Equally as dangerous as the boy who cried “Wolf!” is the boy who cried “There is no wolf!” And so, recent remarks by Philippine National Defense Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, are a concern. In referencing a document leaked to the Manila Times which detailed an alleged plot to remove President Rodrigo Duterte from power – ‘The Goldberg Plan’ to oust Duterte – he virtually said that it should be ignored. No need to dignify it with a response. The Volatilian™, however, takes the diametrically opposite view – that this report should not be dismissed out of hand. To state the obvious, hoaxes only become hoaxes once they’ve been proven to be – until such time, they remain live threats.
At the outset, let us state that there’s little doubt Lorenzana is proving to be an effective hands-on Defense Secretary. He’s played a key role in developing stronger links with old allies, fostering ties with new ones – China and Russia in particular – and is a lead architect in refocusing Philippine defence strategies. Since assuming office, he’s travelled extensively in his work and built sound contacts with his opposite numbers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and beyond. Furthermore, his loyalty to the president and his policies is above question.
But on this issue he has his wires seriously crossed. Lorenzana’s instant rebuttal of the document’s contents – plainly speaking – is counterintuitive at best, derelict at worst. His remarks – “That’s not true. I don’t believe that. The US will not do that.” – are naïve to put it mildly. First of all, without fully investigating the matter he’s not in a position to make any assessment as to the document’s veracity.
Secondly, it’s immaterial what he believes; he’s a defence secretary, not an intelligence chief – the closest he came to that was as a former major-general in the Philippine army, when he served as head of the Special Operations Command. But that’s not a part of the Philippine intelligence community; its role is military, to plan and carry out special ops.
In short, any investigation – or prompting of such – falls outside the scope of the Department of National Defense (DND). Frankly, his intervention is like the head of the Department of Information and Communications Technology determining that the Agriculture Department should ignore the Balkans as an export market for abaka or coconut oil.
And thirdly, there are a score of countries around the world that could very quickly disabuse Lorenzana of his notion that “the US will not do that”. It has “done that” repeatedly; and in starkly similar situations. And in some cases for far less than is at stake here.
Ask the Russians and the Chinese if the US is capable of such a plot. Ask the Israelis. These countries have highly sophisticated intelligence services which their defence ministries rightly defer to. They don’t take anything at face value. They investigate and then draw their conclusions based on facts not conjecture. Their defence ministers don’t blurt out some personal evaluation off the top of their head; they hold political portfolios; they’re nor oracles; seers. And so, when something like this comes to light, it has to be investigated. It would be in Britain, or France, or anywhere else for that matter.
But, in this case, not by the Department of National Defense; this falls well outside its scope. This is an issue for the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and the National Intelligence Board which advises it. The DND is not part of the intelligence community’s chain of command; NICA reports directly to the president. Other agencies that should be involved are the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), whose up-line command is the Secretary of Justice, Vitaliano Aguirre II, and possibly the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The NICA is currently headed by Alex Paul Monteagudo – formerly Philippine National Police (PNP) Director for Region XII (which covers four provinces in south-central Mindanao) and deputy director of the PNP’s Directorate for Investigation. The NBI Director is Dante Gierran, a former lawyer/accountant from Cotabato City who was Bureau Director for the Davao Region. These, then, are the men who should be determining the truth of the Manila Times document. And we don’t require a running commentary on Twitter explaining the investigation’s progress either.
But Lorenzana’s other statement is equally troubling. He says that he hasn’t bothered to put the matter in the hands of the intelligence community because its job is “to protect the integrity of the republic”. So since when does safeguarding the life of the president – and thereby ensuring a coup d’état does not ensue – not protect the integrity of the republic? Surely, that’s precisely what it would be doing. The sort of widespread and bloody civil unrest that would erupt following the removal of the most popular Philippine president in history would leave the republic in tatters; all integrity by that time – including Lorenzana’s – would have been long lost.
