Government News Analysis

‘The Goldberg plan’ to oust Duterte

The cat’s out of the bag. The US administration of Barack Obama is seeking regime change in the Philippines – that, according to a leaked document purportedly outlining a plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte and replace him with a US-friendly puppet. And the draftsman of the plot is none other than recently replaced US ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg, a man who seems to have rewritten the rules of diplomacy and who has a strong personal dislike of the Philippines’ democratically elected head of state.

This isn’t Hollywood fiction; the US has a long and tawdry history of aggressive intervention politics – removing governments with which it doesn’t see eye to eye and installing America-compliant administrations as they have in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama to name just a few; not to mention their adventures across the Middle East and North Africa.

The ‘Goldberg Plot’ – exposed by Manila Times president and CEO, Dante Ang – lists a number of well-practiced US covert methods that could be tailored to topple Duterte. Described as “a strategic recommendation ostensibly to the State Department for the ultimate removal of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte from office,” it sets out a number of schemes “to bring [Duterte] to his knees and eventually remove him from office.” We’ll come to those later.

First though, let’s look at how credible this is. Certainly, Goldberg would seem capable of masterminding something as audacious as the overthrow of a president. He also has the contacts in the US State Department and the CIA to set it in motion and maybe even pull it off.

In a recent report – Repairing diplo-damaged relations – The Volatilian™ alluded to Goldberg’s past involvement in a similar attempt to destabilise a government – in that case, Bolivia, a country to which he’d also been assigned as US ambassador. Caught consorting with an opposition leader and allegedly planning to channel millions of dollars of US Agency for Internal Development (USAID) funding to the opposition, Goldberg was declared persona non grata and given 72 hours to get out of the country.

What we said in that article was this: “In fact, given this form, it wouldn’t be too impertinent to ask precisely which branch of America’s foreign service Goldberg actually works for. Insinuating his office into the electoral process of a sovereign state; private meetings with breakaway groups in a host country – hardly ambassadorial work. It’s more like the sort of thing the CIA gets up to; though, of course, we’re not suggesting that for a moment”. Though, of course, we were.

We also know that Duterte, by realigning his foreign policy away from the US and towards China, has all but scuppered Obama’s legacy trade project, the Trans Pacific Partnership, more than likely lost the Philippines as a host country for US military personnel, turned his ‘Pivot to East Asia’ plan on its ear, and reduced America’s sphere of influence in this region to little more than a mirage. In fact East Asia is becoming as big a foreign-policy failure for Washington as the Middle East and North Africa. Ironically, those failures were the main reason for the East Asia pivot in the first place.

With all that in mind, it’s easy to understand the lengths to which America might go to bring the Philippines back into the US fold. Washington has everything to play for here and therefore such a threat should not be underestimated.

Duterte needs to address this issue swiftly by calling the new US Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, to Malacañang to explain the document that’s come into the possession of the Manila Times – even though, as we would expect, the whole thing’s already been denied by the US State Department. This is the sort of incident over which diplomatic relations can be severed. Furthermore, if shown to be true, this action abrogates the UN Charter – something which the US regularly cites as the gold standard for upholding the rule of law.

Article 2(4) of the Charter reads: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”. Well, as far as we’re aware, destabilising a sovereign and democratically elected government would be “inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”. Unfortunately, though, it’s the US that pays the UN piper to play its song, as we’ve repeatedly seen.

So let’s look now at what Goldberg is supposed to have been planning.

Basically, according to the contents of the Manila Times document, he’s using the US tried-and-tested boiler plate for destabilising a government – isolate the country, divide the government, incite dissent within the general population, fund and support the opposition – and tailoring the strategies to the Philippine context.

Thus, the ‘Goldberg Plan’ seeks to isolate the Philippines from the other nine countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). This, the plan’s author suggests, could be achieved by excluding the Philippines from all US military-aid packages to Asean, and by pressuring Asean members to limit trade with the Philippines. Weakening the Philippine currency and facilitating inflation is listed as another option.

The plan goes on to call for creating divisions among Duterte’s supporters – both within Congress and in the country at large – by stoking public dissatisfaction over unfulfilled promises made by Duterte during his election campaign. “Focus on the needs of the people at the grassroots and assist the opposition groups in delivering those failed promises through USAID – such as alleviation of poverty, housing and education – to name a few,” the document recommends.

The eventual Congressional vote on Charter Change, by which Duterte hopes to revise the Constitution and pave the way for a federal system of government, provides an opportunity, according to the Goldberg plan, to capitalise on political grievances – particularly among certain members of the Philippine Senate who feel they’ve been disenfranchised.

Corruption cases should be tracked and failures highlighted. And the media should be used to the full extent to ram the anti-Duterte message home – not least concerning “his [Duterte’s] false vision for the Filipino people and his dangerous international relationships with China and Russia.”

Meanwhile, the plan explains that ties with the Philippine opposition should be strengthened along with contacts within the police and military establishments and local government units in the regions. “Change the political landscape by dividing the core leadership of Duterte [by] sowing discontent among [his] partymates,” the document states.

Assistance should be given to the: “[Vice President Leni] Robredo-led opposition groups (to include the Catholic Church and other religious groups, business sectors, civil society groups and the youth) in addressing the international community regarding the shift in foreign policy issue, restoration of democracy and the protection of human rights through constitutional means”.

Robredo – pictured above with Goldberg at a USAID gathering in Manila in July – was banished from Cabinet meetings last month and has already said that she’s prepared to work from within the administration as a leader of the opposition.

Describing the Philippines as “a country susceptible to favor political disruption,” Goldberg is claimed to have urged that “our approach must be measured … restraint in expressing public support for former President Fidel Valdez Ramos and Vice President Leni Robredo, as well as other opposition leaders,“ so as not to alarm the Duterte administration of an impending “destabilization or a coup”.

If this turns out to be a bona fide document, inspired and penned by Goldberg, no one will be less surprised than The Volatilian™. For the past several months actions by Washington and its surrogates have focused heavily on undermining the Philippine president and his policies. Washington has withdrawn aid, postponed other funding; attacks by pro-Obama media have been relentless; Robredo is increasingly being touted as the president-in waiting, the UN, the EU and the International Criminal Court are urging investigations into Duterte on war-crimes charges, and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch continually charge him with human-rights abuses. There’s nothing singular in these initiatives; they’ve undoubtedly been orchestrated.

But all that’s not a bad start at destabilising a government. The fact is, though, it’s not going to be as easy here as it has been in the past – in places such as Nicaragua, for example, where their was massive discontent with the government which the CIA and the State Department could easily galvanise. Duterte is an extremely popular leader among his people. There won’t be any Philippine Spring.

And something else. On 19 January, America will have a new boss, Donald Trump, and he certainly won’t be signing off on covert operations to establish regime change in the Philippines – much less sending US cash to fund it.

However, that doesn’t mean the Obama-loving CIA will wander away and lick its wounds. The fact is its operative are already in the Philippines and the likelihood is that some form of internal destabilisation is already underway.

For this reason we believe that this issue should be seized on to let Washington know in no uncertain terms that unless satisfactory answers are forthcoming it can vacate its embassy in Manila. Washington’s big-bully tactics may have worked in the past, but they must not be allowed to work here. This needs to be nipped in the bud.