Trillanes bent on running for VP: Paradigm shift?
Military rebel turned lawmaker Senator Antonio Trillanes IV has decided to run for vice president in 2016 mainly to challenge the country’s political system, including the dominance of traditional political parties and leaders.
Trillanes seeks to test the waters to initiate a paradigm shift, where mass movements assume an equal footing with traditional political parties. Even without the traditional parties, including the Nacionalista Party to which he belongs, Trillanes intends to run, using the Samahang Magdalo, a socio-civic mass-based organization, as his vehicle.
Trillanes has to rely on Samahang Magdalo as his vehicle. Despite the constitutional provision on a multiparty system, party politics has not taken roots in the political system. Traditional political parties are vehicles of traditional political families in their quest for pelf and political power.
The Samahang Magdalo has evolved – and continues to evolve – to become a potent force to challenge the status quo. From a motley group of young but reckless military officers who staged the 2003 Oakwood mutiny, the original Magdalo group has metamorphosed to become the Samahang Magdalo, a socio-civic organization of about 506,000 card carrying members scattered in 541 chapters nationwide.
“We are at our prime as an organization of grassroots volunteers,” Trillanes said with a combined air of confidence and certainty. “We are solid as ever. We’ve gone through so much in pursuit of our vision for our country.”
The Samahang Magdalo has the Magdalo Party List as its political arm, tasked primarily to influence public policy. Aside from Trillanes in the Senate, Representatives Gary Alejano and Francisco Ashley Acedillo represent the Magdalo Party List in the House of Representatives. Its members include former leftwing elements, who have become disgruntled with leftwing politics.
Lack of party politics
Trillanes has reasons to rely on the Samahang Magdalo, one of which is the failure to develop a party system in the country. Congress has yet to enact the proposed Political Party Development Act (PPDA) to institutionalize party politics in the country.
Like the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and anti-political dynasty bill, the PPDA hardly moves in Congress. Despite its goal of ridding Philippine elections of the “3 Gs” – guns, goons and gold – its chance of enactment appears dim in the 16th Congress.
The FOI, anti-political dynasty, and PPDA bills constitute the three reform measures that could strengthen Philippine democracy. They seek to empower ordinary citizens, democratize political power, and alter the course of socioeconomic and political developments in the country.
The PPDA bill seeks to reform the party system by establishing a state subsidy fund for political parties, instituting mechanisms for their transparency and accountability, and ensuring party loyalty and discipline. It seeks to address widespread and persistent criticism of the absence of a party system in the country and its inability to check the domination of a number of political families.
Because of the restrictive political environment, Trillanes, his congressional colleagues, and the Samahang Magdalo have sought an alternative route to achieve power in the current electoral system.
Trillanes knows he does not have a ghost of chance if he relies on the traditional political parties.
They want to test their political model in the 2016 presidential elections. The vice presidency is the perfect target to test their model.
Face of Magdalo
Antonio Fuentes Trillanes IV, the face of Samahang Magdalo, was born in Caloocan City on August 6, 1971.
His parents are Antonio Trillanes Jr., a retired navy captain, and Estelita Fuentes. After two years of college education at De La Salle University, he went to the Philippine Military Academy, the country’s premier military school, and earned a diploma on BS Naval Engineering System in 1995.
Upon graduation, Trillanes joined the Philippine Navy. His unit arrested smugglers, poachers, illegal loggers, human smugglers and traffickers, and illegal fishermen in Philippine waters, enabling him to garner medals and citations for his accomplishments.
Trillanes, then a Navy lieutenant senior grade, joined the botched July 27, 2003 mutiny at Oakwood Premier Hotel in Makati City with 300 junior officers and enlisted men. They protested widespread corruption under the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration. As spokesman, Trillanes gave face to the military rebellion. For 20 hours, the mutineers had a standoff with government forces, after which they surrendered.
Trillanes and his co-mutineers were jailed. He had 7-1/2 years in jail, suffering humiliation in detention, including the withdrawal of electric fans from his cell at the height of summer and unrestrained body searches for visiting members of his family. Trillanes described the experience as “very enriching;” it was a period of reading, group discussions largely with his co-mutineers, and introspection.
Doing the unthinkable
While in prison, Trillanes and other Magdalo mutineers did the unthinkable. From the confines of their prison cells, they launched Trillanes’s senatorial bid in 2007 without the resources and support of established political parties and leaders. He was later adopted by the Genuine Opposition in the middle of the political campaign, or when his campaign was generating steam.
It was largely a quixotic quest, but the jailed Magdalo leaders displayed youthful idealism, exuberance and persistence to do what the impossible. From being on the 53rd in the initial opinion polls, Trillanes showed strength particularly at the homestretch.
