Aquino's party linked to Duterte 'ouster plot'

President Rodrigo Duterte attending a meeting at a military installation in Manila on Feb 28, 2019.
President Rodrigo Duterte attending a meeting at a military installation in Manila on Feb 28, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

The government yesterday linked the political party of former president Benigno Aquino and a group of former dissident soldiers to a purported plot to discredit President Rodrigo Duterte and bolster opposition candidates running in next week's midterm elections.

"It is obvious these groups have banded together to discredit the Duterte administration," Mr Duterte's spokesman, Mr Salvador Panelo, said at a news conference.

Mr Panelo presented diagrams that outlined supposed links among the Liberal Party, Magdalo group and certain journalists in a "deliberate conspiracy" to spread, via the Internet, videos that portrayed Mr Duterte's kin and closest aides as harbouring drug gangs.

The Liberal Party is Mr Aquino's political party, though he has not taken an active part in running it since he stepped down as president in 2016.

The Magdalo group consists of former junior officers behind a failed mutiny in 2003 meant to unseat then President Gloria Arroyo. It is helmed by Senator Antonio Trillanes, Mr Duterte's most vocal critic in Congress.

Mr Panelo said information provided by sources outside the government showed key officials and supporters of the Liberal Party and Magdalo group, as well as journalists previously accused of receiving funding from the US Central Intelligence Agency to oust Mr Duterte, exchanging e-mails and online messages to spread "anti-Duterte statements and sentiments".

A particular effort had been to spread three videos that accused Mr Duterte's son, daughter and personal secretary of receiving millions' worth of drug money.

Government agents last Thursday arrested a blogger who created the website where the videos were first uploaded. He has been charged with inciting sedition.

On Monday, the hooded figure who appeared in the videos surfaced, seeking legal help and offering to testify before the Senate.

But Senate president Vicente Sotto yesterday said the man, a former marketing officer who had already served jail time for fraud, was an "information monger" who had already reached out to his office in 2016 offering to link Mr Aquino to the drug trade.

Among those tagged by Mr Panelo as having a hand in making and spreading the videos were Senator Trillanes, former Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda, communist leader Jose Maria Sison, and a host of bloggers, freelance journalists and security aides.

Mr Panelo offered scant details about the purported conspiracy beyond the diagrams he presented, but said the Justice Ministry was determining what charges could be filed against the people behind it.

In a statement, Liberal Party president Francis Pangilinan dismissed the alleged plot as something Mr Duterte's aides conjured up.

"This is the nth time the administration, when confronted with controversy, falsely accused the Liberal Party of being involved in ouster plots," he said.

Magdalo spokesman Gary Alejano said the government should file cases in court instead of airing accusations via news conferences "so we can defend ourselves".

Mr Florin Hilbay, who served as Mr Aquino's solicitor-general and is now running for senator, said the supposed anti-Duterte conspiracy was meant to undermine and create a picture of a coalition of opposition groups running in next week's polls "as negative, even lawless, elements, without any evidence, as usual".

The Philippines will hold its midterm elections next Monday.

Twelve of the 24 seats in the Senate and all 297 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs. Candidates will also contest some 18,000 local posts across the country.

Judging by the latest surveys and opinion polls, Mr Duterte's candidates are likely to win by a landslide and give him an overwhelming majority in Congress.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2019, with the headline 'Aquino's party linked to Duterte 'ouster plot''. Print Edition | Subscribe