By Karl Romano and Luis Liwanag
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte claimed Tuesday that a political opponent has been conspiring with members of the military to oust him, saying the tipoff came from a foreign power.
Duterte did not say which government provided the intelligence, but said the information would be declassified in the coming days.
He said the plot involved his nemesis, Sen. Antonio Trillanes along with some other members of the opposition and a fraternity of former servicemen called Magdalo – with whom Trillanes had participated in mutinies in 2003 and 2007 – and Maoist rebels.
“You know Sison and this Magdalo, and those who are against me ever since the election, they have combined,” the president said in a nationally televised hour-long conversation, referring to the founder of the Philippine communist party.
“We have the conversation provided by a foreign country sympathetic to us,” Duterte said, adding that Trillanes was in “constant communication” with the guerrillas.
“I am challenging Magdalo to start now,” Duterte said, referring to Trillanes’ political party and fraternity composed mostly of former military officers. “Just make sure that the soldiers and the generals are yours.”
Duterte’s comments came the same day the Supreme Court rejected a petition by Trillanes for a temporary restraining order to block the president’s recent proclamation, in which he stripped the senator of an amnesty for his role in helping lead two military uprisings when he served as a Navy lieutenant.
The high court said it had taken “cognizance” of the pledge by the armed forces and police not to arrest the senator, who has been holed up in his office since last week.
The Supreme Court said it denied Trillanes’ petition and sent the case back to a lower court. But the high court said it had taken note of police and military statements to delay the senator’s arrest, pending a final resolution.
“The court takes judicial notice of the categorical pronouncements of President Duterte that Sen. Trillanes will not be detained,” the high court said in a ruling announced by spokeswoman Victoria Gleoresty Guerra.
A day before Duterte’s televised comments, the Philippine military brass warned all members of the armed forces (AFP) not to be politicized. Earlier, Trillanes had said that some disgruntled officers had sought him out and were helping him from the inside.
On Tuesday, military spokesman Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo issued a statement denying the reported coup plots.
“We wish to categorically state that there were no such sizeable movements of military aircraft or armored vehicles,” Arevalo said.
He said there had been sightings of tanks and troops which were “matters that are otherwise normal occurrence.”
Last week, military advisers pushed Duterte to not revoke Trillanes’ amnesty and order his arrest. The senator, a leading critic of the president’s drug war, has shown evidence that he had gone through the system and was granted an amnesty by former President Benigno Aquino III, Duterte’s predecessor.
Trillanes has taken refuge in his Senate office, setting off a tense standoff while claiming that some military members were supporting him.
‘They are the ones destabilizing it’
The Philippines has a long history of coup plots. In 1986, millions of Filipinos rose up against dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was chased into exile in Hawaii where he died three years later.
He was replaced by pro-democracy icon Corazon Aquino, who survived six coup attempts as she guided the country while it transitioned from two decades of brutal dictatorship to democracy.
In 2001, Joseph Estrada was chased out of office in a military-backed popular uprising over alleged corruption.
Trillanes in 2003, led about 300 junior officers and men in taking over the Oakwood hotel in Manila’s Makati financial district. The rebellion was to protest alleged corruption within the ranks, but was quelled immediately by then-president Gloria Arroyo, who promised to look into their allegations.
Four years later, Trillanes and other officers walked out of a Manila court hearing their case and holed themselves up at another hotel. The siege ended swiftly when the military rammed an armored personnel carrier into the lobby.
Trillanes and other officers who were involved later landed government posts or won elective posts.
On Tuesday, Philippine Congressman and former Marine captain Gary Alejano, who is a party mate of Trillanes, denied that they were part of a plot to oust the president.
“The Magdalo is performing its mandate as members of the opposition under the check-and-balance system of our democratic government,” said Alejano, who joined Trillanes in the previous rebellions. “The essence of this is to strengthen democracy and not to destabilize it.”
Duterte’s allegation was “purely a product of imagination and paranoia” of the government meant to divert the public’s attention from economic woes his government failed to address, Alejano said.
“If there is someone destabilizing the present government, they should not look beyond themselves for they are ones destabilizing it,” he said.
He noted that Duterte, a self-described leftist, had been coddling the communist New People’s Army and that he once granted a fallen rebel leader a hero’s burial. Duterte also freed dozens of guerrilla leaders when he became president, in the belief that creating goodwill would speed up peace talks. But the negotiations faltered.
“It was Duterte who appointed several personalities allied to the communists in his cabinet,” Alejano said. “Up to now, they continue to occupy government positions and influence programs, projects and policies.”
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.