Simply put, this is a matter for the relevant agencies whose staff, hopefully by now, will have seen the Manila Times article and not require being tipped-off about it by the Defense Secretary. If they’re waiting for that then the Philippine intelligence services have even bigger problems.
The indisputable fact is that the US has a long track record of subverting governments with which it has ideological differences. From Cuba to Nicaragua to Guatemala to Panama to the Dominican Republic; from Libya to Somalia to Congo to Egypt to Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, and many in between, the plots bear strikingly similar hallmarks to the one described in the Manila Times document.
Furthermore, what all these countries have in common with the Philippines under Duterte is that their political stances, vis-à-vis Washington’s, have been deemed out of sync. They’re none-compliant nations and as such are regarded in some way as being ‘rogue’. In such cases, as far as the US State Department and its attack dogs in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), nothing is off the table when it comes to getting them to conform. And that certainly includes regime change.
Moreover, the economies of such countries are not of prime concern – nor, ironically, are human rights. Establishing the American brand and ensuring that US rules are abided by is what counts.
In 1957, some 10 years into the Cold War, American President Dwight D. Eisenhower instructed the CIA to use “all feasible covert means” to start a revolution in Indonesia following Indonesian President Sukarno’s support for the Non-Aligned Movement. He feared, wrongly as it turned out, that Indonesia was in danger of turning communist.
The CIA set about funding political-opposition groups and cultivating the Indonesian military which the US had been training, by fostering pro-US support within the Indonesian army. While weapons and ammunitions were covertly smuggled into the country for use by anti-Sukarno elements – along with radio stations to broadcast anti-Sukarno propaganda – CIA operatives looked for potential leaders who would promote American interests. The Agency had also set up listening posts and bases in the Philippines and instructed Filipino CIA agents to pursue contacts within Indonesia’s armed forces.
Blitz, a weekly newspaper published in India, reported Washington’s plans to oust Sukarno. Its information had come from Soviet intelligence. Sukarno responded swiftly, ordering the bombing of the radio stations and a naval blockade of the Sumatran coast. The coup failed.
Lorenzana may think that by refuting the Manila Times’ revelation he’s soothing Manila’s fractious relations with Washington. But that’s hardly the point. Let’s put it another way, if a document was leaked to the Washington Post that outlined a plot to remove the US president from office, we guarantee that the US Secretary of Defense would not remark on its authenticity until the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency had thoroughly run it to ground. He certainly would not be relying solely on his own intuition to divine the validity of the threat and then broadcasting his thoughts.
During his term in office, US President, Barack Obama, has been the subject of at least 16 death threats. Every one was fully investigated by the US intelligence services. The same went for his predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. All heads of state are somebody’s target; that goes with the territory. Like assassination threats, coup plots are rarely taken lightly. And this one shouldn’t be either; certainly not given the present political dynamic.
Furthermore, though the incoming US administration of Donald Trump looks to be more sympathetic to Duterte’s wishes of pursuing an independent foreign policy, elements within the State Department and the CIA will remain adamantly opposed to that vision. These are hotbeds of Democratic Party thought; committed to their ideals. Irrespective of whose in charge in the White House, they will continue their schemes to bring what they determine to be errant nations to heel.
And so, with regard to the Manila Times disclosure, it would be prudent to take it seriously until such time as its proved to be fake. Similarly, at this stage the statement put out by the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Russel – which claims that the document is “false” and that “no such blueprint exists” – should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Russel, a career diplomat and a close-in Obama confidant – he formerly served in the White House as Special Assistant to the President and as National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs – has regularly questioned Duterte’s statements and has issued a series of warnings concerning the realignment of Philippine foreign policy.
As one of the main planners of Obama’s failing “Pivot to Asia” strategy, Russel will have a very coloured view of Duterte and his policies. If anything, his swift denial of this document’s veracity sets off even more alarm bells.
Meanwhile, describing the alleged plot which is attributed to former US ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg, as “anathema” to democracy as well as “a subversion” of the will of the Filipino people, House Speaker, Pantaleon Alvarez, has urged a congressional investigation. The Volatilian™ is with him.