Government News Analysis

Caught yellow handed?

Philippine Liberal Party are being investigated for their possible roles in a series of coordinated plots allegedly formed to overthrow the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte
Philippine Liberal Party are being investigated for their possible roles in a series of coordinated plots allegedly formed to overthrow the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte

People right at the top of the Philippine Liberal Party are being investigated for their possible roles in a series of coordinated plots allegedly formed to overthrow the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. And although no one’s been unmasked so far, no names have been released; the Solicitor-General’s office is in the process of preparing a number of criminal cases and the party’s most senior leadership could be among those to be charged.

That list could include former president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, failed 2016 presidential contender, Mar Roxas, and current vice president and Liberal Party chairman, Leni Robredo.

But they’re likely to have plenty of company, including Congressmen, corporate personalities, media players and party funders – even possibly members of the judiciary. Most will have direct links to the Liberal Party but other elements of the anti-Duterte coalition could also to be on the list.

Likely prominent among the latter will be Senator Antonio Trillanes IV who has stood alongside the Liberal Party in Congress and is responsible for a barrage of personal attacks against the president and certain members of the administration.

Possible charges could include rebellion, insurrection, coup d’état, sedition, treason – and conspiracy to commit these offences – plus disloyalty of public officers and employees and crimes against national security, all of which are covered in the 1930 Revised Penal Code.

Solicitor-General Jose Calida is in little doubt that the Liberal Party – or the “yellows” as he refers to them, denoting the party’s livery colour – are behind a number of linked attempts to undermine and topple the government. “When they lost in the elections last year, these yellows are trying everything to bring down President Duterte. They just cannot accept defeat,” he said.

Liberals aside, no one else would disagree with that statement. A week hasn’t gone by in the past 10 months that some slur or allegation hasn’t been lodged against either Duterte or a member of his Cabinet by elements of the Liberal Party or its media backers. It’s been incessant.

It’s also been debilitating; wasting the precious time of law makers in passing reform measures and prioritising urgent legislation – all necessary work for the government’s poverty-reducing socioeconomic agenda to roll forward.

Furthermore, Duterte’s supporters, which constitute the majority of the Philippine electorate, are getting tired of hearing their president being attacked without anyone being brought to account. Social media blogs have repeatedly urged that those responsible for defaming the president and his administration be dealt with.

The chances are, however, the Solicitor-General office’s investigations have been underway for some time. In September last year, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group arrested two men for smuggling PHP4.5 million-worth of gun parts – enough to make 100 M-16 assault rifles – from the US to Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental province in the Visayas region.

Under questioning at the time, it was revealed that the buyer had said “he will use the guns to assassinate President Duterte”. It’s understood information was also gathered about a number of Fil-Am personalities and a coup plot.

Although any prosecutions are likely to be some way off, what propelled the Sec-Gen to go public with this was the recent filing of a “mass murder” complaint against Duterte by a Filipino lawyer at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague in the Netherlands – Jude Law’s Hague act.

Calida, who along with 10 others was also cited in the document, believes that act was to build further international support for opposition to Duterte, saying that it was “part of a grand plan”.

Certainly the lawyer, Jude Jose Sabio, has links to Trillanes – his celebrity client is self-confessed serial assassin, Edgar Matobato, who’s also Trillanes ‘star’ witness against Duterte, claiming to be able to link the president to a murderous vigilante group in Davao City, Mindanao when Duterte was the city’s mayor.

“To paraphrase a Bible verse, they who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind,” said Calida in announcing the cases presently being built by his office. He is determined that those who have worked against the government – and thus against the Filipino people – will pay for their treachery.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II also believes that the ICC complaint is part of a broader plot “to destabilise the Duterte administration by discrediting it before the international community”. He wants to know who was behind the Hague action; and more importantly who paid for it.

“Are these funders public officials at present? If yes, are they using the public funds of their offices to undermine the government? If yes, they should be investigated and be made accountable. If, on the other hand, the funding is private, then it is still an act of destabilisation,” Aguirre said.

Despite their repeated denials – Who? What? Us? How could you possibly think such a thing? – there’s little doubt that the Liberal Party has been working hard to undermine this administration. Robredo – egged on by Fil-Am millionaire socialite and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York resident, Loida Nicolas-Lewis – made no bones about it when she said that she’d work as an opposition to government while serving in it. Her public attack on Duterte in a video released at a United Nations event in Vienna, Austria in March which went viral on the Internet is another example – Termite in the Cabinet.

Certainly, anyone who follows Philippine politics will know that it’s very much a blood sport and the goal is often to bring down the president. This has happened twice – with presidents Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Others have also been successfully disgraced going all the way back to the president of the first Philippine Republic, Emilio Aguinaldo. A leader of patriotic forces against the US, his presidency was terminated by the Americans at the end of the Philippine-American War in 1901. And one year after the end of her presidency, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was charged and placed under house arrest for five years for misuse of state funds.

There’s little doubt that those precedents will have given Duterte’s opponents succor. But this time around – in case they missed it – things are very different. In the case of those two deposed presidents, their popularity had already tanked. They’d lost the respect of the people – Marcos for alleged martial-law excesses; Estrada for alleged plunder. By contrast, Duterte not only has the respect of the people, he has their love. He is the most popular president the Filipino people have ever elected.

So what does that mean? Simply that Duterte’s opponents don’t just have to overthrow Duterte, they have to overthrow the country as well. A coup d’état – Trillanes’s favoured modus operandi judging from his CV – is impossible. Duterte has the undying support of his generals and the military ranks. And if he was deposed or removed in any other way, it would unleash one of the worst rebellions the country has ever seen – and there’s been a few.

Thus, what the Liberal Party has managed to do is to make itself virtually unelectable by alienating itself from the people. Its lack of political acumen is astounding. It spent the latter part of last year’s election campaign – after belatedly realising that Duterte could actually win – and the past 10 months digging its own grave. And still unable to read the political landscape, it continues digging.

Meanwhile, the international mainstream media which doesn’t know where the landscape is exactly, is inadvertently pouring kerosene on the Liberal Party’s funeral pyre. And the best of it is, the Liberal Party is calling for more kerosene.

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