The top Defense and military officials denied on Sunday, April 18, the existence of a group of retired and active military officers that is reportedly disgruntled over President Duterte’s alleged subservience to China over the issue of the territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
Both the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were reacting to the social media posts about the supposed existence of the so-called Viber 300 composed of military officials who are demanding a stronger statement from Duterte against China. The number allegedly swelled to 500 after Duterte continued to remain mum on the incursion of Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea.
The same social media posts alleged that Viber 500 that includes DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., along with AFP chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana Jr. and former AFP chief of staffs except for vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, threatened of withdrawal of support from Duterte if continued to remain silent on the issue.
“The demand of the Viber 500 and the retired generals in Pres. Duterte’s Cabinet, except retired CSAFP [Chief of Staff AFP Carlito] Galvez, to denounce China’s invasion in the strongest terms possible is now impossible to ignore. A withdrawal of support is very imminent,” said in a tweet by Twitter user @infopsph on April 15. The post was shared in other social media platforms.
“SND [Secretary of National Defense] and CSAFP [Chief of Staff of the AFP] in talks with US counterparts as Pres. Duterte downplays consistent prodding to issue statements against China’s invasion. Pres. Duterte is resorting to appear-disappear tactics to evade the issue. Withdrawal of military support probable if demand is not met,” it added.
The anonymous person behind the account claimed that the Viber Group consisted of junior officers from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Officer Candidate School (OCS), Officer Preparatory Course (OPC), and “other senior officers.”
But Lorenzana and Sobejana said such claims were “fake news.”
“We denounce the irresponsible propaganda being propagated in online posts alleging that a group of retired and active military officers are withdrawing their support for the President. This is fake news!” Lorenzana said in a statement.
“I am not, and will never be, a part of any such group — neither are the officials at the Department of National Defense, many of whom are also retired military officers,” he added.
The Defense Chief, who was among the first Cabinet officials to condemn China over the presence of 220 vessels at Julian Felipe Reef last month, said the disinformation being propagated in social media “is an act of reckless agitation emanating from detractors, who have a limited and myopic appreciation of issues.”
Meanwhile, Sobejana dismissed the alleged existence of a Viber group with claimed membership from among retired or active senior and junior military officers.
Sobejana said that the “sinister” post spread after another message made rounds in social media about “warplanes” from various countries taking off and landing in Clark Airbase.
“It is obvious that the motive of these malicious posts is to create panic and confusion. We advise the public to remain calm and dismiss them as another disinformation The AFP is a professional organization committed to safeguard democracy and protect its democratic institutions,” Sobejana said.
The military chief was referring to a supposed text message circulating in social media which claims that the AFP is now on “red alert” as warplanes allegedly coming from France, United States, Japan, and Australia were flown in at the Clark Air Base to help the Philippines against an imminent attack from China and “Arab” countries.
The text message was allegedly sent by one “Archbishop Martinez” thru information from a “General David.”
“That’s fake news. AFP is on normal alert. No such landings of aircraft from such named countries. So obviously, the only motive of that malicious text is to create panic and confusion. We advise the public to remain calm and dismiss that text as another disinformation,” said Major Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson.
Lorenzana and Sobejana advised the public to be vigilant against these so-called destabilization plots.
“We call on these destabilizers to cease from propagating malicious statements especially at a time when our people should all be coming together in the face of the challenges that we are all currently facing. You are not helping our country and people at all,” Lorenzana said.
“We will focus on our mission and continue to perform our constitutional mandates. We will veer away, as we appeal to all quarters to spare your AFP from partisan politics,” Sobejana said.
“The nation is already saddled with numerous challenges that the AFP must face rather than be distracted by people, groups, and associations advancing their own agenda. We assure our people that your soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines are firmly behind the chain-of-command,” he added.