AFP chief warns troops vs joining ‘destabilization’
MANILA, Philippines — Alleged efforts to oust President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. instigated by some retired military officers have prompted Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. to warn troops who participate in any move to destabilize the administration that the military would act “swiftly but judiciously” against them.
But National Security Adviser Eduardo Año immediately sought to allay any fears of military unrest and dismissed notions that the Marcos administration would be overthrown, saying that Brawner was “misquoted or misinterpreted” by the media when he spoke on Friday.
While there were indeed “healthy and passionate exchanges/debates among some retired or former military officers and even some criticism against certain policies of the current administration,” these were “within the bounds of our democratic space,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
“Although often abused, they are part of the freedom of expression where most are academic discussions or politically motivated,” Año said.
AFP spokesperson Col. Medel Aguilar also said Brawner was “simply misquoted” and “merely mentioned the reported efforts by certain individuals to upset the peace and stability that the country is enjoying right now” under the president’s leadership.
“Therefrom, General Brawner again reminded all AFP personnel to remain professional and loyal to their oath to protect the people and the state,” he said in a statement.
However, in his speech at a change of command ceremony at the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City on Friday, Brawner himself used the term “destabilization efforts” but gave scant details.
The military chief reaffirmed the AFP leadership’s commitment to the chain of command and the duly constituted authorities of the country.
Speaking in Filipino, Brawner said: “Marami po tayong naririnig ngayon, mga mga, masasabi nating mga destabilization efforts.” (We are hearing a lot of what we can call as destabilization efforts.)
“May mga nagsasabi na dapat palitan ang ating pangulo dahil sa maraming rason.
May mga nagsasabi na dapat ay magkaroon ulit ng coup d’etat.” (Some are saying that we should change our president for a variety of reasons. Others say that there should be a coup d’etat again.)
“And sadly, some of them were former officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Brawner added.
He said he had spoken with several of the retired officers, telling them that they had the right to express their sentiments “because we are in a democracy.”
“But please do not involve the active personnel of the AFP,” he told them.
Brawner said there were “many who are encouraging our individual members” to join these kinds of movements.
“Once we find out that anyone of our active personnel is involved in this, we will act swiftly but judiciously,” he said.
Speaking to journalists after the ceremony, Brawner downplayed the extent of the destabilization efforts.
“Wala naman tayong naririnig na malawakang galawan but may mga (movements) ’nung Sept. 21; may mga grupo na nagsasabi na mag-rally tayo,” he said. (We are not hearing about any widespread movement but there were some last Sept. 21; there were groups calling for a rally.)
Sept. 21 is the date when the late dictator and the President’s father and namesake imposed martial law in the Philippines in 1972 and began his one-man rule. He was ousted by the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, which was triggered by a break-away faction in the military.
“We are warning our soldiers not to join any of this movement (as) we want our country to move forward, to progress,” Brawner told reporters.
One group that Brawner alluded to was the “TNTrio,” which had accused Smartmatic and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of colluding to rig the results of the 2022 presidential elections.
The group was originally composed of retired Army Gen. Eliseo Rio, a former secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology, ex-Comelec Commissioner Augusto Lagman, and former banker Franklyn Isaac. They have been joined by retired Army Col. Leonardo Odoño, businessman Edwin Fernandez, and retired Comelec lawyer Melchor Magdamo.
On his Facebook page on Saturday, Rio said: “For the record, the TNTrio and the September Twenty-One Reform Movement (STORM), some members of whom are retired AFP officers, never advocated for any destabilization moves.”
High trust rating
He said no one in these groups had spoken with Brawner regarding any plot to replace Mr. Marcos.
Rio said they were only pursuing electoral reforms and were moved by the alleged irregularities in the 2022 polls. He said they had been using “all legal means in this quest” since they started in July last year.
“We know that there are now issues that are causing a serious split between the Marcos and the Duterte camps like the ICC [International Criminal Court], CIF (confidential and intelligence funds), proposals of civil disobedience like not paying taxes, and using the military to conduct lifestyle checks on members of the Congress, etc. Talks of destabilizations may be the results of these issues,” Rio added.
Año, a former military chief of staff himself, said the Marcos administration’s trust rating remained high, which meant that the people “are satisfied with the performance of the government in delivering services to the people and addressing all concerns and issues to include protecting our sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the West Philippine Sea.”
“The AFP and the entire security sector are loyal to the commander in chief and will not be influenced to join any destabilization plot against the government. The security sector shall remain vigilant and ready to take immediate action against any sinister group that will undermine our national security,” he said.
Reacting to Brawner’s statements, political scientist Cleve Arguelles, president and CEO of the research firm WR Numero Research, said talks of coup plots “must not be taken lightly.”
“If retired officers are involved, how are they going to be lawfully dealt with? The AFP chief should clarify it with the nation. His men can’t walk back a statement like that for him,” Arguelles told the Inquirer.
Dindo Manhit, president of the research organization ADR Stratbase, said Brawner’s remarks were “really a concern,” given the current external security challenges.
“As a sitting chief of staff, a respected one, delivering a speech, I find it credible and I find it a concern especially since we have external security challenges,” he told the Inquirer.
Manhit said in an interview with the Inquirer that there was “no reason for any destabilization” despite a drop in the President’s approval rating from 70 percent to 65 percent in the latest Pulse Asia survey released early last month.
“Any destabilization effort might simply be caused by forces out there who really go against the policy of government,” he said. “Right now, the most critical policy is our security and foreign policy that’s being built around by countries who support and share our values for a rules-based order.”