In the last few days of the campaign, they sensed they had a shot to capture a Senate seat. Trillanes, who ran as an independent without resources, won and landed 11th with over 11 million votes.
Trillanes did not immediately go out of jail. The judge handling their rebellion cases denied his petition to discharge his duties as an elected senator. On Nov. 27, 2007, Trillanes along with detained Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim walked out of their court hearing in Makati City and holed up at the Manila Peninsula Hotel.
The second uprising sealed his fate; he remained in jail for the remainder of Arroyo’s presidency. The political wind changed when Benigno Aquino III, a political ally, won as president in 2010. Before 2010 ended, the President issued Presidential Proclamation 75, granting amnesty to Trillanes and other mutineers. By December 20, 2010, he walked out of prison to assume his duties as senator.
Trillanes has joined the Nacionalista Party; he ran for reelection in 2013 under the ruling Liberal Party-led coalition. Despite a shoestring budget and the fact that he had the least number of airtime, he won, improving his position to 9th with over 14 million votes.
Trillanes attributed his past victories to two factors: a strong anti-corruption agenda, and the extensive use of the Samahang Magdalo network. The anti-corruption agenda was an extension of the Magdalo’s rebellion against the Arroyo government.
In 2007, Trillanes and prison inmates relied on the informal Magdalo mass base, doing networking with supporters primarily in the Armed Forces and Philippine National Police, and using social media, mainly Friendster (Facebook was then a nascent social networking site). Magdalo then had a solid mass base to become a formal organization of volunteers.
In 2009, they had formalized their mass base into the Samahang Magdalo, a socio-economic entity advocating a fight against corruption in public service. Upon their release from jail in 2010, the Magdalo mutineers did organizational works to recruit new members, conduct party building, and strengthen the organization.
The Samahang Magdalo was tested as a formal organization in 2013, when it worked for the Senate reelection of Trillanes and the election of Alejano and Acedillo as Magdalo Party List representatives. “We used the same formula in 2007 and 2013. There was nothing new. The Samahang Magdalo was at the front,” Trillanes said.
Strong anticorruption advocacy
Trillanes ranked the poorest senator based on his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), but he has championed the anticorruption campaign, as he and Samahang Magdalo believe that corruption is deeply embedded in government and even in the Filipino psyche and culture. This explains why he went all out against the top of the political totem pole, fighting Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, corrupt military generals, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Trillanes explained it was no coincidence that he has been going after the top honchos, as they had committed alleged acts of corruption. This is Samahang Magdalo’s advocacy; it constitutes the reasons the young military officers staged their mutiny in 2003.
Trillanes almost singlehandedly raised corruption issues against the Binays. Despite discouragement from Senators Sergio Osmena III and Francis Escudero, who saw failure in his anti-corruption campaign, Trillanes had filed the original resolution last year seeking a Senate probe “in aid of legislation,” citing the overpriced Makati parking building as the initial target of probe.
His resolution and the subsequent official probe conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon subcommittee chaired by Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III has snowballed into what could be perceived as an irreversible political and public relations nightmare for the Vice President and his son, as they are forced to assume a defensive mode.
In fact, Binay is now in a sinkhole, as his popularity ratings in various opinion polls continue to plummet. “In [Samahang Magdalo], the mindset is different. We should reform ourselves to help the community. It should be from top to bottom, or from bottom to top,” Trillanes said. Despite the conflict brought by the Binay probe, Trillanes felt a sense of achievement, as this gave him “a feeling of certainty that what we are doing is right.”
‘Zero Corruption Philippines’
Trillanes is determined to pursue his vice presidential bid.
Nothing could stop him, including the prospect of facing Senator Grace Poe. Aside from the Samahang Magdalo, Trillanes and his colleagues have developed a political platform and program of government on three main issues: corruption, poverty; and peace and order.
They intend to communicate to the people the ultimate necessity of clean government, transform into a message of hope, and ensure that this message has permanence in the Filipino culture and psyche. They intend to eliminate official corruption, or the so-called “Zero Corruption Philippines.”
Poverty is another issue to address, as Samahang Magdalo continues its evolution as an organization of political and social activists. Social equity is an objective.
At the moment, it could not be determined how Trillanes would fare in the next elections. In various opinion polls, he is among the cellar dwellers among probable vice presidential bets. He has lower ratings than Senators Grace Po and Francis Escudero.
But it could not be denied that Trillanes has the backing and support of a grassroots organization that could influence and alter the flow of political developments in the country. The emergence of the Samahang Magdalo as a major player in Philippine politics appears certain. – Rappler.com
Philip M. Lustre Jr. is a freelance journalist who covered the economic and political beats. He is now involved in book writing projects. Email him at email@example.com.