Lunch with Sonny
Last week, the Associated Press carried a report about US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denying he ever considered resigning after he was reported to have called President Donald Trump a “moron.” The report went on to say that Tillerson refused to personally deny he used the word to describe Trump but an NBC news source said Tillerson had, in fact, used the words “f***ing moron” on Trump. A spokesperson for Tillerson issued the denial for the state secretary.
Is this an example of fake news, a dirty lie, or the awful truth?
Let me refresh our memories.
Some 14 years ago, in July 2003, 300 officers and men took over the Oakwood apartment complex at the Ayala Center in Makati City. Calling themselves the Magdalo group, the officers most of whom were members of Philippine Military Academy Class 1995, called for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo while also airing their grievances against the military establishment, among which was the so-called “pabaon” system for retiring senior officers.
One of the leaders of the group was Navy Lt. Senior Grade (equivalent of an Army captain) Antonio Trillanes IV, Class 1995. He also served as the group spokesman. Among his fellow
coup plotters were Army Capt. Gerardo Gambala, who graduated as class valedictorian, Marine Capt. Gary Alejano and Army Capt. Milo Maestrecampo, all from the same class as Trillanes. Nicanor Faeldon, the ousted Customs commissioner, was also part of the Oakwood group, although he is not a PMA graduate. He received his commission through the ROTC program before it was abolished. Alejano is now a congressman of the Magdalo Party.
The Feliciano Commission Report on the mutiny concluded that the actions of the group were aimed at taking over the government and establishing a 15-member governing council.
At the PMA, Trillanes IV — the son of another PMAyer, Antonio Trillanes, Class 1959 — excelled in math and the physical
sciences. He graduated No. 4 in his class, receiving the coveted Tambuli Award for outstanding communication skills, skills which he has put to good use in recent years. Incidentally, prior to entering the PMA, Trillanes was well on his way to finishing a course on communications engineering at De La Salle University, Manila. Victor Corpus is another La Sallite who joined the PMA (Class 1967) but would later become a New People’s Army commander. What is it in a mix of La Salle and PMA education that brings out the rebel in such fine men?
Just a few lines on perhaps the hidden power behind Sonny Trillanes. Arlene Orejana Trillanes, like her husband, is a PMA graduate, Class 1997. This was the first batch of female cadets to be admitted to what was once an all-male institution. She is a rated paratrooper having finished the basic airborne course at the Special Forces Training facility in Fort Magsaysay. Arlene also has a degree in psychology and a master’s degree in information systems, both from the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
When I first met Sonny, he was being held in a detention facility in Camp Crame. It wasn’t very comfortable, and I noted that Romeo Jalosjos, who was serving time at the National Penitentiary, enjoyed greater comforts — a tennis court and other amenities — than an elected senator. Sonny had just won a seat in the 2007 Senate race. At age 36, he garnered over 11 million votes, the only senatorial candidate to ever win while behind bars, besting such administration giants like Mike Defensor, Prospero Pichay, Ralph Recto and Miguel Zubiri.
What did his victory behind bars mean?
First, his victory represented the most serious indictment of the Arroyo administration. Not all the money and patronage in the world could buy enough votes for the administration candidates.
Second, his victory represented a pointed criticism of our justice system. Four years after Oakwood, the military and civilian justice systems failed to resolve the charges against the Oakwood mutineers. The people, by their votes, provided some clue as to their feelings on this matter.
Third, our people were clamoring for new faces, not the tired old ones that we see during almost every election period. Trillanes represented a new face for an electorate that was fed up with business-as-usual politics.
Recently, Sonny invited me for lunch. It was a small intimate group of friends from the academy. I hadn’t seen Sonny for some time, and was looking forward to an exchange of views on a number of issues. No, there was no talk of destabilization. We did talk about his alleged secret bank accounts, his backchannel role in the West Philippine Sea dispute, the Customs problem (classmates Gambala and Maestrecampo had been brought in by Faeldon), and also his plans for the future. But like most informal academy gatherings, we ended up reminiscing about life at Fort Del Pilar and how our alma mater has influenced our lives.
Sonny finishes his term as senator in June 2019. He cannot run for the Senate until at least three years after. In the meantime, he plans to teach and I am certain a number of prestigious universities/organizations would love to have him.
One may not agree with all that Sonny says or does but the man has to be admired for his courage and his discipline. He has crossed swords with the high and the mighty, and paid a heavy price — more than seven years in jail, longer than Ninoy Aquino’s incarceration — but he continues his fight, holding true to his beliefs in the face of grave personal danger.
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