MANILA, Philippines – The government vows to apply the “full force of the law” against the President's critics who push for an “unconstitutional and illegal power grab,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Sunday, February 22.
De Lima singled out the National Transformation Council (NTC), a group composed of allies of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The group includes Norberto Gonzales, a former defense secretary and national security adviser under the Arroyo administration.
In a statement, De Lima slammed the NTC for urging “the installation of a civilian-military junta.” She pointed out that the group wants to become “the de facto government” of the Philippines.
She also criticized the NTC for proposing or conspiring “to commit the crime of coup d'etat,” as when it requested the military's support.
“The NTC’s pronouncements and publicly declared strategy for the capture of state power through active military support to the NTC are therefore acts which already constitute conspiracy or proposal to commit rebellion and coup d’ etat (Art. 136 in relation to Arts. 134 and 134-A, Revised Penal Code), conspiracy to commit sedition (Art. 141 in relation to Art. 139, RPC) or, at the very least, inciting to sedition (Art. 142, RPC), as well as illegal assemblies (Art. 146, RPC),” the justice secretary said.
She explained: “A junta by any other sanitized name is still illegal and unconstitutional. By calling for people power and military support to force the President’s 'resignation' in order to pave the way for a junta, the NTC and its mushrooming allied alphabet soup organizations of discredited government officials consisting of charged plunderers, grafters, and tax evaders, or of those under investigation for such crimes, may have just crossed the line of legitimate dissent.”
“The government will not relent in applying the full force of the law against them in order to protect the people and the State from an unconstitutional and illegal power grab,” De Lima said.
Reports of a coup plot surfaced as President Benigno Aquino III faces the worst crisis of his presidency: a bloodbath in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, that killed 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), 18 Muslim rebels, and at least 3 civilians.
'Perverting nation's grief'
On February 16, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV – a former coup plotter himself – earlier identified Gonzales as among the persons trying to oust Aquino.
“Ang papel ni Norberto Gonzales, manggulo sa Pilipinas,” Trillanes said. (The role of Norberto Gonzales is to sow confusion in the Philippines.)
Rappler is still trying to reach Gonzales as of posting time.
In her statement on Sunday, De Lima accused the NTC of spreading the word about a supposed coup threat. She said the reported threats “are not coup threats in the strict sense of the word” because they “do not come from any section of the government's security forces.”
She said this is part of the NTC's “carefully formulated” strategy – “in the false hope of propagating it legally in the mass media and among supporters without however accruing any criminal liability under the penal laws on rebellion, sedition, and coup d’ etat.”
“This is a false hope, since certain actions already implemented by the group, from organizing foras and conferences of supporters and sympathizers, can already be contemplated as conspiracies relating to sedition, rebellion or coup d’ etat,” De Lima said.
De Lima stressed that “any civilian or religious-led putsch will not succeed” because the military “will never support” a junta led by ex-officials and bishops affiliated with Arroyo.
“It is the height of pathetic gutter politics, when the tragic loss of 44 police officers killed in the line of duty is used by disgraced pathological personalities to crawl their way back to national relevance, at the expense of the people’s effort to come to terms with the complex issue of peace in Mindanao in their search for justice for the SAF 44,” she said.
De Lima said, “The nation is still grieving, and without any sense of shame, these personalities would use the people’s grief to pervert a national catharsis, serving only their own thirst and craving for absolute power by imposing upon this nation a tyranny of religious and political has-beens.”
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, for its part, also rejected extra-constitutional measures as bishops linked with the NTC call on Aquino to quit. (READ: Cardinal Vidal not calling for Aquino resignation – secretary)
The NTC's moves came as various groups and individuals, including the President's uncle, Jose "Peping" Cojuangco, also called on Aquino to quit.
A group led by Cojuangco staged an anti-Aquino rally on Sunday at the EDSA Shrine, a monument to remember the People Power Revolution in 1986 that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos and catapulted the President's mother, Corazon, to power. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.