Antonio Trillanes: 24-minute disaster on BBC



I HAVE been watching BBC’s HARDtalk from way back when Tim Sebastian was still its host, and since Stephen Sackur took over the interview program in 2004. I thought and still think it is far and away the toughest interview show on television, daring to grill its titled subjects with tough questioning and pulling no punches.

Over the years, I have idly hoped that HARDtalk would get around to interviewing Filipino Presidents, so we could see them squirm and bluff their way through the ordeal. I deliciously imagined Noynoy Aquino on the hot seat, melting like butter.

So, it was disappointing that for HARDtalk’s first interview of a Filipino political figure, Stephen Sackur picked, of all people, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, the man who can’t be embarrassed by no matter how many pratfalls. If, as Konrad Adenauer said, “a thick skin is a gift from God,” Trillanes was given two hides.

BBC gave up, I surmise, on getting an interview with President Rodrigo Duterte, who measures up better with the program’s caliber of interviewees: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez (who rarely granted interviews to Western media), Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, South African President Thabo Mbeki, the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, Burmese President Thein Sein, who led Burma’s military junta (“the interview made headlines around the world”); and President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who “rarely gives interviews” and whom Sackur subsequently described as “living in a parallel universe, a place where embarrassment does not exist.”

Trillanes as substitute

The HARDtalk team led by Stephen Sackur probably thought that with Trillanes, they would be getting a colorful and interesting substitute. They got deceived by the two coup attempts that went nowhere, and Trillanes’ election to the Senate in spite of them.

But what HARDtalk got instead may be the dullest interview it has ever done, with the interviewee repeatedly failing to understand the questions.

You can watch all 24 minutes of the interview on Youtube, Showbiz government, and Facebook, where netizens are gleefully sharing the piece with friends the world over.

Readers, be warned, this is not just hard talk, this is excruciating to watch.

No one does it like Duterte

The HARDtalk interview opens low-key with this introduction by Sackur: “When it comes to populist politics delivered with menace and robust action, no one does it quite like Rodrigo Duterte, elected President of the Philippines a year ago. Since he came to power, around 7,000 people have been killed in his war on drugs and crime. Human rights groups are aghast, but a majority of Filipinos seem to admire his iron fist policy. Is President Duterte taking the Philippines and the region in a new direction?”

Trillanes did not understand the question. He looked bewildered from the start.

Throughout his public life, Trillanes has been seeking the spotlight, especially on the global stage. Yet here he was, handed a megaphone by the BBC, the premier broadcast news media today, and he had no clue how to use the platform to amplify his message and advance his political program in the Philippines.

Sackur prepared, Trillanes not

As the conversation unfolded, it became plain that the conversation was uneven. Trillanes knew nothing about HARDtalk and Sackur. Sackur had taken time to do research on Trillanes and the Philippine situation.

Sackur is no mere broadcaster with a microphone. He knows his stuff. He was schooled at Cambridge and Harvard. He has been based in the Middle East and Washington, D. C. He was embedded with British forces in the Gulf War. And he has seen some of the toughest leaders rise and fall. He did his homework on Trillanes.

Describing Trillanes as one of the fiercest critics of DU30, Sackur remarked that now is a difficult time in the Philippines. He cited in some detail the situation in Mindanao. He suggested that as the President has said, it is time for Filipinos to unify behind the government in order to resolve the crisis in Marawi successfully.

He then placed the senator on the spot by asking whether he supports the President in this situation.

Trillanes adamantly parried the question by claiming that the President has created his own crisis. He agrees that the Mautes have created a crisis in Marawi, but he contends that martial law is not the answer. The AFP can effectively handle this kind of crisis, and its action is what is needed now.

Sackur quoted Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez to establish a link between the Maute rebellion and the drug war. He quoted PDEA on the drug situation. Trillanes sought to dispute this portrait of the drug situation by offering his own figures.

