By Rigoberto Tiglao
Part 3: Aquino official behind US firm spreading fake news on Chinese activities in SCS
A ranking official of the past Benigno Aquino 3rd regime is behind the Florida-based Simularity Corp., which has been disseminating black propaganda, though in a very devious manner, against China over its activities in the South China Sea.
The firm, one source claimed, had been contracted by the US State Department to set up a “South China Sea Rapid Alert Forum,” its platform for manufacturing anti-China propaganda using its interpretations of satellite images.
The former Aquino official is Peter Anthony Abaya, the brother of Aquino’s former transportation and communications secretary, Joseph Abaya. Simularity Vice President Peter Konig confirmed in an email that Abaya is a director of the firm.
Abaya’s last posting in the previous government was as general manager of the National Reclamation Authority. He was an undersecretary of the energy department, sources claimed, when the First Pacific-led triad of oligarchs started to lobby the government to allow it to explore and extract gas from the Reed Bank, which China and Vietnam also claim.
Simularity’s $1-million funding came from a Makati firm, Shatter Tech Venture Holdings, which is reported as a “family investment office,” owned by Abaya’s family.
Simularity has only three directors, the couple Elizabeth and Raymond Derr and Abaya. Since its capital came from this Filipino company, Simularity is registered as a “foreign corporation” in Florida.
Claiming in its website to be providing analysis of “geospatial imagery and data to find and unusual changes across vast areas,” Simularity was incorporated in Florida only in September 2020. The firm’s sole output so far has been its reports on interpreting satellite photos of the South China Sea, procured from other entities, such as the European Space Agency.
Its website, however, says it is a free service.
It pretends to be a respected satellite-image analyst as it has been quoted in many media reports. All these, however, have been on its skewed reports on Chinese activities in the South China Sea.
Less than a year after its incorporation, Simularity has already scored two body blows on China’s image in the South China Sea, deviously crafted.
Last May it posted scores of photos of what it reported as showing over 200 “Chinese ships” in the Union Banks area. It titled these photos as Chinese fishing vessels “in Philippine EEZ,” even as the area is claimed by China and Vietnam as their own sovereign territories.
Simularity didn’t mention at all that Union Banks also is mostly controlled by Vietnam.
Simularity’s allies, such as the Asian Maritime Transparency Institute (set up only in 2013 by the US think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies), then advanced this propaganda project by claiming that these were “Chinese maritime” militias.
Our defense secretary jumped up and down in hysterics, issuing statements that 200 maritime militias were invading Philippine territory.
I have proven in my April 23 article that this report of Chinese maritime militia was a hoax, that the vessels were simply Chinese fishing fleets from its coasts seeking refuge from a storm in the boomerang-shaped atoll.
MUST READ: China Militia Invasion a Hoax https://www.manilatimes.net/2021/04/23/opinion/columnists/topanalysis/chinese-maritime-militia-invasion-a-hoax-duterte-should-fire-lorenzana-and-locsin/866685
Simularity undertook another devious propaganda project when its CEO itself Elizabeth Derr in a Zoom conference on July 12, 2021 (on the anniversary of the arbitral ruling) hosted by former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario announced that Chinese ships were dumping human feces in the South China Sea “so much you can see it in space.”
The satellite photos weren’t really convincing of such a claim, and third-party validation is required for its interpretations, first, if these were indeed Chinese ships (and not Vietnamese), and second, and more importantly, if Similarity’s interpretation that these were human waste was accurate.
And third, as all scientific projects have, there should be a “control group” of satellite photos of non-China ships elsewhere, if they have or have not such waste appearing in the images.
What Simularity did that roused anger against China both here and internationally was that accompanying that claim was a photo (taken from just a kilometer away, and not a satellite image) of a ship trailed with brown-colored material which anybody seeing it would have retched as it looks like human feces.
While it did not caption the photo as a Chinese ship, Similarity obviously calculated that some stupid Filipino media outfit would conclude that it was so. The online version of GMA 7 in fact did.
An alert netizen however reverse-searched the photo and discovered that it was an image of an unidentified ship dumping waste in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 2014.
It was only then that Simularity tried to excuse itself, saying that it clearly captioned the image as that of an “unknown ship,” and that GMA 7 was an “irresponsible news organization.”
But why in the first place did it post that image of an “unknown ship” which was a vivid illustration of a vessel dumping feces? That image was what stuck in viewers’ minds, not the satellite photos, in which Simularity merely drew circles around dots.
Simularity obviously is another venue for the US to press on with its black propaganda against China, specializing in rousing anger against the superpower in the Philippines through its “interpretation” of satellite images.
Other than the Philippine Star (owned by the Hong Kong-based First Pacific whose ambitious Reed Bank gas extraction project was blocked by China), the other major propaganda venue is the Albert del Rosario-ADR Institute, funded by Aquino’s foreign secretary who pushed for the useless arbitration suit, and who was hoodwinked by the Americans to lose Bajo de Masinloc in 2012.
Abaya should disclose why he or his family had funded Simularity. I doubt that even if his clan were rich, it is not that wealthy to give out money to this enterprise which is hardly a profitable venture.
Or was he simply a conduit for funds provided by other entities? US intelligence services? First Pacific? Del Rosario?
(Author’s Note: My thanks to veteran stockbroker and insightful political-economic analyst John Mangun for alerting me on this issue and pointing me to data sources.)