Trillanes interview, Duterte presidency: Are we lacking a sense of proportion?

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RACHEL A.G. REYES

AS it happened, a few days before his now much maligned interview with Stephen Sackur on the BBC’s current affairs program ‘HARDtalk’, I got to speak with opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes at his office in the Senate. I was well aware of his reputation for brusqueness. His tangles with some of his colleagues in the Senate are a joy to watch. His speeches are combative, blunt, abrasive, ardent. He is thought of as a rather humorless, frequently glum-faced, serious thinker. Now that I have finally met him in the flesh, most of this is true. But believe me when I tell you that I also found him cordial, graciously polite, mentally agile, and persuasive.

So why all the negative reaction to the HARDTalk interview?

A “disaster” is how some have described Trillanes’ one-on-one with Sackur. Some just turned on the bile. There were gleeful, puerile, thick-headed, vicious insults, malevolent take-downs, and a proliferation of fake news. The claim that Trillanes intended to sue the BBC was one such outlandish falsehood. Yes, Trillanes could have been more forceful. Yes, he might have stated the case for the opposition with greater clarity and incisiveness. And yes, he did flounder on the “Are you a democrat?” question. But really, these were flubs which might have been avoided had Trillanes been better briefed.

When I spoke with Trillanes, I too wanted to know more about his political ideology. What I got from him was not the apparent confusion he had with Sackur over the term “democrat”, but a rather more rounded response that reflected on his military background, his drive to expose corruption at the highest levels and within the Armed Forces, and the ethos by which his group, the Magdalo, operated. The Magdalo, he stated, is “centrist,” espousing “altruistic” governance that seeks to strengthen democratic institutions by working to root out corruption. Clearly, then, he supports democracy.


Those who made hay of Sackur’s line of questioning have thoroughly misunderstood the tough, “devil’s advocate” approach of the English journalist. When Trillanes was asked whether he might be “out of tune” with prevailing attitudes toward the President, Sackur was not siding with the Duterte administration, as Trillanes’ critics have deluded themselves into thinking. Sackur was, as is his style, being contrary and provocative.

The bigger problem is that in slapping down Trillanes’ performance, his critics have really lost all sense of proportion. They appear to have completely failed to grasp what a real train wreck looks like.

In interview after interview, President Duterte cusses, exaggerates, lies, and threatens to commit murder. Interviewed by Al Jazeera journalists Wayne Hay and Jamela Alindogan-Caudron on reaching the 100-day milestone in the presidency, Duterte asserted how a purported 3 million drug addicts were destroying the country. At the time of the interview, 3,500 people had been killed. “You destroy my country and I will kill you,” he said flatly. Now, the number of deaths has climbed to thousands more, mainly from the ranks of the most impoverished, and he has jailed Sen. Leila de Lima, the one person who has consistently gone up against Duterte’s murderous rampage even back in his days as Davao City mayor.

One year on in the Duterte presidency, impunity is even more entrenched. Crime has shot up, the dictator Marcos was buried as a hero, Philippine maritime sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea has been undermined, the integrity of democratic institutions eroded, plunderers released from prison to take their seats at the top table, government officials accompanied by a menagerie of hangers-on junket around the world like there was taxpayers’ money to burn, conflict and carnage have brought the once proud Maranao city of Marawi to its knees, and Martial Law reigns in Mindanao.

Duterte presides over a bitterly divided nation, discombobulated by fake news and poisoned by outright lies. He has alienated the Philippines from allies who have long aided the country with military support, grants and trade, and professed loyalty to rapacious superpower loan sharks.

Trillanes’ BBC interview could have been much better. But let’s just think about what truly matters.

rachelagreyes@gmail.com

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6 Comments

  1. I look forward to Sackur interviewing the president, that would be a much even match.

  2. pablo sanchez on

    well written in defense of trillanes. it looks like more of an opposition supporter especially your term for martial law. does the administration nor the soldiers abuse the martial law? well from the other tourist(local or foreign) who flock to some part of mindanao, it looks like they enjoy the martial law and even feel much safer.

  3. The one thing you will appreciate the current opposition is the decency when they voice out their concerns. They would shell out every means to discredit those in power but never to the extent of cussing and blunt words of threats you only hear from bullies. And when the president does the cussing and all the nasty words? it becomes acceptable to many..and to his subordinates?..well you guess it right, the trend follows. But the buck does not stop there, ive been thru many social pages and read too many comments and i would not be surprised to see comments with cussing, mockery, threat and possibly all malicious words you can think of against the likes of trillanes from du30 supporters. All in defense and glory of the president. Someone would get me wrong on my stand and i would surely see comments of violent reactions next to mine but no i will not give you the privelege to exchange cussing and mockery. Why not? Because that is exactly my point. We are a democratic country where everyone is free to voice out their concerns, refusing to listen and asking for unity is entirely its opposite. If you ask for CHANGE prepare to accept what others has to offer for a CHANGE..

  4. A well written piece Ms Reyes. You have correctly raised some of the deficiencies of Duterte, which rightfully he should address for the good of the country. However his bunch of sycophants will yet again criticise writings such as yours, not by reasoned arguments to defend their idol, but by the use of continued insults.

    Do not be discouraged. Keep telling the truth.

  5. “but a rather more rounded response that reflected on his military background, his drive to expose corruption at the highest levels and within the Armed Forces,:”

    An apologist of a politician who stated:
    “Walang disiplina mama na ito…” referring mama to the president which previously work 24/7 on the clock to address the problem especially in Marawi.

    Dear author, you are also out of touch with reality for justifying the horror of Trillanes.