Sackur interrupted Trillanes’ spiel to ask: “Are you a democrat?” the senator did not understand the question. He answered that he is a member of the Nacionalista party in the Philippines, which of course is no definition of democracy.

When Sackur described how DU30 during the election campaign spoke of crushing the drug trade through the drug war, Trillanes dismissed government figures as just campaign rhetoric. The country’s real drug situation is far from what DU30 has described it.

The interview shifted to the subject of Arthur Lascañas and Trillanes’ efforts to get him to testify against DU30.
Sackur asked the senator directly, “Do you believe Lascañas’ story?” Trillanes readily said yes.

Sackur then observed how odd it is that the senator, with his experience, is placing so much faith in Lascañas, a confessed murderer.

This set up Sackur’s next point, as he turned the discussion to the subject of Trillanes’ role in two coup attempts, in 2003 and in2007, against the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He described the failed coups as “pathetic.”

Sackur questioned Trillanes’ democratic faith: “Do you consider a coup a legitimate response to your country’s political situation?” No, Trillanes declared, he does not. Terrorism must be stopped. But martial law is not the answer. The armed forces are the remedy.

Sackur wondered about the senator’s many-sided effort to remove Duterte from the presidency, including impeachment, and the filing of a case at the International Criminal Court. Sackur dismissed the ICC plan as fruitless, saying the court may not even notice the complaint.

DU30 doing a decent job

The interview ended with Sackur telling Trillanes: “In spite of all your fears, President Duterte is doing a decent job: 7 percent growth rate, which the World Bank says will continue.”

As it was, the HARDtalk interview with Trillanes was more positive for the President, than it was for the senator. Had the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) set up the interview, they could not have wished for better.

For Trillanes, this interview was a disaster. For the opposition, it was a setback.

The event is over, but it is on record. And it is on the Internet.

Here was an opportunity to publicly make the case against Duterte on global TV, but Trillanes, the politician of ever uncertain loyalties, wound up boosting the President’s standing and tarnishing his own.

Post-HARDtalk press conference

Reviewing the interview, it’s hard not to conclude that Sackur was professional and focused throughout, while Trillanes appeared to be barking gibberish, not giving much thought to what he said.

Trillanes’ performance reeked of straining too hard to score, and missing his target altogether. There can be little doubt of where his project of unseating Duterte is tending.

It’s an indication of how badly Trillanes fared in HARDtalk that he immediately scheduled a press conference for himself after the broadcast. He appeared at the Kapihan sa Senado, where he addressed members of the Senate press corps. He tried to shift the discussion away from what was asked and what he said on BBC, toward a discussion of the cases of police officials accused of killing Mayor Espinosa.

At the press con, he did not say a word about HARDtalk. He has had enough.


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  1. Romeo Aglugub on

    It’s payback time for Trillanes, Self Destruction! What you sow is what you reap!

  2. Everything has been said. Antonio successfully nailed himself. The other ugly truth proven by this interview is that this country has bunch of mediocre, self-vested interest, hypocrite, insincere Local journalist. Mr. Suckor just did what is expected from a journalist/interviewer – ask questions that are relevant to the viewer, expound if necessary by citing with probable facts which is very basic. So basic, right? Why our local news media can’t do the same? Their interviews are rehearsed, part-of-the-plot show, tainted with obvious propaganda – with a deliberate intent to manipulate! Local journalist should review, discern, check their hearts if they are still in the right place and set the bar higher than what people can expect from them. No wonder ordinary Filipinos are not interested on local politics since the time of Luna, Bonifacio and Rizal because they always knew since then – everyday is business as usual. Same names -same business. Many are wrong when they say that MOST of Filipino’s are only interested in novela’s or TV drama and know-nothing about our society. Proof of that is the May 2016 election, it gave the people a set of options – with Duterte in it. Now you see radical change in terms of people engagement about everything in our society both in traditional and non-traditional medium of communication. So in short, we actually don’t need a foreign media to proved to everyone that Mr. Trillanes views and principles are unfounded and not in tune with the nations interest. All you have to do People in the Media is to be at your best everyday with the people’s interest in your heart.

