[OPINION] The hunt for ‘Red October’

 

In 1984, Tom Clancy wrote a best-selling novel titled, The Hunt for Red October about a Russian naval captain’s defection to the United States, bringing with him Russia’s most advanced nuclear-armed submarine.

Last week, the term “Red October” appeared in another work of fiction, this time co-authored by Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Carlito Galvez Jr and his deputy chief of operations, General Antonio Parlade Jr.

In the Philippine version, Red October is not a high-tech submarine gone rogue, but a plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte from power. 

In an exclusive interview on Tina Monzon-Palma’s Independence series aired over the Asian News Channel (ANC) on September 21, the 46th anniversary of the Marcos declaration of Martial Law, the two generals revealed that the plot is spearheaded by the Communist Party of the Philippines (hence the code name Red October, referring to the October 2017 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia) and involves a “grand coalition” with the Liberal Party, the Magdalo group, and broad anti-Duterte coalitions namely, the Movement Against Tyranny, Coalition for Justice, and Tindig Pilipinas. Also supposedly involved are labor groups, student activist groups, and Mindanao-based Lumad organizations.

In other words, just about anyone with a gripe against Duterte.

Proof of the alleged ouster plot, said the two generals, were captured documents and computer files from New People’s Army as well as information given by rebel sources. 

A phantom plot

Like the submarine in the Clancy novel, the anti-Duterte Red October plot is proving elusive. Apparently, it is so stealthily done no one knows about it, even those who are supposedly part of the conspiracy.

The ouster was supposed to have happened on September 21, with a rally at the Luneta to be attended by the New People’s Army (NPA). But the day came and went without the NPA figuring in any protest action. In fact, the United Peoples Action rally at the Luneta was done in close coordination with the local government of Manila and the NCR PNP (National Capital Region Philippine National Police) command, which even called for a meeting with rally organizers attended by officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Joint Task Force for NCR. 

The September 21 Luneta rally did not call for Duterte’s action but demanded “never again” to Marcosian Martial Law and authoritarian rule.

After that, the AFP changed tack, saying that the ouster plot was a “rolling plan” and that since nothing happened in September, then most likely the move to oust Duterte would happen in October, November, or December.

What followed was a tri-media offensive which saw Parlade and AFP Spokesperson Colonel Edgard Arevalo doing the rounds of talk shows and media fora, trying very hard to explain that while they had thwarted the plot for now, it was still very much real and that any issue – from the rice shortage, high prices, extrajudicial killings, labor contractualization, dislocation of Lumad communities – will be exploited by the grand anti-Duterte coalition to oust the President.

The two officials added that groups involved in Duterte’s ouster may not even know it, since they are being used “unwittingly” by the plotters. 

The AFP became so desperate to foist the alleged plot on the public that it even hijacked a raid by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on a suspected gun-for-hire den in Teresa, Rizal, claiming that the guns captured were to be used in the Red October plot. The NBI, in a seeming rebuke of the AFP storyline, clarified in a press conference that their raid had nothing to do with the so-called ouster plot.

A broad front against Duterte’s tyranny

The groups mentioned by the AFP top brass are real enough. In fact, except for the CPP, these groups have been constantly meeting since early this year, first under the aegis of the Coalition for Justice (CfJ), which opposed then chief justice Lourdes Sereno’s removal via quo warranto. 

The same groups would later spearhead the July 23 United People’s SONA rally, the biggest and broadest anti-government protest so far. It also planned the September 21 Luneta rally to warn against what they fear is Duterte’s impending dictatorship. 

Among the advocacies that unite these ideologically and politically disparate groups are the fight against extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations, federalism and charter change, the blatant attacks on the system of checks and balances as shown by CJ Sereno’s removal from office, the political persecution of Duterte’s critics, including Senators Leila de Lima, Sonny Trillanes and the Makabayan 4, Duterte’s vulgar and misogynist statements, as well as a plethora of sectoral issues like labor contractualization, the attacks on Lumad and other indigenous peoples’ communities, the TRAIN law, high prices, and the rice crisis. 

In all the joint rallies, fora, and public gatherings held by these groups, at no time was Duterte’s ouster ever on the agenda, much less his forcible removal by armed force.

Generals Galvez, Parlade, and Colonel Arevalo could not cite any document, forum, gathering or meeting where said groups actually conspired to oust Duterte. Pressed to give details of the plot, Parlade and AFP Spokesperson Arevalo could only mention the standard line that the NPAs were recruiting from the ranks of the protesters and were agitating people to topple the government. 

Pressed for further proof of the plot, they went to the extent of showing the media a cover page of an alleged intelligence report stamped “secret” and several laptops that allegedly contained information on the plot. But they never showed the actual documents or computer files.

Red baiting

The truth about the Red October plot is that there is no plot.

While there are many who have expressed their desire for Duterte to resign or be ousted, there is no conspiracy or concerted effort by the groups mentioned to destabilize or forcibly remove Duterte from power. 

The AFP’S exposé was aimed to discredit and sabotage the September 21 Luneta rally through red baiting and sowing intrigue among the anti-Duterte groups. It is also meant to derail the emerging broad opposition against the Duterte regime on legitimate issues and grievances – tyranny and the threat of dictatorship, the economic crisis, and various sectoral issues and concerns.

But there is a more insidious aspect to all this. In the same interview where he revealed the Red October plot, General Galvez mentioned the AFP’s proposal to create an inter-agency task force that would tap various civilian agencies in the counter-insurgency war. If and when this happens, we can expect a more repressive and militarist response to Duterte critics, political dissenters, and so-called “enemies of the state.” 

Worse, the Red October plot can also be used as a pretext to declare martial law nationwide and crack down on all opposition groups, just like what Marcos did 46 years ago. – Rappler.com