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Duterte dares Philippine military to stage a coup

President faces backlash over order to arrest vocal critic

President Rodrigo Duterte claims he holds evidence of a military plot against him.    © Reuters

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday challenged the Philippine military to remove him from office as speculation swirled about a hostile takeover attempt by the opposition.

"I'm leaving it to them," Duterte said of the military in an interview with his legal adviser, aired on the state broadcaster. "If you want another president, [it's] fine."

The military, which has a history of influencing politics, has denied any involvement in alleged moves to unseat Duterte. But speculation of opposition plans to oust the president is mounting amid a public backlash over his order to arrest Senator Antonio Trillanes, one of his most vocal critics.

Duterte voided Trillanes' amnesty deal granted under a previous government over his involvement in failed coup attempts a decade ago on technical grounds.

The arrest order emboldened Trillanes to increase his criticism of Duterte. Holed up in the senate building to avoid arrest, Trillanes said some military officers had given him documents that would dispute Duterte's order and that the president did not control the armed forces. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied the senator's plea to overturn the president's order.

Duterte's critics say there is no plot afoot to remove him, despite the president saying he has information about an alleged plan.

Philippine Senator Antonio Trillanes speaks to the media in Manila.   © Reuters

"I urge you to go to Trillanes. Go to them and stage a mutiny or revolution or whatever. You are free to do that," Duterte said. "As a matter of fact, I am encouraging you just for it to be over."

Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, insisted there would be no rebellion. The military, he said, was loyal to the constitution and would always obey the chain of command.

"While I am aware that the troops have individual views on many issues, those merely hallmark an intelligent and matured organization like the AFP. But we always put the interest of the organization and the nation above our own," he said over the weekend.

The Philippine military has been a decisive political force since 1986, and has helped in the ouster of at least two Philippine presidents. In 1986, the people power revolution which ousted former dictator Ferdinand Marcos was kicked off when his defense minister and vice chief-of-staff withdrew support.

In 2001, former President Joseph Estrada stepped down after corruption allegations triggered a second revolution. The military's withdrawal of support was instrumental in Estrada's ouster.

Trillanes, a former navy lieutenant, led an unsuccessful coup against then-President Gloria Arroyo in 2003. His group mounted another attempt to seize power in 2007.

Former President Corazon Aquino survived several coup attempts from 1986 to 1990 led by disgruntled soldiers who sought to regain powers lost during Marcos' martial law era.

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said Duterte's pronouncements were meant to pre-empt any military moves against him.

"You cannot disregard it," Casiple said. "It's that kind of situation where the possibility is there."

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