The Philippine military on Friday said communist insurgents were recruiting prospective fighters from the country’s top universities in a plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte, a claim education officials rejected.
The military named 18 universities in Manila, including the state-run University of the Philippines (UP) where students have a tradition of questioning government policies. The university has produced the country’s leading politicians, lawyers and other professionals.
The listed universities were “possibly used as venues” for organizing and mobilizing students by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed unit, the New People’s Army (NPA), military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgardo Arevalo said in a statement.
“We are firm in our position that some of the schools in that list have been, and are widely known to have been used as fora for communist recruitment,” Arevalo said.
He said rebels were being agitated toward activism before being mobilized and recruited to the ranks of “political cadres” of the CPP-NPA.
Arevalo came out with the statement after military officials said they uncovered a plot to oust Duterte, called “Red October.” The plot was to take place in the middle of the month and allegedly involved members of the political opposition.
Details of the plot emerged when Duterte announced it in a speech last month. Duterte claimed that his political nemesis, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, was conniving with CPP founder Jose Maria Sison and the political opposition to oust him, with the plot expected to accelerate in October.
The president promised to release details within days, but has not done so. Instead, the military said it had uncovered the plot.
Defense analysts and military historians have expressed skepticism. Trillanes, a former navy lieutenant, and his military fraternity have flatly rejected the report.
Still, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque reiterated that members of opposition were conniving with communist leaders. He said there was no inconsistency between the statements of the president and the military.
“I’m sure individual members of the Liberal Party, as the president said, may be in collusion with the CPP-NPA,” Roque said Friday.
“It could be true there’s no formal memorandum of agreement between the party itself and the CPP-NPA, but it does not prevent leading personalities within the Liberal Party from having such collusion,” he said.
Arevalo said releasing the names of the universities was not “intended to brand those schools as communists.”
“In doing this, the AFP wants to create awareness among our people, especially parents who were complaining and asking for our help,” Arevalo said, referring to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“As a good number of us in the AFP are parents ourselves, we join the multitude of parents wary of this creeping indoctrination of their children that tend to draw them into activism and radicalism. Beware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing,” Arevalo said.
“Thus we caution school administrations and parents about some members of the NPA infiltrating the schools.”
Armed forces chief Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. claimed that communist rebels were actively organizing in the campuses, and vowed to “reveal the documents” linked to the alleged ouster plot to senators in a closed-door session.
The CPP, which has been waging Asia’s longest running insurgency since 1969, denied the conspiracy, adding the military was out to discredit organizations where intellectual discourse were free and open.
“The CPP denounces the Armed Forces of the Philippines for conjuring this fictional plot which clearly aims to set the stage for applying increasingly draconian measures against the Filipino people,” the CPP said in a statement.
Student leaders respond
Francis Santos, president of the student council at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), slammed the military report, branding it as preposterous allegation. UST, a Catholic school founded in 1611, also made the military’s list.
“I believe that as an institution, the AFP must do due diligence to verify and to ensure the veracity of intelligence information because it has now put the security of the students and of the university at risk,” Santos said in statement.
UP Student Regent Ivy Joy Taroma said Duterte was ignoring students’ calls for change and genuine reforms and instead responded with “unrestrained state fascism.”
“He has red tagged institutions, youth groups and individuals and has exposed them to grave peril,” Taroma said.
Mark Navales in Cotabato contributed to this report.