Antonio Trillanes

21 February 2013

IT should be a no brainer for Filipinos from all walks of life to vote for Antonio Trillanes IV for senator in the May, 2013, elections. Having been elected in 2007 to the upper chamber while still in prison, it is clear that he is some kind of a folk hero to the masses, who are the only ones who can carry the vote in a general election. He was a hero to them because it was easy for them to forgive him for violating the law by leading a military coup. They realized from subsequent events that what he alleged about the corruption in the military and the civilian government under the former President was actually even an understatement. They saw him as an underdog languishing in jail for standing up for his strong moral convictions. They also learned from the meager campaign information that his supporters could manage that he was one of the Navy personnel who risked their lives to secure 32 persons during a daring search and rescue operation for the survivors of the ill-fated M/V Princess of the Orient at the height of a super typhoon in 1998. It was clear in the eyes of the Filipino masses that he was no armchair officer.

It was not lost to the masses that he was the prototype of a "gentleman and officer" that has the ability of leading an organization. Already as a navy officer, his first assignments had to do with fighting corruption at the grassroot level. During a period of five years of sea duty, he logged-in a total miles covered (TMC) of 35,316.78 nautical miles, during which time the unit he led was charged with the responsibility of apprehending dozens of smugglers, illegal loggers, poachers, human traffickers, and illegal fishermen in numerous maritime law enforcement operations. These brought him literally all over the Philippine Archipelago: Batanes, Ilocos, Cagayan, Isabela, Zambales, Scarborough, Quezon, Bicol, Palawan, Mindoro, Romblon, Iloilo, Cebu, Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Davao, and Maguindanao.

From my very limited experience as a Naval ROTC cadet from De la Salle College in the mid-fities, I can attest to the fact that his five years of sea duty exposed him to the harsh realities of the poorest Filipinos who are subsistence fishermen and subsistence farmers, especially in such coconut regions as Quezon, Bicol, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Davao. In the summer of 1956, some of us studying at De La Salle were obliged to do a summer cadre training stint in a gunboat like the one that Senator Trillanes commanded. We were patrolling the seas in Quezon, and Bicol to apprehend smugglers and illegal fishermen. We would spend our leave in such towns as Hondagua, Quezon or Polilio Island. There we saw what it meant to be poor for millions of Filipinos. Nothing much had changed when Senator Trillanes spent those five years of sea duty. That is why, more than most of his colleagues in the Senate, he knew what he was talking about in the various committees in which he actively participated in the legislative process: Defense, Security, and Public Safety; Anti-Poverty; Health; Environment; and Agriculture. Needless to say, he had much to contribute in the discussion of the bills on Governance and Anti-Coruption. He literally sacrificed seven years of his youthful life in prison because he had the courage to fight corruption during the last Administration.

Without doubt, Antonio Trillanes IV has the masses in the palm of his hands. The people I would like to convince that he should be on top of the senatorial list are those from the middle class who may still have reservations about him because they only know him as a military rebel who spent years in prison. Antonio Trillanes IV has a thoroughly middle class background like at least 40 percent of Filipinos. His grade school years were spent at the Sienna College in Quezon City, after which he studied high school at the Angelicum School, also in the same city. Both schools are run by the Dominican order. Having spent ten years of his basic education with the Dominicans, it is understandable that he takes his Catholicism seriously and, in the tradition of the Order that produced great theologians like St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, he is faithful to the teaching authority of the Church. No wonder he saw not only the practical errors but also the doctrinal aberrations behind the RH Bill and was among the minority who voted against it. But more importantly, in his six years in the Senate, he showed a keen understanding of the Social Doctrine of the Church by being principal author or co-author of such people-oriented laws as RA 10154 (Immediate Release of Retirement Benefits of Government Employees, RA 10024 (Philippine Respiratory Therapy Act of 2009),RA 9670 (Expanded PAG-IBIG Fund Coverage), RA 10070 (Magna Carta for Disabled Persons), RA 9502 (Cheaper Medicines), RA 9994 (Expanded Senior Citizens Act), RA 10152 (Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act of 2011), and RA 10054 (Motorcycle Helmet Act). In addition, he participated actively in the preparation of significant bills that are still pending in the Senate that have to do with fighting poverty, improving public health, enhancing the quality of basic education, protecting the rights of workers, and providing needed rural infrastructures for the small farmers who still are among the poorest of the poor, despite having been agrarian reform beneficiaries.

The rest of his Curriculum Vitae is already well known. After graduating from high school, he spent four years at De La Salle University taking up an engineering course. Then motivated to serve his country in the military, he enrolled at the Philippines Military Academy (PMA) where he obtained in 1995 the degree of BS in Naval Systems Engineering. His eminently technical academic background, coupled with his very down-to-earth experience as a commander of a gunboat, can contribute significantly to his intelligent participation in the crafting of laws which will have to increasingly take into account the rapid advances in technology brought about by the digital and biotech revolutions. We need individuals in the Senate who are steeped in quantitative analysis and technical knowhow to complement the legal minds that predominate in the upper chamber. The Filipino middle class, that is most responsible for leading the country to inclusive economic growth and human development, must second the masses in voting Antonio Trillanes IV into the next Senate. We should invest in a person with his qualifications and moral character to start building the pool of presidentiables in the next 20 years. For comments, my e-mail address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.