MANILA, Philippines – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was never far from President Rodrigo Duterte's mind during his long interview with Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
Rappler counted 20 mentions of the word "Trillanes" during the hour-and-a-half-long interview aired live from Malacañang.
But more than the number of times he referred to Trillanes by name is how Duterte kept mentioning the opposition senator even when he was being asked about other topics.
The President managed to connect his beef with Trillanes to topics like regional distribution of the nation's wealth and the government's program for handicapped children.
This even if Panelo had already devoted the first part of the interview to questions on Trillanes and Duterte's voiding of his amnesty.
In the middle of the interview, when asked about the government's plan to help those with disabilities, Duterte initially mentioned the P100 million his office provides to the Philippine General Hospital. Then he connected this to his assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines' hospitals which brought him again to Trillanes.
"Ngayon kung magmalasakit si Trillanes sa inyo, ngayon doon kayo. Nevermind me, I can survive. You can kill me, you can oust me…Kung Trillanes alam ninyo simpatiya simpatiya ka diyan ang inisip niya sarili niya," said Duterte.
(If Trillanes was ever compassionate to you, you go to him. Nevermind me, I can survive. You can kill me, you can oust me. If you think Trillanes has sympathy for you, he's thinking only of himself.)
Asked about criticism of his crackdown on illegal drugs, Duterte admitted there were police personnel getting their hands dirty in the illicit trade. He likened them to Trillanes.
"Like Trillanes, maraming bahay, sikreto lang (he has lots of houses but just secret ones)," said Duterte.
He then connected this to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism's report on presidential aide Bong Go's family getting infrastructure contracts, which Trillanes wants to investigate.
"The problem with Trillanes is that he is crucifying Bong Go for entering into business with government. and there was a time in the Navy’s history....His father was in the service, he was in service, and the transaction for many Navy supplies was with his mother," claimed Duterte.
To a question on tourism, Duterte responded by saying the government's resources are being distributed equally to all regions, regardless of the political leanings of the local government officials there. He then connected this to how he visited Marawi City "9 times," which again led him to rant about Trillanes.
"I went there 9 times. I never saw Trillanes na makapag ano man sa kapwa sundalo niya. Mabuti pa si Secretary Roque nagpunta doon, nagbigay pa ng hamburger," said the President.
(I went there 9 times. I never saw Trillanes even visit his fellow soldiers. Secretary Roque is better, he went there and gave away hamburgers.)
As the interview drew to a close, Panelo asked Duterte for his final message to viewers. Still, the President's mind was on Trillanes and the "dictator" tag he felt he did not deserve.
"Ito ngayon, ito kay Trillanes, medyo may gulo-gulo. Alam mo si Trillanes lang naman. Diktador? Wala akong ginawa na magpakulong ng tao. Matindi ako sa droga. You differentiate a dictator with absolute power tsaka yung desire ko to protect your children and the country," said Duterte.
(This issue with Trillanes, it's messy. You know, it's just Trillanes. Dictator? I did not order anyone's arrest. I'm focused on the drug problem. You differentiate a dictator with absolute power and my desire to protect your children and the country.)
Still on Trillanes, Duterte said, "If you think he is the brightest military man thereabouts, eh di sige magsama-sama kayo (then go join forces with him), go!"
Duterte appeared to mention Trillanes repeatedly in the context of his perception that the military might side with Trillanes, a former Navy officer who led mutinies against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Lt General Carlito Galvez have given public assurances of a united military committed to following the chain of command.
Trillanes branded Duterte's interview remarks as signs of "insecurity" but said he, as a senator, is not claiming to command the loyalty of troops.
"I believe it's clear to soldiers that their loyalty is to the chain of command and Constitution so I don't know where this insecurity is coming from," said Trillanes in Filipino.
As to the many times his name was mentioned by the President, Trillanes suspected the Chief Executive is "obsessed" with him.
"Parang na-obsess na sa akin eh. Siguro habang natutulog ito, pinapanaginipan ako. Buti naman, buti naman. Sana magkaroon ka ng nightmares because of me dahil I will not go away," said the senator.
(It's like he is obsessed with me. Maybe when he is sleeping, he dreams of me. That's good. I hope he has nightmares because of me because I will not go away.) – Rappler.com
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Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.