MANILA, Philippines – The viral photos of people selling Chinese flags in Luneta Park were allegedly a "set-up," the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) said.
In a series of live video posted on Sunday, June 9, NPDC Executive Director Penelope Belmonte was seen confronting the vendors after CCTV footage showed them transacting with 3 men.
“Nakita po ninyo na nandito po ang mga ginamit nilang kababayan natin at binayaran natin para isakatuparan ang mga mali at masasama na agenda kung ano man meron sila," Belmonte said.
(You saw that the people they used are here, the people they paid to accomplish their wrong and evil agenda, whatever that is.)
The photos we shared on social media 3 days before the Philippines' observance of Independence Day on June 12, and apparently played on the strong public sentiment against President Rodrigo Duterte's accommodation of Chinese interests.
According to vendors whom Belmonte talked to, a man offered them P100 to act as if they are selling Chinese flags.
"May lalaking lumapit sa amin, kunwari lang daw, project daw ng anak nila, 'Bigyan namin kayo ng pangmerienda,'" one of the vendors said.
(A man approached us and asked us to just pretend, for their child's project. [They told us] "We'll give you money to buy snacks.")
Belmonte condemned the act, saying the men disrespected national symbols of the country.
“Binastos 'nyo po ang pambansang liwasan, ang watawat ng Pilipinas," she said. (They disrespected the national park, the national flag of the Philippines.)
The vendors were turned over to the local police for questioning as the NPDC promised to catch the people behind the "set-up."
In July 2018, controversy erupted when photos spread on social media of banners that read, "Welcome to the Philippines, province of China" appearing at various footbridges in Metro Manila.
The operation was done in time for the second anniversary of Manila's legal victory against Beijing at The Hague over the South China Sea.