The Goldberg Plan – Is there a secret US plot to topple Duterte?

Goldberg Plan
Former US ambassador Philip Goldberg greets President Duterte. He is now accused of writing a blueprint for his downfall.

Former US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg has been accused of writing a blueprint for a plot to topple President Duterte.

The existence of a “Goldberg Plan” has been denied by the State Department in Washington and dismissed by a Malacañang spokesman as irrelevant given the president’s popularity.

Details of the plot, which gave a timespan of one-and-a-half years, were allegedly handed to The Manila Times by what the newspaper describes as “a highly placed source”.

In summary, the plan calls on the US government to employ a combination of economic, political and diplomatic moves against the president “to bring him to his knees and eventually remove him from office.”

However, the alleged plan acknowledges how difficult ousting Mr Duterte would be. Quoting Goldberg, it said: “The political actors (the opposition) would need all the political weapons in their arsenal to replace the Duterte administration and … (deposing Duterte) would be a challenge for the opposition.”

Relations between the Malacañang and the former ambassador were increasingly strained before his replacement by Sung Kim. The president famously called him a “gay son of a bitch” after Goldberg criticised his attitude to women.

Speaking in Washington, Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, flatly denied the existence of a Goldberg Plan: “These allegations of a blueprint are false. No such blueprint exists.

“As Secretary Kerry said in his meeting with President Duterte in July, the United States respects the sovereignty of the Philippines and the democratic choices made by the Philippine people in selecting their leaders.”

Malacañang spokesman Ernesto Abella also denied any knowledge of the alleged Goldberg Plan, and added: “As we can all see the president continues to enjoy the trust of the people. And the people on the ground appreciate what he’s doing. So again let me just say that, according to the article, whoever attempts this will find it difficult.”

The as yet unverified Goldberg Plan contains six points of action:

1. The “weakness” of Mr Duterte

Goldberg suggests that the president “has no real friends” outside his Davao stronghold due to his habit of mocking and ridiculing people close to him. He added that the president’s views were “shaped not by ideology or personal ambitions, but by old-fashioned nationalism where he holds the United States accountable for the Philippines’ current state of poverty and dependency.”

2. Highlighting failures

The plan calls for stoking public dissatisfaction with the president over unfulfilled election promises, and track corruption cases to bring down Mr Duterte. It says: “Focus on the needs of the people at the grassroots and assist the opposition groups in delivering those failed promises through USAID – such as alleviation of poverty, housing and education – to name a few.”

3. Political and economic isolation

The plan suggests that the USA could extend military assistance to other ASEAN countries at the expense of the Philippines, and also employ “economic blackmail” to limit the country’s trade with its neighbours. There would also be moves to favour trade with countries such as Japan, Vietnam, and Laos and action to highlight “the basic question of the risk of doing business in the Philippines.”

4. Siding with opposition groups

The plan outlines a policy to strengthen ties with the president’s opponents in the government, the military and police.

5. Planting discontentment

Sowing discontent among the president’s supporters and cultivating the cleavage between congressmen and senators over the Charter Change issue. He also observed that some of the president’s allies were privately becoming concerned over his shift in foreign policy and the apparent left turn in his economic and social agenda.

6. Expose false vision

Utilise the media to expose Duterte’s “false vision for the Filipino people and his dangerous international relationships with China and Russia.” The document also said that the former US ambassador to the Philippines wanted to “know the views of Senator Bongbong Marcos on a variety of issues such as defence co-operation (EDCA), China, human rights and the US-Philippine relations.”

Politicians in the Philippines have largely dismissed the alleged Goldberg Plan.

Senate majority leader Vincent Sotto III said: “If there is such a plan, that will further alienate and strain our relationship with each other as a country.”

He added that he believed Mr Duterte would not ousted because the president had not been implicated in any corruption issue. “The people will accept a politician for most everything except stealing,” he said.

Ako Bicol -list Representative Rodel Batocabe said: “There is always a possibility that the US has some plan or two to destabilise a country, especially if it is taking a direction against its interests.

“As for the fear that Congress will be divided on Charter Change, I have no doubt it will be, since we are not just discussing an insignificant provision but a fundamental change. But then I do not foresee that Charter Change will cause the breakup of the coalition. The popularity of the president will be the major determinant on whether the coalition will hold or not.”

Presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said the alleged Goldberg Plan was just “part and parcel of a larger conspiracy theory.”

“No one will admit ownership of the alleged ouster plot document.”

“Ambassador Philip Goldberg has already exited the Philippines, so therefore, we no longer have to deal with him. We have already in our midst a new and much more empathetic US Ambassador in His Excellency Sung Kim.”