Altered image does not show 'US delivering missiles to the Philippines'

As tensions rose between Manila and Beijing in the South China Sea, a digitally altered image was viewed tens of thousands of times in social media posts that falsely claimed it shows "US Javelin anti-tank missiles being sent to the Philippines". But it was created from a February 2022 photo of Ukrainian soldiers unpacking US missiles with an unrelated image of a Filipino soldier during a military exercise in April 2023.

"Hundreds of US Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles delivered to the Philippines!" read text overlaid on a June 18, 2024 TikTok post viewed over 10,000 times. 

It appears to show Philippine soldiers transporting craters of missiles. A partly obscured airplane can also be seen in the background. 

The photo also circulated on social media platforms including Facebook and X

A screenshot of the false TikTok post, taken July 3, 2024

The claim circulated online after Chinese coast guard personnel wielding knives, sticks and an axe foiled a Filipino attempt to resupply marines stationed on a derelict warship deliberately grounded atop a disputed shoal in the South China Sea to assert Manila's territorial claims.

A Filipino soldier lost a finger in the clash, with Manila also accusing the Chinese sailors of looting guns and damaging three boats as well as navigational and communication equipment.

The June 17 clash was the most serious in a number of escalating confrontations, which has fuelled concerns that the dispute could drag in the United States, Manila's mutual defence partner.

In a statement posted on Facebook on July 3, the Philippine military said: "Posts claiming hundreds of US Javelin missiles were delivered to the Philippines are not true" (archived link).

"The photo was also visibly altered," Colonel Xerxes Trinidad, public affairs chief of the Philippine armed forces, told AFP on the same day.

Ukraine-bound missiles

The right side of the photo shows Ukraine soldiers unloading missiles at Boryspil airport in the capital Kyiv following Russia's invasion in 2022.

A reverse image search on Google found news reports by broadcaster Voice of America and CNN that featured the same photo (archived links here and here). 

Both reports indicated that the photo showed "Ukrainian servicemen unpacking Javelin anti-tank missiles delivered as part of a U.S. security assistance package, at the Boryspil airport, outside Kyiv, Ukraine" in February 2022. 

Neither of the soldiers in the original picture was seen with a Philippine flag on their uniform sleeves, in contrast to the image shared in the false posts.

In the original photo, the sky appeared overcast rather than blue with thick white clouds.  

Below is a screenshot comparison of the false post (left) and the photo published by Voice of America (right), with edited elements highlighted in red: 

Screenshot comparison of the false post (left) and the photo published by Voice of America (right), with elements highlighted by AFP

AFP also published a photo of Ukrainian soldiers at the same airport unloading US weapons taken from a different angle:

Ukrainian servicemen receive the delivery of FGM-148 Javelins, a man-portable anti-tank missile provided by the US to Ukraine as part of military support at Kyiv's airport Boryspil on February 11, 2022. (AFP / SERGEI SUPINSKY)

US-Philippine exercise 

The left side of the altered image shows a Filipino soldier carrying a Javelin anti-tank missile during a military exercise with the US last year.

A reverse image search on Google led to an April 13, 2023 article by The Associated Press (AP) on the joint military drills between US and Philippine troops (archived link).

In the original photo, a military vehicle was parked behind the two Filipino soldiers -- not craters of missiles as the false posts presented. 

Below is a screenshot comparison of the false post (left) and the AP photo (right): 

Screenshot comparison of the false post (left) and the AP photo (right)

The photo was also published by UK-based news agency Alamy and the Malaysian newspaper The Star (archived links here and here). 

AFP has recently debunked misinformation over the South China Sea dispute here, here and here

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