PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to “destroy” Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, for claiming that the President’s vice mayor-son Paolo Duterte might be involved in the illegal drugs traffic from China through the Bureau of Customs, and that he bears on his back the tattoo of a member of the Chinese Triad, may have gotten an initial push when Sen. Richard Gordon filed a complaint against Trillanes before the Senate ethics committee for unparliamentary behavior and demanded a penalty beyond mere censure for DU30’s adversary.
Gloves came off at the Senate when Gordon, who chairs the blue ribbon committee, asked the ethics committee to discipline Trillanes for his unparliamentary behavior at the August 31 committee hearing on the P6.4 billion worth of shabu (crystal meth) that had gone through the BoC express lane last May. But the complaint goes beyond that particular incident, where Trillanes called the blue ribbon committee the “comite de absuelto,” and dwells on a general assessment of Trillanes’ personality.
The ethics case
“The continuing schematic and incorrigible abrasive conduct of Senator Trillanes should be dealt with accordingly, maybe a censure is not even enough,” the news reports quote Gordon in his complaint. “He is devoid of proper bearing and demeanor and continuously exhibits unbridled immaturity.” The complaint is against unparliamentary behavior, but these words may themselves be considered unparliamentary, if one follows the standards set in the bible of parliaments, by Sir Erskine May.
In any case, if the intention is not simply to reprimand but to suspend or expel Trillanes from the Senate, this will require the concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the members of the chamber. This won’t be a walk in the park. As a minimum, there should be no attempt to railroad the inquiry. If there is no showing that the blue ribbon committee had moved to strike out from the record any of Trillanes’ unparliamentary remarks immediately after they were made, the committee may be estopped from raising the breach before the ethics committee.
In fact, if the committee had so moved, and the unparliamentary remarks had been stricken off the record, then there may no longer be any reason to raise the matter before the ethics committee.
Beyond the Senate controversy, the ensuing word war between the President and Trillanes could become a huge public nightmare for DU30, and spin totally out of control. The threat “to destroy Trillanes or he destroys me” has not prevented some people from assigning the most sinister meaning to the word “destroy”.
So far, the accusations exchanged between the two parties have focused on hidden foreign bank accounts. Trillanes has signed a waiver of his supposed rights to bank deposits he is supposed to own, according to DU30; we are now waiting for a similar waiver of rights by DU30 to foreign bank accounts Trillanes claims the President owns. Beyond the money laundering issue, how far will the threat to “destroy” Trillanes go?
DU30’s alarming advice
At least one person has asked me whether we are about to see a sitting senator being wasted by a police strike force or vigilantes, like Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte and Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog of Ozamiz City, after being accused of money laundering or drug trafficking. This is prompted by reports that DU30 has instructed “his” soldiers to “challenge Trillanes to a duel” should he badger them during any public hearing of the Senate. The message is frightening, even though there is no reason to expect the soldiers talking to Trillanes in the Senate.
At a birthday dinner on Monday evening, a former Senate colleague of mine appeared so disturbed when she asked, “What are we to make of this? What has become of our President?” She was more of a sympathizer than a critic. The question left me momentarily speechless. But it tended to support reports circulating within the President’s own circle in Davao City, that not long ago, the pistol-packing DU30 personally threatened to shoot a former high government official, whom he accused of wanting to bring down his presidency, and when he got no reaction, challenged the unarmed senior citizen to a “draw”.
This can be documented, if necessary.
Just letting off steam?
Aside from the usual expletives, which DU30 uses “to connect” to his audience, according to his apologists, his use of verbal threats has shot up to outer space, in his word war with Trillanes. Of course, it is not clear whether he is merely letting off steam or he actually means what he says. The presidential spokesman has long put us on notice that three out of every five statements from the President have no factual bases, and must be taken with more than a grain of salt. One recent example appears to be his well-publicized statement that an unnamed (and obviously non-existent) spokesman for the Marcos family has agreed to turn over to the Treasury an untold quantity of mined and minted gold.
But the President ’s words trigger a lot of anxiety, if not fear, among the vulnerable and unprotected. Especially in the face of minors, including virtual children, getting wasted by killers in police clothes who are out to claim P20,000 per kill, regardless of who gets killed, in DU30’s brutal war on drugs. People who never liked or trusted Trillanes before, and actually rooted for DU30 openly have completely changed their perspectives, giving DU30 a zero and the former Navy lieutenant a credibility he may or may not actually deserve.
This began when Trillanes questioned Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and his brother-in-law Manases Carpio, the husband of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, at the hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee. And it happened not because Trillanes was tantalizingly brilliant, but simply because the young Duterte performed rather poorly, despite his smug appearance and his being accompanied by two lawyers—one private lawyer, and Carpio, his lawyer-brother-in-law.
Trillanes’s first question seemed a triviality, but proved to be the most important question asked in that hearing. “Do you have a tattoo on your back?” Trillanes asked Polong, as he is popularly known in Davao and his own circle. And instantly, without weighing the possible consequences of his answer, he said, “Yes.” Trillanes then explained that the tattoo depicted a dragon, which was the symbol of the Triad, the infamous Chinese crime ring engaged in illegal drugs, counterfeting, money laundering, human trafficking, kidnapping, murder and other transnational crimes.
He then asked Polong if he was willing to have his tattoo photographed so that it could be sent to the US Drug Enforcement Agency for analysis. Every Triad tattoo contains some secret digits corresponding to the owner’s membership number in the crime ring, Trillanes tried to explain. At this point Polong said no, invoking his “right to privacy”. It was too late. He should have invoked his right to privacy at the very beginning, when he was asked whether he had a tattoo on his back.
I thought he might have responded in the same manner a traveler to Australia, according to one apocryphal tale, answered when asked by an immigration officer, “Have you ever been convicted of any crime?” To this the traveler answered, “Why, is it still a requirement?” Which provoked a hearty laughter from the officer whose ancestors may have been among the first English convicts who were shipped to Australia. Instead of answering yes or no, the young DU30 could have simply asked whether the Senate required its resource persons to be tattooed on their backs.
But the young DU30 gave up his own privacy by admitting his back tattoo. After that, it became difficult for people to understand why he could not agree to have his tattoo photographed, if he had it done purely for aesthetic purposes. I am afraid Trillanes won that round definitively, and DU30’s own effort to trivialize everything by having his own tattoo at the back of his hand photographed, as part of the presidential news cycle, failed to affect people’s perceptions about that particular fiasco.
DU30’s threat or promise (depending on where you sit) to “destroy” Trillanes is the first thing that will “make” rather than unmake Trillanes, if it has not yet already made him. Where DU30 could have let Chairman Gordon or a minor subordinate handle Trillanes, he decided to take him on himself. In the process, he brought himself down to Trillanes’s level, or better yet, he raised Trillanes to the level of the President. In trying to reduce Trillanes, DU30 has succeeded in reducing himself. Trillanes has now become DU30’s biggest nemesis. However you look at it, this is not competent or effective generalship.