PH gov't radio draws netizens' ire for airing 'Wow China'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — Is the government airing another so-called "pro-China propaganda" amid the pandemic? At least some Filipino netizens think so.

A cultural-feature program called "Wow China," aired by the state-owned AM radio station Radyo Pilipinas, has been making the rounds on social media since Monday.

The segment has been running weekly since 2018, with its most recent broadcast aired on Facebook last Sunday. The program opened with a spiel urging the public to "get to know our Chinese brothers" to form "better ties" with them.

A portion of the program, hosted by Nimfa Asuncion and Ernest Wang, offered Mandarin lessons in partnership with the University of the Philippines' The Confucius Institute.

Senator Risa Hontiveros called out the Presidential Communications Operations Office for "allowing a program that promotes China and its state ideology" funded by Filipinos' taxes.

"Filipino taxpayers should be indignant that we are essentially paying for a radio show that promotes China's policies," Hontiveros said in a statement, calling for the program's immediate cancellation.

"It is also very hypocritical how the government is critical of alleged foreign ownership of other Filipino-owned media entities, but is aiding and abetting this clear foreign encroachment in our own," she added.

As of Tuesday, the program earned more than 600,000 views, 14,000 shares, and 16,000 angry reactions on Facebook.

"Daming time para sa China!!! Talagang amidst pandemic pa. Wow China talaga!!!! (So much time for China, even amid the pandemic. It makes you really say wow, China!!) " Facebook user Jean Paula Alferez wrote.

"Using Filipino taxpayer's money to promote a foreign country in a government owned station and frequency. Wow China indeed," Twitter user @charles7537242 wrote. "This propaganda is non-sense in times of pandemic. Such a waste of people's funds. This is treason!"

Some netizens questioned the irony behind the airing of a "pro-China" segment even after the Philippine government recently ordered the shutdown of broadcast network ABS-CBN.

"Baka makalimutan ko na nasa Pinas tayo. Pinashutdown ABS-CBN pero may slot for Wow China?" said @sjrizzle.

[Translation: I might forget we are in the Philippines. They shut down ABS-CBN but there's a slot for Wow China?]

"Why do we need a segment dedicated to promote China? Philippines, what clownery is this? They closed ABS-CBN a Filipino owned broadcasting station and giving radio frequencies for this b*****t of a show?" said @chipikon.

Some others also pointed out that the program continues to expose the government's friendly ties with China despite controversies surrounding national sovereignty and security.

"'Wow China,' The PH Govt has been blatant in its love for China and it has no intention of hiding it whatsoever," said @eguic2430.

"Isama mo pa yung West Philippine Sea, Covid-19 response, POGOs, etc - minsan mapapaisip ka talaga kung priority pa ba ang Pilipino sa sarili nating bansa," he added.

[Translation: If you add the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea, COVID-19 response, POGOs, it makes you wonder if Filipinos are still the priority of this government.]

When asked for a response to the public backlash, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque only shrugged off the issue and quickly shifted to another topic during his media briefing.

"That's part of the free marketplce of ideas. Hayaan nating bumuo sila ng sariling opinyon (Let them make their own opinion)," Roque said.

On Tuesday, the state-run Philippine Broadcasting Service (PBS), which operates Radyo Pilipinas, expressed their side on the issue, saying that the "Wow China" program "in no way whatsoever does it espouse or promote a particular political view or cause."

"The said program is a result of multiple bilateral media and communications agreement between China and the Philippines meant to enhance cultural relations, information exchange, and to strengthen our technical capability in broadcast and in publishing," the statement read.

Just last month, a music video titled "Iisang Dagat" released by the Chinese Embassy to extol the Philippines and China's so-called partnership amid the pandemic was met with huge backlash online. Netizens questioned the intent of its message amid China's assertion of its rights to the West Philippine Sea — areas Manila claims and occupies in the South China Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte has nurtured ties with China, despite Beijing's continued aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippine government also recently faced criticisms after Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Philippine offshore gaming operators may resume work partially amid the Luzon-wide lockdown. Most of the employees of POGOs are Chinese nationals and there were complaints the foreigners were being given priority over Filipinos who also want to return to work.

Roque previously insisted that POGOs are part of the business process outsourcing industry and that the government can collect as much as P600 million in monthly revenues, which can be used to help in the country's fight against the pandemic.

A leading BPO association, however, rejected the claim that POGOs are part of their industry. Several lawmakers have also criticized POGOs for their unpaid taxes.