By Dennis Jay Santos
Government forces captured five senior communist rebel leaders who were allegedly involved in an October plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine military said Wednesday.
Adelberto Silva, a consultant for the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was one of the five intercepted on Tuesday at an army checkpoint south of Manila, military Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez said.
Silva was with Edical Legaspi, a rebel leader in the northern Philippines, and three others when they were caught at the checkpoint in Laguna province, Galvez said.
“They are key ranking officials of the communist movement involved in the mobilization for the plot against Duterte,” the general said.
“Their sinister objective is to overthrow the government. So we are trying to continue to insulate the vulnerable sectors from them,” he added.
Recovered from the suspects were two .45-caliber pistols, four hand grenades, a homemade bomb and assorted ammunition, officials said.
In 2016, Silva was among communist leaders freed by Duterte as a goodwill gesture to jump start peace talks with the party, whose armed wing is called the New People’s Army (NPA). In January this year, a Philippine court revoked the temporary freedom granted to Silva and fellow communist leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, who remain at large.
Galvez did not explain what roles Silva and his group were to play in the alleged ouster plot codenamed “Red October.” The plotters had been ramping up recruitment efforts at some of the country’s top universities, the military said earlier this month.
The alleged plot was first announced last month by Duterte himself. At the time, he said he had received foreign intelligence alleging that his political arch-rival, opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes, was conniving with CPP founder Jose Maria Sison in efforts to oust him.
Duterte had promised to show proof, including the name of the country that provided the information. But weeks have passed without any evidence being presented in public to support the president’s allegations.
Trillanes, a former navy officer, and Sison have denied the allegations. Trillanes’ own military fraternity has also dismissed them.
The military had originally said that the plot was to take place in the middle of this month, but it has since backtracked and said the rebels had apparently decided against it.
However, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the intelligence report about the plot remained credible.
“I won’t even wonder why there’s always a plot. That’s precisely the rationale of the creation of the communist to oust the present government,” Panelo said.
The Philippines has a long history of coup plots. The late president, pro-democracy icon Corazon Aquino survived six coup attempts in the 1980s after a peaceful revolution ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who had ruled the country for two decades.
In 2001, ex-President Joseph Estrada was chased out of office in a military-backed popular uprising over alleged corruption.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines contributed to this report.