POSTSCRIPT / January 3, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Oust-Duterte plot to fail at this time

AFTER the usual talk of hope and optimism for a few days, the rolling in of a new year will kick in the idea of “pagbabago” in pursuit of a better life for Filipinos – and inevitably the topic of Regime Change.
Basically, regime change in this discussion means the removal for whatever reason by whatever means of Rodrigo Roa Duterte as president of the Philippines under whichever Constitution.
The possibility and desirability of Duterte’s being kicked out became a hot topic, just as he was completing his first six months, fueled by aManila Times report last Dec. 27 of an alleged ouster plot attributed to recently replaced US Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg.
The envoy assumed his post in 2013 in this former American colony preceded by a dubious reputation, deserved or not, as a harbinger of regime change where his superiors send him, including Bolivia which had expelled him before his transfer to Manila.
The expected reactions to the “plot” came quickly: the author Dante Ang stood by his story; the US government denied it; Malacañang scoffed at it; Duterte’s followers jeered and his detractors cheered it; we bystanders waited for hints of where events were heading.
Without meaning to say that the “Goldberg plot” exists, we note that it is normal for ambassadors, including Filipino diplomats, to send recommendations to the home office… Duterte has been courting trouble by needlessly quarreling with such powerhouses as the United States, the United Nations and the European Union… But an oust-Duterte move at this time is likely to fail.
Ouster plot not a walk in the park
THE COUNTRY is not ripe or hankering for a Duterte ouster. The President still enjoys wide support in the countryside and in the Congress. Those who want him out are a minority and are divided. The political opposition has no leader, no face, no single voice, and no alternative program.
We dare say that the alleged plot will fail “at this time,” because in our estimate, any extra-constitutional ouster plan — even one preceded by a destabilization job with covert US help — cannot be completed before mid-2018. Besides, the Duterte forces are not asleep, busy as they are organizing everywhere down to the barangay level!
The suggested destabilization, if indeed it exists and is pursued, will create internal and external pressure on the government and the people, foment unrest and make life more difficult, maybe even spark civil strife.
But such Herculean efforts will not necessarily eliminate the populist President. He might even use the crisis to shore up his support. The only shortcut imaginable is assassination – but that is going too far just to serve foreign interests.
Assuming Duterte is eliminated, the opposition (rallying under Vice President Leni Robredo or former President Fidel V. Ramos?) will not be quick enough to fill the vacuum. The chaos will open a yawning space that may tempt the armed forces to stage a coup as the “protector of the people.” But Filipinos may not relish a military regime.
If Duterte survives and crosses the mid-hump of his six-year term, he and his left-leaning cohorts in the Palace and the countryside would be able to coast along to the 2022 finish line still in control, and wiser for the next bout.
No wonder the alleged Goldberg plan, presumably woven into the larger US strategic maneuvering in the Asia-Pacific area dominated by China, calls for its quick completion in just 1-1/2 years, meaning by 2018!
But Bathala works in mysterious ways. There could be in the next two years a confluence of events leading to either Duterte’s removal or his retention because of a “pagbabago” in his persona and politics.
Details of ‘plot’ to remove Duterte
FOR THOSE who came in just now, we recap below some details of the reported Goldberg destabilization action plan:
> Isolate the Philippines in the region politically and economically by engaging the leaders of Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and by “highlighting the risk of doing business in the Philippines.”
> Enhance US military relationship with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations except the Philippines which is gravitating toward China and Russia despite its treaty alliance with the US.
> Pressure neighboring countries so they would turn against Duterte by reducing trade with the Philippines in favor of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
> Deepen ties with Philippine opposition officials, the police/military, and regional leaders who share American concerns over Duterte.
> Monitor cases of corruption (one of supposed main planks of Duterte’s reform platform) and highlight his failures.
> Focus on people’s needs at the grassroots and help opposition groups deliver on those failed promises through US AID – such as in poverty-alleviation, housing and education.
> Use the media to “expose the truth about Duterte, his false vision for the people and his dangerous international relationships with China and Russia.”
> Change the political landscape by dividing Duterte’s core leadership by “sowing discontent among (his) partymates.” Some of his allies are privately expressing concern over his shift in foreign policy and the twists in his economic and social agenda veering toward the Left.
>Stoke the fire between the defenders of the rule of law and Duterte’s leftist group” by highlighting the demands of the Left to release all political prisoners even before a formal peace agreement is signed between the government and the CPP/NDF/NPA, and an end to US military presence in the Philippines.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 3, 2017)

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