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Duterte unfazed by reports of disgruntled soldiers
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque dismissed as “kwentong kutsero” or hearsay, claims that some soldiers no longer support Duterte’s leadership and expressed confidence that the military would continue to respect the Constitution.
Presidential Photo/Simeon Celi, Jr.

Duterte unfazed by reports of disgruntled soldiers

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - April 20, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte is not bothered by reports that some retired and active soldiers are planning to withdraw their support for him over his supposed silence on China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque dismissed as “kwentong kutsero” or hearsay, claims that some soldiers no longer support Duterte’s leadership and expressed confidence that the military would continue to respect the Constitution.

“The President is not bothered. The President knows that he is loyal to the Constitution and he knows that our soldiers respect our Constitution,” Roque said in Filipino at a press briefing.

“It’s just a hearsay. We believe that all of our soldiers are loyal to the Republic and they know that this is not the time for politics,” he added.

Roque said Duterte is aware that the armed forces could oust him anytime if they want to. The President had said that the military would have removed him from his post a long time ago if he were incompetent, the Palace spokesman added.

“He knows that the military can have anybody ousted but he is confident that there is no reason for soldiers to act that way,” Roque continued.

“Elections will be held in a year and we can elect the person we want to elect. If they think the policies of the President are not acceptable, then do not vote for the candidate of the President,” he added.

Rumors have been swirling about the alleged existence of a Viber group composed of hundreds of active and retired military officers who want Duterte to condemn China’s actions in the West Philippine Sea.

The rumors surfaced after the Philippine government filed diplomatic protests against the presence of several Chinese ships in Julian Felipe Reef, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

Twitter user @infopsph, which floated the supposed existence of the Viber group, claimed that the withdrawal of military support is “probable” unless Duterte condemns China’s actions.

The military and the defense department have dismissed the supposed plan of some soldiers to withdraw their support for the President as “fake news.”

Roque said he could not understand why critics want Duterte to speak about the West Philippine Sea issue even if the defense and foreign affairs departments have issued strong statements on the maritime row.

“(We have the) doctrine of qualified political agency. If the President did not disown what his alter egos said, it would be as if he is the one talking. He does not need to talk,” he said.

“The constitutional doctrine says that the utterances of the alter egos are utterances of the President unless the President renounces them, and he did not renounce them. So, those remain official utterances of the highest officialdom of government,” Roque added.

He said while the Philippines has collective security arrangements, including the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US, it has to stand on its own feet with regard to the West Philippine Sea issue.

“Based on our experience, while we have documents stating that we will be assisted if we are attacked, we lost two islands and we did not get any help from our partner in the Mutual Defense Treaty,” Roque said.

“The lesson is we need to stand on our own feet... In the end, we have to assert our national interest and that is what the President is doing,” he added.

Roque said Duterte has vowed not to give away any part of the Philippines’ territory during the United Nations General Assembly.

Pledge of loyalty

Amid coup rumors, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana reassured the public yesterday of the military’s loyalty to the chain of command, with Duterte at the helm as commander-in-chief.

He also stressed that he is not part of the so-called Viber group.

“There is no truth to the posts circulating online that the chief of staff is part of a Viber group,” he stressed, a day after he and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana dismissed circulating information as “fake news.”

On the issue of the West Philippine Sea and the continuing presence of Chinese vessels in the area, particularly in Julian Felipe Reef, Sobejana said the AFP trusts the government’s management of the situation in the disputed area and its diplomatic thrust in protecting the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the country.

“Nevertheless, the military leadership takes cognizance of the presence of individuals and groups that are determined and are engaged in orchestrated efforts to undermine the government,” he said.

“These groups discredit our efforts through fake news intended to agitate and confuse the people to turn against our government or support those who are already rebelling against it. We therefore advise the public to remain calm and dismiss this as propaganda,” he added.

Sobejana emphasized that the AFP “commits to the nation its unflinching loyalty to the Constitution and the duly constituted authorities. We assure our people that the soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines of the AFP are firmly behind the chain-of-command.”

Illegal fishing at WPS

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (DA) through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said it is still finalizing its study on illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in the West Philippine Sea.

“The DA-BFAR looks at the ‘West Philippine Sea issue’ in general terms, that is, in the area of ‘Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported Fishing’ (IUUF) activities by poachers – be they from China, Taiwan and Vietnam – and their ‘illegal presence’ wherever in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), or simply within our country’s territorial waters,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a statement.

“The DA-BFAR is finalizing its study on IUUF in the West Philippine Sea,” he added.

Over the weekend, Sen. Francis Pangilinan warned of a potential fish supply shortage if Chinese presence remains in the traditional Filipino fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea.

Pangilinan cited earlier reports which showed that Zambales fisherfolk on Saturday blamed their dwindling catch to the presence of at least 20 Chinese vessels anchored around 111 kilometers from San Antonio, Zambales.

According to the fishermen, they usually earn as much as P4,000 per fishing trip but they are now coming back almost empty-handed due to the scarcity of their catch.

Sought for comment on the issue, Agriculture Undersecretary for fisheries Cheryl Marie Natividad- Caballero said there should be stronger fisheries law enforcement by BFAR and in cooperation with the Philippine Coast Guard to protect local fisherfolk fishing in the Philippine territorial waters and EEZ.

She said there should also be more collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs to protest the presence of Chinese vessels, and that the rule of law must be upheld. – Michael Punongbayan, Catherine Talavera

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