MANILA, Philippines – Coup plotter-turned-senator Antonio Trillanes IV named former national security adviser Norberto Gonzales as among those allegedly plotting to oust President Benigno Aquino III in the wake of the Mamasapano clash.
An Aquino ally, Trillanes answered “yes,” when asked in an interview with reporters on Monday, February 16 whether or not Gonzales was part of the coup plot he and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago separately discussed in public.
Asked what Gonzales’ role was, Trillanes said, “Ang papel ni Norberto Gonzales, manggulo sa Pilipinas.” (The role of Norberto Gonzales is to sow confusion in the Philippines.)
The former Navy lieutenant senior grade said someone is funding Gonzales’ alleged coup plot but the senator added that he was not sure if this was the same “rich man” Santiago mentioned.
“My exact term was ‘may mga nagpaplanong magpatalsik’ (there are people planning to oust the President) so it’s not really the conventional coup but they’re hoping to recruit members, active members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the Philippine National Police,” Trillanes said.
Gonzales was twice the defense secretary of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, first from July to August 2007, and then from November 2009 to June 2010. He was also national security adviser, and concurrent director general of the National Security Council during the Arroyo administration.
Rappler tried to get Gonzales’ side but he has yet to respond.
In a Senate hearing on the Maguindanao encounter last Thursday, February 12, Santiago said that “a wealthy Filipino” was behind a coup plot against Aquino.
Santiago said then: “I have intelligence [information] as of yesterday that leaders of certain alphabet soup acronyms who are familiar with the public had a recent meeting because they wanted to discuss how to stage a coup d’etat, who should be installed as President, and even their contributors were there.”
‘No influence but…’
Trillanes said that while the public must be vigilant, Filipinos should not be “alarmed” because Gonzales has no followers among active soldiers in the military.
“Wala, wala siyang influence whatsoever pero he is trying to project as if he has one," Trillanes said. (None, he has no influence whatsoever but he is trying to project as if he has one.)
Still, Trillanes said that the country’s security officials must not let their guard down. He spoke from his experience of leading coup attempts to protest corruption in the military under the Arroyo administration.
“We can’t be complacent because having experienced this, makakuha ka lang ng isang sundalong disgruntled na may valid grievances, this can become a very bad situation for this administration so iyan ang hino-hope natin ‘di mag-meet ang mga ganoon.” (If you only get one disgruntled soldier with valid grievances, this can become a very bad situation for this administration so that’s what we are hoping that these people will not meet.)
Talk of coup plots is rife following the January 25 encounter in Mamasapano, Maguindanao that killed 44 elite cops, 18 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and 3 civilians. It was the biggest loss of government forces in a single encounter.
Aquino’s alleged involvement in planning the mission, and police allegations that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) failed to respond quickly to the cops’ requests for reinforcement reportedly caused low morale among uniformed officers.
The clash is the biggest security controversy to hit Aquino, and threatens to derail his intended legacy: a successful peace process with the MILF after 17 years of talks.
‘Exposing coup plot is best deterrent’
Even before the congressional hearings into the incident, Trillanes already warned that politicians, leftist groups and “some elements of the Catholic Church” were organizing to take advantage of public outrage on the clash.
In the hearing last week, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the government is investigating the alleged conspiracy Santiago mentioned.
“As far as a coup d’etat is concerned, it will entail the support of the military, and we are very confident that the military will not be involved,” Gazmin said.
For Trillanes, the call of some bishops for Aquino to resign “must be listened to.”
The National Transformation Council (NTC), which counts some bishops as members, has been calling for Aquino’s resignation over the Mamasapano encounter. The group describes itself as an “ecumenical and interfaith collective” working to bring “common good for Philippine society.”
Gonzales was present in an NTC gathering in Cebu on Friday, which also included former senator Francisco Tatad, and former Interior Undersecretary Lito Ruiz. Gonzales and Ruiz both served the Arroyo administration.
Despite the resignation calls and alleged movements, Trillanes gave first-hand advice on how to stop coup plotters.
“Having experienced this, the best deterrent there is to expose them because we know who are the ones recruiting. This is so that the Armed Forces will also be alarmed.”
“Because that was our instinct before. When it’s already out in the media, we will lie low so that’s what we should also do here to monitor these people.” – Rappler.com