waters to the immediate west of the Philippines.

The video, packaged like a news report, had been viewed over 28,000 times since it was shared on January 15.

Its narrator says Philippine coast guard vessels intercepted “a Chinese fishing boat with 100 crew” off the main island Luzon. Text also appears in the video which reads: “Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie”.

The video featured a thumbnail appearing to show boats on fire while a jet hovers above. It goes on to show clips of military jets, boats battered by heavy waves and a person who appears to be getting arrested.

<span>Screenshot of the false post taken on February 16, 2024</span><span><button class=

Screenshot of the false post taken on February 16, 2024

Tense standoffs between China and the Philippines around disputed reefs in the South China Sea last year saw collisions between vessels from the two countries and Chinese ships blasting water cannon at Philippine boats.

China claims almost the entire sea and has ignored an international tribunal ruling that its assertions have no legal basis.

The same video was also shared on Facebook and TikTok, prompting comments from some users who appeared to believe the claim.

“Wow we should have done that sooner to China,” one wrote.

“These Chinese think Filipinos are scared of them,” said another.

Fabricated report

Philippine air force, navy and coast guard officials separately told AFP the incident described in the posts did not happen.

Philippine Air Force spokeswoman Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo told AFP the Philippines does not own any F-15 jets contrary to the claim in the posts. She branded the video as “fake”.

Navy Commodore Roy Trinidad, Philippine Navy spokesman for the West Philippine Sea said the posts were “all false”.

Commodore Jay Tarriela, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman for the West Philippine Sea, told AFP the video’s claims are “entirely untrue”.

“There is no substantiated evidence or credible reports supporting the narrative that the Philippine Coast Guard carried out an operation in the West Philippine Sea resulting in the capture of 100 Chinese fishing crew members,” he said.

“The claim of the Philippine government sinking 300 Chinese fishing vessels in retaliation against the Chinese is unfounded and incorrect.”

Moreover, a search on Google of keywords used in the posts including the names “Manuel Mogato” and “Nick Macfie” found the details closely resemble those in report published by Reuters news agency on May 27, 2016 (archived link).

But the old report originally said 10 Chinese fishermen were arrested after a Chinese boat tried to escape after ramming a coast guard vessel. The figure was changed to “100” in the fabricated report.

There was no mention of Philippine jets destroying Chinese boats in the old Reuters report.

Reuters did not produce the video circulating online, Jonathan Mullen, interim vice president for communications for the news agency, told AFP.

Misused clips

The clips used in the fabricated report had also previously circulated in unrelated news reports, reverse image searches and keyword searches on Google found.

The video’s thumbnail shows a photo published by Indonesian photo agency Antara Foto on May 4, 2019  (archived link).

Its caption says the photo shows Vietnamese fishing boats shortly before they were sunk by Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries for illegal fishing.

The picture had been doctored to insert a fighter jet and make it appear the boats were on fire.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the doctored image used as thumbnail in the fabricated report (left) and the original photo from Antara Foto (right):

<span>Screenshot comparison of the doctored image of the boat on fire (left) and the original photo from Antara Foto (right) </span><span><button class=

Screenshot comparison of the doctored image of the boat on fire (left) and the original photo from Antara Foto (right)

The clip seen at the three-second mark was taken from an ABC report on March 3, 2017 about Russian fighter jets in the Black Sea (archived link).

The ABC footage had been flipped as shown in the screenshot comparison of the fabricated report (left) and the original (right) below:

<span>Screenshot comparison of clip of jet fighters from fabricated story (left) with video from ABC report (right)</span><span><button class=

Screenshot comparison of clip of jet fighters from fabricated story (left) with video from ABC report (right)

The clip of a boat sailing through heavy waves corresponds to footage uploaded to YouTube by a user named Geoff Mackley on January 20, 2011 (archived link).

The video’s caption says it shows a fishing vessel crossing the Grey River bar during a massive flood in the city of Greymouth in New Zealand’s South Island.

Below is a screenshot comparison between the video in the false posts (left) and its corresponding clip from 2011 (right):

<span>Screenshot comparison of sailing boat from false report (left) with YouTube video of vessel published in 2011 (right) </span><span><button class=

Screenshot comparison of sailing boat from false report (left) with YouTube video of vessel published in 2011 (right)

Clips showing another boat and a man who appears to be getting arrested match scenes in a video published on YouTube channel “On Demand News” on May 19, 2016 (archived link).

The YouTube video’s caption says it shows Argentina sinking a Chinese fishing ship that had entered a restricted area in the South Atlantic.

An AFP report at the time said Argentine forces opened fire on and sank a Chinese boat illegally fishing in the South Atlantic after it attempted to ram a coast guard vessel.

Below are screenshot comparisons of the mirrored clips in the fabricated report (left) and those in the YouTube video from 2016 (right):

<span>Screenshot comparison of boat in the fabricated report (left) and that in the YouTube video from 2016 (right)</span><span><button class=

Screenshot comparison of boat in the fabricated report (left) and that in the YouTube video from 2016 (right)

<span>Screenshot comparison of man arrested in the fabricated report (left) and that in the YouTube video from 2016 (right)</span><span><button class=

Screenshot comparison of man arrested in the fabricated report (left) and that in the YouTube video from 2016 (right)

AFP has repeatedly debunked misinformation swirling around the South China Sea here, here, here and here.

By 111 Tech

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