    • well for the truth is journalism is for sale. You have to spend money then they will write what you want to advertized

  3. A lot has been said about Sen. Trillanes. But we are who we vote as our leaders.

  4. Robert Arellano on

    De Lima, down. Hontiveros, down. Trillanes, down. Who’s next? Kiko? Bring it on!

  5. Damage control moves…
    1. Rappler article
    2. AMA Reddit
    3. Kapehan sa Sabado…

    Galing ah!

  6. Allen Llamar on

    Are you a Democrat Mr. Trillanes? Trillanes answered Iam a member of Nacionalista party. OMG

  7. The Great Defiant on

    the filliping people did not vote porky drilon, hontivirus, pagapag boy bam, kiko matsing. delimaw or lugaw.

    PCOS voted for them.
    anyway, next lection, the Filipino people will prove that without the help of PCOS.

  8. Maybe we have to change the qualifications of those running for higher office.Enough of those comedians,actors,charlatans and nincompoops.

  9. Ernesto Dela Cruz on

    Trillanes is synonymous to the word FAILURE. He’s a shallow, murky character whose allegiance is to himself alone and to whoever can pay him. Whatever he tried to do, failed. He is a mercenary of falsehood. His only success is in milking hundreds of millions of pesos from cowards and opportunists (both with lots of money) who are serving their own agenda. His loyalty is to money. He has long ago lost the sense of embarrassment and guilt. He’s so thick-faced a .45 bullet cannot pierce any part of his face. That’s why RITs avoid taking a contract for him, ‘coz it’s so difficult to kill him. He wears vest most of the time, and his face is impenetrable. Maybe the only chance a shooter has is if he could shoot Trillanes at the back of his head. His time will come and maybe it’s sooner than we expect. Karma is alive and looking for him.

  10. Amnata Pundit on

    HARDTALK should invite Drilon, Bam Aquino, De Lima, Riza Hontiveros, Kiko Pangilinan and Leni Robredo to show the world what idiots they have in the yellow opposition. Then they should invite Bongbong Marcos. The difference will be like night and day.

    • It would be a mistake to invite speaker Alvarez coz he’ll threaten to shut down bbc

  11. it is very unfortunate that we Filipino taxpayers are still paying the huge salary and allowances of this arrogant and useless idiot of a senator! Trillanes you are politically dead!

  12. I am sure that those Justices in the ICC where SK Antonio lodged his complaint have watched the BBC interview. Surely, they will look at the plaint of SK Antonio as a cheap political gimmick of an inarticulate and intellectually impaired Philippine politician trying to use the world stage as a platform for internationalizing a personal political vendetta. What the interview brought forth is an SK Antonio becoming the Paguito Diaz of The DeeGong – a fumbling thug with nothing between the ears.

  13. My nephew can answer the questions better than him. I was cringing the whole time when he tries to answer the question. Oh my.. epic fail..

  14. Kahiyahiya ang Pilipinas. Napakaistupido nitong bugok na Trillanes. Next time si Hontiveros naman dapat magpa interview, tapos si Kiko, then si Drillon. Isama na rin si Lagman at Baguilat. Puro bobo. Puro one dimentional mag-isip.

  15. The country is doubly shamed for its citizens voted this Trillianes to the Senate. the LP needs a lot of rethinking their primordial agenda to unseat the President. The more they hate and lambast the President, the more he is loved and defended by the citizenry. DU30 is the greatest gift from God Almighty to this long=suffering archipelago. Ever since the coming, let’s surmise, of Magellan in 1521, almost five centuries by now.

