Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ang Nag-Iisang Lobo

President Arroyo, in a televised speech, has called Senator Trillanes "ang nag-iisang lobo" which, translated in English literally means "lone wolf." GMA, as people close to her claim, thinks in English and her penchant of literally translating English words into Tagalog at times comes out funny. It was my first time to hear the word and I'm not even sure if "nag-iisang lobo" really exists in the Filipino lexicon. Anyway, Trillanes is once again the talk of the town and that, I believe, was really his target all along.

I met Senator Antonio Trillanes IV about two months ago (on September 27 to be exact) in the Marine Brig facility where he was being detained along with his fellow Magdalo officers. I went there as part of my consultancy work for Iloilo City Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr., who is the Chairman of the House Committee on Civil Service and Professional Regulation. Trillanes is our counterpart in the Senate and I went there to represent Congressman Gonzalez to basically synchronize our legislative calendar (e.g. what bills to prioritize, not to prioritize, etc) with his.

One of the things I remember of that visit was that the Marines were very strict. On that same day, Karina Constantino-David (the Civil Service Commission Chair) and Senator Pong Biazon (a former Marine Commandant) tried but were not allowed to enter the Marine Camp to visit Trillanes because there were purportedly rumors of "troop movements"and "restiveness" in the military camps. Trillanes's Senate staff likewise were not allowed to visit him. I think the only reason the Marines allowed me inside was because they saw me as "harmless" and the person I represent (Rep. Raul Gonzalez, Jr.) made me "above suspicion" of sorts. I was there purely for professional reasons (this I explained clearly to the Marine Colonel in charge) and not for any other "political" purpose.

Upon entering his detention facility (the Marine Brig they call it), I was surprised to see that it was really a jail complete with iron rehas, high concrete fence, barb wire and all. Since Senator Trillanes was a VIP, I guess I expected to see that he would be treated better that the average lawbreaker. The Brig's reception area (where our meeting took place) was sparse: all I saw was an electric fan and a karaoke (those old, box-like machines). I assume there was a refrigerator somewhere because they served me iced water.

Upon seeing Trillanes, I remember remarking to myself how young he was. He was wearing his trademark black shirt (LaCoste, I noticed), gray slacks and tsinelas (slippers). We were about the same age (mid-30s) and I was thinking that if he was not a senator (or in jail), I could be drinking beer with this guy! Trillanes didn't smile when we were being introduced by his staff (even after I cracked a joke "na baka di na ako palabasin dito' ). He told me that since he cannot go anywhere, he passes his time reading books and studying all the materials being sent to him by his Senate staff. He was quite proud of the fact that despite being in jail he was still able to file several bills in the Senate. Seeing that he didn't laugh at my first joke, I resisted quipping that "maybe we should jail all our senators then or Pwede naman pala makagawa ng batas na naka-tsinelas lang ang senador.' Baka magalit na talaga sa akin at gawin akong hostage. So I kept my mouth shut.

Senator Trillanes was all business. After only about one hour and a half of discussion, we were able to agree on what bills to prioritize. We agreed on 4 bills, namely the GCA (or Salary Standardization Law Part 3) bill, Customs Brokers Act, Government Career Executive Act and RESA. Also, I observed that Trillanes had yet to acquire the facility for "bola" (pretending to know about something which you really don't have any idea about) which usually afflicts many of our politicians. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him admit that he knew nothing about the issue concerning the Customs Brokers Act despite the fact that as a former Navy man engaged in anti-smuggling operations, I presumed that he might have had encountered unscrupulous customs brokers engaged in such activities. I explained that the issue in the Customs Broker bill basically involves protecting a profession (custom brokers have a monopoly of the Bureau of Customs much like stockbrokers are the only ones allowed to trade in the stockmarket) vis-a-vis promoting the smooth flow of goods to facilitate trade and commerce (by breaking this monopoly and allowing corporations such as DHL, UPS, etc. to also deal with the BOC). Politics usually involves very complex issues and I can sense that he couldn't quite decide which side to sacrifice. I can see that Trillanes was still not used to the business of policy-making (which is the primary job of legislators).

The following day Trillanes's chief of staff, Atty. Reynaldo Robles, called to ask for a meeting with my principal, Congressman Jun Gonzalez. Since we have already agreed upon our legislative agenda the day before, I thought the meeting was already unnecessary. But out of courtesy to Senator Trillanes we agreed to meet Atty. Robles. It was during the meeting that Robles revealed his real purpose: to ask our help in interceding for his boss to be allowed to perform his functions as a senator. Congressman Gonzalez was gracious enough and relayed their request to his father, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez. Secretary Gonzalez promised to take the matter up during their Cabinet Security Cluster meeting which was scheduled sometime last November. Unfortunately, the Secretary got sick and had to undergo kidney transplant and was out of commission for almost two months so I don't think the matter was ever discussed in the said Cabinet cluster meeting.

I remember one particular comment which Trillanes said during our meeting that struck me. He said that people (I think he was referring to pro-GMA politicians and generals) should bear in mind that GMA will only be in office 'til 2010 while he will still be senator up to 2013. He was quite confident that whoever will occupy MalacaƱang in 2010 will release him from jail. He also said that his "coup" days are over and that all he wants to do now is to be allowed to do his job as a senator so he can prove to the people that he deserves their trust and confidence. And I took him at his word (he sounded so sincere). That is why I was truly surprised that he did what he did at the Manila Pen several weeks ago.

No matter what the conspiracy theorists say, I believe Trillanes staged his so-called revolt mainly because he was getting impatient of getting out of jail. His petition in the Supreme Court asking that he be allowed to perform his Senate duties is in limbo. And seeing that the SC will be stacked with more GMA appointees, I think he lost hope in getting a favorable decision. And seeing that he is no longer "top-of-mind," he thought of staging a "publicity stunt" at the Manila Pen. Trillanes, with his military mind, thought that in staging his Manila Pen caper he had everything to gain and nothing to lose. In my mind I can almost picture him saying: "Ano pa ang pwede nilang gawin sa akin? Ikulong ako?!" And given the media mileage he is getting nowadays, I believe it was mission accomplished for the good senator of Magdalo.