ABRAHAM Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
And so we have the fates of two men in our midst today. Nicanor Faeldon, the former Bureau of Customs Commissioner and Antonio Trillanes, a senator on his last term. One makes a fool of himself in the Senate, a once revered institution. And another fights it out in the way he is wired from the beginning, thumbing down power and the excesses of inquiries in aid of legislation.
One tells a former AFP Chief of Staff, “no, you don’t have to explain because you don’t have any reputation to protect,” while the other silently walks away, questions the decorum of senators and is willing to be arrested to prove a point that the Senate has gone down the dark abyss. One loves to be judge, jury and executioner while the other stares down and tells you, I have signed a bank waiver up to the fourth degree of consanguinity. Indeed, of mice and men!
Both were together in the infamous 2003 Oakwood “mutiny.” One is from the Navy and the other from the Marines. One is a decorated soldier, the other focused on pursuing academic training.
Trillanes, born and raised in Caloocan with a Navy captain for a father, graduated cum laude from the Philippine Military Academy in 1995, earning a degree in naval system engineering. He received the mathematics plaque, physical science plaque, and the Tambuli Award for electrical/electronics engineering. Faeldon, who is from Batanes, started his military career in June 1989 as a third-class trainee of the Naval Combat Engineering Brigade (formerly Naval Construction Brigade or Seabees). He was called to active duty as a commissioned officer in the Philippine Marine Corps in 1992. He has been awarded a Gold Cross Medal, three Military Merit Medals (MMM), five Military Commendation Medals (MCM), a Wounded Personnel Medal, and Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao campaign medals.
Both stood for something in 2003. Both were with Magdalo. Both were jailed. Faeldon was kicked out of Magdalo in 2005. Trillanes ran for senator from his prison cell in 2007, an opposition banner year. The parting of ways is not that clear and has not been made public but the talk is they involved issues of plea bargain and running for public office. It was after all the template followed by another putschist turned senator, Gringo Honasan, a father-like figure for both. Honasan and Trillanes ran for legal cover. Honasan’s amnesty was granted but Trillanes’ remains pending. In fact, he was released under the cognizance of then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, whom he devoured with smoke on his nose, because the then Senate President did not give in to more financial support for his committees and Trillanes’ request to be made chair of the defense committee.
Trillanes was also “handpicked” by then President Benigno Aquino 3rd to conduct backroom talks with China, setting aside protocol and traveling to China 16 times. His foray into international relations and diplomacy was fraught with so many risks, foremost of which was the country losing Scarborough Shoal, which until today remains a big question mark. Nobody wants to talk and PRRD has been boxed in, giving a lot of leeway to China and not enforcing the arbitral ruling.
Faeldon, on the other hand, spent his time in the wilderness taking positions on various issues online. He set up “Pilipino.org” which aims to “organize Filipinos for the purpose of creating greater national consciousness to achieve nationhood.” He arranged and led the “Kalayaan Atin Ito,” asserting the Philippines’ sovereign claims over the contested region in the South China Sea. He filed a case against the Japan -Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA). He worked in the shadows during the Aquino 2 years and finally came out days before the May 2016 elections, to defend candidate Duterte from the Trillanes allegations of hidden wealth.
I have not met Faeldon but I visited Trillanes while he was in jail. Those were the years you could feel he was anti-establishment, intent on getting things done and questioning the status quo. Watching from afar, he now wields the puppetry baton. Trillanes has evolved. On issues, he may pursue reforms but on politics, he plays the field like a true blue propagandist, not concerned at all with the Senate as an institution, but getting the spin out and drilling it in, however vacuous it looks.
Section 21, Article VI of the Constitution, states, “The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.” Honasan, has at one time, expressed the need for civility in the Senate hearings. “We can moderate the conduct of our hearings so we can take into consideration the reputation, the name, the future of the children and grandchildren who have nothing to do with this issue.” While Enrile confirmed that boorish behavior does not have a place in the Senate. “You can ask questions, exercise your right of cross-examination, but you have to be very circumspect in the words that you use in asking the question and the manner you ask the question.”
So, tell me, who between Trillanes and Faeldon has character? Who is the tragic hero? And, who is the tragic waste?