  16. To copy Trillanes’ favorite line – he/they were fed to the lion’s den, this time it was him who came inside the lion’s den. He is not at all ready for an English interview. Calling English teachers in PMA, your guy’s English comprehension skills need a lot of polishing. He is ok with taglish interviews as he often finish his argument with his ‘so ganun’ line. I pitied him in the interview. Lakas ng loob haha.

  17. Trilannes embarrassed the Nation. Everyone who watched it will wonder how he ever became a Senator. Then they will determine it is because that is the Philippines.

  18. He (Trillanes) should’ve brought with him an interpreter…like in the beauty pageant,… But I think even the interview is in tagalog, he can’t explain well his point. Pitty.

  19. Domingo Viduya on

    #ShameShameShame just another opportunistic politician who only has his interests, instead of the whole country .

  20. Embarrassing to Filipinos here and abroad of tha quality of senators we have, especially Trillanes. Stephen Sackur was much better informed of the Philippine scene than him. FVR was in that hot seat before. He did fairly well.

    • vagoneto rieles on

      No he’s not. There’s Binay, Sotto and at least one more…and that’s just the Senate. In the other ‘House’, there’s got to be two or three dozens. That BBC fellow must have left the Philippines, convinced that we are one lucky nation, that has managed to stay afloat despite our leaders. That, to my mind, is the unpleasant truth.
      The average Filipino is not too well informed in matters outside his home, family, and work place. He knows next to nothing aside from these three settings…except perhaps the last episode of ‘Dear Heart’, ‘Ang Probinsyano’ and the latest antics of Vice Ganda. He hardly reads ‘anything’ and is happily oblivious of what goes on locally and abroad.
      The average Filipino might be a high school graduate; but, is ‘functionally illiterate’. Ask any Senator or Congressman…all of whom he had voted into office.

  21. Mr. Makabenta, is this a case of “schadenfreude” for Senator Trillanes by the netizens? Many thanks for your article. More power, Josefina

    • Janine Kristiann Osabel on

      Rephrase the question is it a case of “schadenfreude” while the common Filipino suffers, the LP celebrates because they have something to pin on the president just to unseat him.

      No netizens are not rejoicing in his misery. we are embarrassed by him. he claims to represent the common Filipino and yet there he goes yapping about nothing. Why paint him as a victim? Shouldn’t a duly elected public official who supposedly would solve big problems and serve the people well, be asked challenging questions?

  22. Again, I asked the question – By what standard did this Antonio Trillanes got elected as senator? If he is the best that the opposition has to bring down President Duterte, then they are in for a long, long time on the sideline as a non-entity in the political arena. Each time Antonio Trillanes opens his mouth, he piles on more embarrassment to his political affiliations and political patrons. No one pays attention to him anymore. His credibility is zero.

  23. Trillanes is an opportunistic trash, and will take the role of an attack dog for a price. When he staged his infamous coup in Makati; it had been known that even in his lowly position in power he had so much enexplained wealth already. I see an aura of negative energy in his persona, certainly lacking integrity.

  24. Who put Trillanes out there? He is an amateur politician. He is as good as Mobato in answering questions. He became a senator just like the other, because of bribe to the manipulators of the voting machines.

    • nobody put him there in the hot seat. he maybe volunteered to be interviewed and he expected the questions to be like what the nyt and cohorts in the us media would throw at him without the usa media doing their own research. but lo and behold, the brit knows his job and made research unlike the kano mediamen who just pickep up the propaganda of the yellows. kung baga nasunog si trilyones sa kayabangan nya. he thought he was the best man to destroy du30. MAYBE THE LOCAL MAINSTREAM MEDIA SHOULD LEARN A LESSON OR TWO FROM THE BBC SHOW STAFF. DO RESEARCH INSTEAD OF RELYING ON THE WORDS OF THE YELLOWS. the 7,000 ejk figure is being used by local media which they just copied from rappler and proven to be false. the local media had the means to check the figures of rappler but they did not. tawag yata duon ay katamaran. mahiya sana ang local media sa professionalism ng bbc crew.