Officials confirm existence of several Viber groups

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National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 19) — Top security officials and military insiders confirmed the existence of several Viber groups among retired and active military officers who intensely discuss many issues, with some of the group members being described as "very opinionated."

"There is a Viber group of retired officers who talk about politics. There are about 400 members," National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon told CNN Philippines.

Esperon did not elaborate if this was the same group being referred to in vague social media posts supposedly demanding for government "to denounce China's invasion in the strongest possible terms."

In a Facebook post, Southern Luzon Command chief, LtGen Antonio Parlade said he is also a member of one of the Viber groups composed "of active but mostly retired officers."

"A few were commenting of (President Rodrigo Duterte's) actions/inactions: his cursing, being unchristian, (pro-China), divisive to our society, putting commies in Cabinet and more," Parlade said.

While these chat groups exist, there was "not a single mention or discussion" of alleged plans to withdraw support from the Duterte administration, according to two military sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"That is fake news meant to initiate, agitate, arouse, organize, and mobilize the public," a retired officer told CNN Philippines.

"I know of some discussions (regarding) what is happening (in the West Philippine Sea) but more on how to address the issue from kinetic to non-kinetic actions," an active military officer said. "But nothing on making demands."

Esperon describes some members of a military Viber group as "very opinionated."

"The opposition will like them, but this group wants to be independent," Esperon added.

The Department of National Defense and the Armed Forces of the Philippines issued separate statements on Sunday denying claims they were withdrawing support from their Commander-in-Chief over his handling of issues hounding the country's claim on the West Philippine Sea.

DND, AFP deny claims of their withdrawal of support for Duterte

Both DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and AFP chief General Cirilito Sobejano labeled as "fake news" online posts implying destabilization plots against the current administration.

Asked if they have tracked who were behind these claims Lorenzana said, "We already have an idea who but we are confirming our suspicion."

Esperon also called these alleged plans by defense and military groups as mere empty threats.

"Destabilization? Hot air! I have quelled so many of them since the 80s," said Esperon, who was also AFP chief when rebel soldiers launched failed attempts to unseat then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in mid-2000.