By Beting Laygo Dolor i Contributing Editor
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) confirmed there is no active plot to remove President Duterte from office.
In a statement, the AFP said last week, “We will never allow that.”
The reassurance came after rumors spread that there was growing dissatisfaction with the Duterte administration within the ranks of the armed forces following the ramming and sinking of a Philippine fishing vessel by a Chinese ship last month and the subsequent failure of the President to take any action against China.
Duterte reiterated last week that he believed the AFP was becoming restive owing to widespread corruption in government.
“If there are any AFP personnel contemplating to stage a coup d’ etat, we warn them not to even make that losing proposition,” the statement said.
The AFP leadership’s warning to the enlisted men and women in uniform came with a caveat. To their knowledge, the officers’ statement said that they were not aware if there was any such threat at the present time. There was, in fact, an “absence of validated reports of active military personnel planning to mount a military take-over.”
As a warning, any military personnel caught planning a coup would be prosecuted “vigorously” and punished harshly, according to the statement.
Former President Fidel Ramos – a retired general – famously handed the lightest penalty imaginable to soldiers involved in coup attempts before he assumed the presidency. He ordered them to do push-ups then they were instantly forgiven.
It should be noted that in multiple past coup attempts, the AFP leadership issued similar statements saying they were “not aware” of any planned uprising against the established government but coup attempts happened anyway.
The President himself brought up the possibility two weeks ago that the AFP and the Philippine National Police may have within their ranks officers and men who were willing to mount a coup to remove him. It was not the first time that Duterte raised the spectre of his forcible removal as president.
Two weeks ago, Duterte went so far as to “request” the AFP and PNP not to attempt to force him out from office. “Do not do it, please, during my term,” he said.
If they had any beef against him, the President said the AFP brass should just pay him a visit in Malacañang where they could have coffee. Under a worst case scenario, he would be willing to hand over the reins of government to the AFP leadership, the President said.
During his term, Duterte doubled the salaries of the men and women in uniform and regularly visits military camps throughout the archipelago.
One of Duterte’s fiercest critics is former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, himself a would-be putschist during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Duterte tried on multiple occasions to have Trillanes imprisoned by rescinding the presidential pardon granted him by President Benigno Aquino III, to no avail.
Trillanes is believed to remain popular with the rank-and-file of the AFP.
Early last month, a “white paper” came out in social media that said a new group within the AFP was disgruntled with the Duterte regime and warned of an impending coup. The unnamed new group was apparently following in the footsteps of past organizations within the AFP which had turned against the government, notably the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and the Young Officers Union.
Multiple coup attempts took place during the administration of the late President Cory Aquino, as well as then President Macapagal-Arroyo, all of which failed. However, the coup against then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 succeeded, as did the military-backed civilian uprising that resulted in the removal of then President Joseph Estrada in 2001.