An anticipated presidential debate hosted by CNN Philippines on February 27 disappointed virtual audiences when a cyberattack that targeted the website was blamed by many on the camp of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who again snubbed the debate that all nine presidential candidates attended.

In an advisory posted on its social media channels at around 7:30 pm, CNN Philippines said its website became inaccessible during the debate due to a so-called Distributed Denial of Service attack. The site was inaccessible until 9:30 pm.

“We would like to assure everyone that we are working to get the site up and running as soon as possible,” CNN Philippines management said at the time.

A distributed denial of service attack floods servers of websites with requests, causing them to crash and become inaccessible to users.

These attacks are illegal in the Philippines under the e-commerce law enacted in 2000.
Vice-president Leni Robredo did not mention Marcos’s name but she still landed a knockout punch against survey frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for snubbing the highly anticipated CNN Philippines presidential debate.

Asked about the importance of debates on Sunday, Robredo said it’s not only an opportunity for candidates to present their platforms, it’s also chance for Filipinos to see the true character of the people applying to be their next president.

And when a candidate does not show up, it’s a failure in leadership, she said.

“‘Yung number one ingredient din ng leadership, aside from character, is you show up in the most difficult times.

‘Pag hindi ka mag-show up in the most difficult times, hindi ka leader,” said Robredo.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson hinted at the same suspicion of Marcos Jr., saying there’s a level playing field during debates, as candidates are often prohibited from having tutors, scripts, or phones to help them answer questions.

The insinuation was that Marcos Jr. hates an impromptu debate.

“So, dito masusukat, maarok ‘yung wisdom ng bawat isa sa amin. Hindi lamang ‘yung wisdom, kung hindi iyong grasp sa mga issues, current issues, past issues,” said Lacson.

CNN was not the first media outlet targeted for cyberattack while holding interviews with presidential candidates. Media outlets ABS-CBN, Vera Files, and Philstar have repeatedly been targeted by cyberattacks since December 2021. Alternative media outlet Bulatlat  and human rights group Karapatan have also been victimized.

Investigations found that a local hacking group called Pinoy Vendetta publicly claimed credit for a series of attacks against the media and opposition figures, as well as the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Bayan Muna lawmakers Carlos Zarate and Eufemia Cullamat called on the House of Representatives to probe the rising number of cyberattacks as the 2022 elections near.

During the CNN presidential debate, Marcos Jr. was instead barnstorming in his stronghold Pangasinan. He had also snubbed past presidential interviews and forums, attending only those hosted by media and groups known to be friendly to him.

Robredo said skipping these public debates also show a lack of respect for Filipino voters.
“Kailangan kaya mong masagot kung ano ‘yung issues laban sa ’yo; hindi ka magtatago. Kaya para sa ’kin, ito ‘yung pagbibigay-halaga at respeto sa taumbayan na maghahalal sa’yo,” Robredo said.

The attack on GMA News came about a week after the January 22 Jessica Soho interviews with the 2022 Philippine presidential candidates. Pinoy Vendetta posted a screenshot showing a non-accessible GMA page, and the caption “Masarap ba sa eyes aling Jessica?” Marcos Jr. accused Soho of being biased.