Latin America

‘Committee de absuwelto’? Gordon, Trillanes face off in smuggling probe

Camille Elemia
‘Committee de absuwelto’? Gordon, Trillanes face off in smuggling probe
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV accuses Senator Richard Gordon of 'lawyering' for Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and presidential son-in-law Manases Carpio. Gordon threatens to file an ethics complaint against his fellow senator.

MANILA, Philippines – Administration ally Senator Richard Gordon and opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV got into a heated argument during the 6th Senate hearing on the P6.4-billion shabu shipment smuggled from China.

The two senators traded barbs on Thursday, August 31, after Trillanes motioned that the Senate blue ribbon committee invite presidential son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, and presidential son-in-law Manases “Mans” Carpio to the investigation. (LIVE: Senate hearing on the P6.4B worth of shabu shipment from China)

Duterte and Carpio were implicated in smuggling after Customs broker and “fixer” Mark Ruben Taguba read text messages mentioning the two names as part of the supposed Davao Group, which has strong ties inside the Bureau of Customs (BOC). (READ: Here’s what else was in Taguba’s text messages on Customs)

It was also revealed in a previous hearing that Carpio was spotted visiting the office of former BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, which the lawyer earlier said was not related to smuggling. (READ: Trillanes tags presidential son-in-law in smuggling)

“We have enough information that would warrant the invitaton for both Mans and Paolo Duterte to this committee hearing. Hindi ito (This is not) – I heard the Majoriry Floor Leader say, hearsay – this is not a court; this is an investigation. We’re just establishing the truth, ferret out the truth. ‘Wag muna tayong mag-abogado sa kanila (Let’s not lawyer for them first),” Trillanes said.

Itong mga resource persons na ito, invited quietly…. Bakit suddenly masyadong jittery or binabadger na ‘yung nagsasabi (These resource persons were invited quietly. Why are you suddenly jittery or badgering the witness?” the senator added.

Gordon, chair of the Senate panel, asked if Trillanes was referring to him or to Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III.

Trillanes answered, “Well, if you feel alluded to that’s not my problem.”

At this point, Gordon and Trillanes tried to outtalk each other.

Gordon said: “You know, you’re so fond of making names here. If you’re making general statements, you better prove it. This is not a cockpit of tsismis (gossip). ‘Wag ka nagdadadaldal (Don’t blabber).”

Trillanes was still speaking when Gordon said: “You’re out of order. Session suspended.”

While session was suspended – though still aired – Trillanes went on to say that the committee was being used to clear President Rodrigo Duterte and his family of charges.

Nagiging committee de absuwelto ang blue ribbon committee (The blue ribbon committee is turning into a committee of acquittal),” he said.

Gordon then warned Trillanes of being cited in contempt but the latter objected.

Gordon resumed the session, ignoring Trillanes’ remark, but the latter  raised it again. “I made the objection,” he said.

“No, no no,” Gordon said in response.

Trillanes then slammed Gordon for acting unilaterally and reminded him he is not a “one-man committee.” He then reiterated his claim that the committee was being used to absolve the President and his family of allegations

Gordon reminded Trillanes that his statement was on record but the latter said the session was suspended.

“This gentleman has been accusing everyone in the Senate with everything,” Gordon said.

But Trillanes interjected, “Only you.”

Protecting the President?

Gordon said he would file an ethics complaint against Trillanes and told Trillanes to behave accordingly.

“I am asking the Senate Majority Leader  to convoke the ethics committee. I will file an  ethics complaint against the gentleman from Bicol. I will ask the gentleman from Bicol to…behave himself; otherwise I will put sergeant-at-arms before him,” Gordon warned.

Trillanes tried to speak but Gordon said he had already ruled and declared Trillanes out of order.

Trillanes again tried to speak but this time, Sotto turned off the opposition senator’s microphone – the same thing Trillanes did to former senator Alan Peter Cayetano during the hearing on extrajudicial killings.

Trillanes then got the chance to use the mic again and lamented the “irrational ruling” and “behavior” of Gordon as blue ribbon committee chair.

But Gordon refuted this and said he “always acted rationally.”

“I will not answer you. You’re out of order. I will not dignify your one-man statements. The trouble with this gentlemen, if he doesn’t like it he will conduct a coup, then he will be forgiven. Then he will again conduct a coup, then forgiven again,” Gordon said.

Trillanes retorted that Gordon was all the more “pathetic” because he barricaded Subic in Olongapo just to cling to power, referring to the time Gordon refused to vacate the Subic Bay Metropolian Authority during the Estrada administration.

Ikaw nag-barricade ka sa Subic (You barricaded Subic), just to hold on to your position. That’s more pathetic,” Trillanes said.

At this point, Sotto tried to control the two bickering senators. He placed himself between the two and asked them to stop.

Sotto was heard saying while the microphones were off: “Napaka-unparliamentary ng nangyayari…Tigilan ‘nyo na ‘yan. Committee niya ito. Gumawa ka ng iba mong committee na lang (This is so unparliamentary….Stop it. This is his committee. Just create your own committee.)”

Trillanes, in an interview after the spat, said Gordon was clearly trying to protect Duterte and Carpio. He earlier called to replace Gordon as chair of the blue ribbon panel.

“Well, nakita ‘nyo naman nag-motion ako para ipa-invite itong si Mans Carpio and Paolo Duterte ay eto na, nakita ‘nyo na, nag-abogado na siya. Di ganyan ang demeanor ng chairman ng isang blue ribbon committee,” Trillanes said.

(You saw that I made a motion to invite Mans Carpio and Paolo Duterte and then here he comes, he started lawyering (for them). That is not the demeanor of the chairman of the blue ribbon committee.)

He said it was plain to see “who was being irrational; who suddenly had a change in demeanor.”

Trillaned maintained there was enough information that “warrants” the invitation of Duterte and Carpio. (READ: Customs broker: Paolo Duterte’s ‘friend, handler’ got bribe money)

“That’s very obvious. Maliwanag ‘yung mga prinesenta kong information that warrants maimbitahan sila. Wala namang ano ‘yun e….They can easily clear their names kung di sila involved,” Trillanes said.

(That’s very obvious. The information I presented clearly warrants their invitation. There’s nothing to it….They can easily clear their names if they’re not involved.)

He said he was ready to face the ethics complaint should Gordon file it.

Gordon, for his part, later apologized for the incident. “I’d like to apologize for what happened earlier. It’s not usual….We try to make sure that the dignity of the Senate is upheld,” he said. –

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email