SENATOR Antonio Trillanes’ unfortunate appearance on the BBC show HARDtalk this week tells us a few things about the difference between talking with conviction and talking, period.
The conversation covered a wide range of topics, including President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, his supposed involvement in the Davao Death Squad as alleged by a self-confessed killer, the crisis in Marawi City, martial law, and Trillanes’ experience as a coup plotter twice over.
At one point, the host, Stephen Sackur, asked Trillanes if he was a democrat—meaning, if he was committed to democracy—but looked frustrated when the senator talked instead about his party affiliations. We all know these don’t mean anything in this part of the world.
Sackur stated his observations about the Philippine situation, after which he asked Trillanes to react to them. For instance, the former noted Filipinos must really prefer to be governed by an iron fist. Mr. Duterte had always talked menacingly about what he intended to do about drug pushers, drug addicts and other criminals. And yet he won the presidency, and one year into the job continues to enjoy high popularity among the people.
Not for long, Trillanes warned. He said the only reason Mr. Duterte remains popular is his efficient propaganda machine. People would soon see through this, and the numbers would slip.
As for the campaign against illegal drugs, Trillanes said the drug of choice among Filipinos was marijuana, and not shabu, and that the numbers were high in Metro Manila but not nationwide. “He created his own crisis,” he said of the President.
Sackur said he was perplexed why Trillanes would give so much faith to the testimony of Arturo Lascañas, who has confessed to killings through his membership in the deadly squad. Trillanes did not deny that he helped secure Lascañas at the time of the Senate hearings. Now Lascañas is a fugitive.
He does not believe martial law is a cure to the problem in Marawi; enhanced military intelligence is.
And when Sackur brought up the issue of his two attempts to topple a government, Trillanes said there were remedies now—as if these remedies had not always been there during his more adventurous days.
Finally, he called the President an anomaly and said the economy was growing respectably in spite of him, not because of him.
Sackur may have been right to describe Trillanes as one of Mr. Duterte’s fiercest critics. What he missed was the fact that not all critics are created equal.
There are legitimate critics, and their voices must be heard as they point out the numerous weaknesses and excesses of the Duterte administration. They focus on acts, statements and decisions, and not the personalities who make them. They do not stop at criticizing; they propose solutions and offer to help.
Indeed, many answers are demanded of Mr. Duterte as he deals with several crises in his one-year-old administration. His mindset, words and demeanor still lack presidential quality. He is too lenient with select members of his team, rewarding them instead of sacking them, for bungling the job.
Trillanes, however, is never the right person to criticize anybody. He carries too much baggage and questionable intentions. That perpetual scowl on his face is a giveaway to the fact that he will never find anything positive about anyone he has branded as an enemy.
It is good to disagree and to talk tough to each other as the situation requires. Trillanes’ brand of hard talk, however—unfounded, unyielding and utterly embarrassing—has no place in constructive conversation.
It was painful to watch that interview, but even more devastating to be reminded we pay Trillanes for doing what he does.