Coup rumors cause jitters in Manila

For the past two months Manila was abound with rumors of plots to oust President Rodrigo Duterte. Among the first to hit the rumor mill was an allegation made by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio B. Evasco Jr., who said on September 30, 2016 that there were plans by the “Yellow Group” – in reference to the Liberal Party and supporters of former president Benigno Aquino III — and some rich businessmen to oust Duterte and install Vice President Leni Robredo as president.

The “Dutertards,” as Duterte’s supporters are called, also circulated a text message, saying, “Magdalo group led by Trillanes and Alejano has started preparing a coup.” The Magdalo Group is now a party-list represented by Rep. Gary Alejano in the House of Representatives. Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV – who led the Oakwood Mutiny against then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2003 — denied the allegations, saying: “I maintain my position that there is no need to oust President Duterte because he is already self-destructing.” Touché!

Evasco claimed that the plotters failed because they didn’t have an “armed component” to pursue their plans. He said that they then went “international.” That ‘s when then US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the European Union (EU) wanted to investigate Duterte on alleged human rights violations based on the drug-related extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, which is now 6,000… and counting.

Goldberg Plan
It didn’t take long before another plot surfaced… a big one! According to an article, “US ex-envoy plotting Duterte fall,” written by The Manila Times’ editor-in-chief Dr. Dante A. Ang on December 27, 2016, The Manila Times received a document from a source saying that Philip Goldberg, former US Ambassador to the Philippines, had left behind a “blueprint to undermine Duterte.” The blueprint outlines a strategic recommendation to the US State Department for the ultimate removal of Duterte from office. It lists strategies to undermine and oust Duterte within a timetable of one-and-a-half years.

To bring down Duterte, the Goldberg plan “calls for stoking public dissatisfaction with the President over unfulfilled election promises, isolating the Philippines from the rest of the ASEAN by extending military assistance to member countries except the Philippines, and/or through economic ‘blackmail’ that aims to limit trade by some ASEAN member countries with the Philippines.” While the blueprint did not mention Duterte’s “war on drugs,” it stated: “Duterte’s political allies are privately concerned over his shift in foreign policy.” Further, it stated: “Central among these allies is former President Fidel Ramos, who was crucial to Duterte’s election victory, but has distanced himself from Duterte in the wake of tensions with Washington.”

The blueprint also revealed that Goldberg called for Washington to launch a series of “socio-economic-political-diplomatic moves against Duterte to bring him to his knees and eventually remove him from office, while supporting and promoting the political opposition behind Vice President Leni Robredo, of the opposition Liberal Party of Aquino.”

In response to The Manila Times report, the US Embassy in Manila and US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel issued statements denying the news report.

“These allegations of a blueprint are false. No such blueprint exists,” Russel said.

Vice President Leni Robredo also issued a statement, saying: “I am not aware of, much less am I involved in, any effort to ‘oust’ the President. Furthermore, I categorically deny joining rallies that called for the President’s ouster.” She continued: “Criticism is not conspiracy, and the administration is well advised to stop seeing ‘plots’ behind every unflattering news report, irate citizens’ assembly, or angry Facebook post.”

Robredo said that her criticisms of Duterte came about as a “reaction to Duterte’s own actions and statements.” Among her criticisms are: ongoing extrajudicial killings, proposed restoration of the death penalty, Marcos burial at the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery), and retreat from the West Philippine Sea claims.

Concessions to China
The following day, December 28, an interesting article appeared on the World Socialist Web Site, which said: “On December 19, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua made an unannounced visit to the presidential palace of Malacañang during which he extended an offer to Duterte of a soft-loan of $500 million in addition to $14 million worth of military equipment. Duterte declared that he would set aside the ruling against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague earlier this year, and was interested in pursuing joint oil exploration with China in the South China Sea.

“That afternoon, Duterte delivered a speech attended by the newly appointed US ambassador to Manila Sung Kim, responding to the US deferment of aid payment. He told the ambassador to “shut up, shut up. I do not need your assistance … China is going to release to me 50 billion, go home, I do not need your aid.”

Revolutionary change
But what I find quite intriguing is Carmen Pedrosa’s column, “My New Year’s wish for our country,” in The Philippine Star (January 1, 2017). She said that Congressman Roger Mercado, Chairman of the Committee of Constitutional Amendments, asked her whether it is necessary to amend or revise the Constitution?

Pedrosa said, “What bothers me is more fundamental. It is a misunderstanding if we draw up a Constitution before we fix the country’s elite dominance. We are being misled by thinking that drawing up a new Constitution will change that. That is putting the cart before the horse. The cart is the new Constitution but it can only move with a horse driving it. The horse is revolutionary change either as a government with revolutionary powers or, God forbid, a bloody revolution. The cart will not move if there is no horse.” Hmm…

It’s interesting that Pedrosa offered only two options: (1) Government with revolutionary powers, or (2) Bloody revolution, which I find akin to be too narrow a path to take. In both options, martial law is the necessary vehicle to achieve the desired outcome. In my opinion, the third option (3) is a Constitutional Convention that would draft a new constitution, which will be approved by the people through a referendum, which begs the question: Would Duterte go along with this option?

Ides of January
Many people believe that Duterte is toying with the idea of declaring martial law to implement the first option or the second option if there is resistance.

The only problem is that the 1987 Constitution doesn’t give the president a carte blanche authority to impose martial law. The Supreme Court or Congress can override him after 60 days, which Duterte had made it known that he doesn’t like it. But who is there to oppose him if he abolishes Congress and the Supreme Court?

At the end of the day, one wonders whether martial law would happen or not? And if it were going to happen, when would it be? Of the 12 months of 2017, in my opinion, the most likely month would be January. Why? Well, for one thing, it’s the first month. Secondly, like they say, “Strike while the iron is hot.”

With all the plots and counter-plots going on, somebody would seize the opportunity. If not Duterte, somebody else might… or would. And thirdly, with China providing $14 million worth of weapons, it makes one wonder: What would the weapons be used for… or against whom? Nobody is invading the Philippines; but the weapons could come in handy if Duterte is going to declare martial law.

With all the coup rumors causing jitters in Manila, beware the ides of January.