Malaya - Who’s the coward?

by JB Baylon 

18 March 2013

‘Trillanes does not appear to me to be showing any signs of fearing anyone in power.’

THE Lion of the Senate described him as a “coward”

Of all the accusations hurled at Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, it was, in my book, the least that stuck.

The accusation happened during one tell-tale exchange on the Senate floor. Trillanes was questioning why the bill that seeks to partition Camarines Sur was, in his eyes at least, being railroaded – meaning, being shepherded by the leadership through the approval process in the shortest possible time. In his eyes, this smacked of “payback” – because the partition was going to create a new district that would allow the province’s power blocs to have their own fiefdoms – including Rep. Dato Arroyo, the son of the former president.

To Trillanes, the attempt by the Senate leadership to get the bill passed was Enrile’s way of doing the Familia Arroyo, among others, a favor.

Of course this did not sit well with the Senate President. Out of nowhere the veteran legislator and political survivor produced a sheaf of documents that he claimed were the notes of the former Philippine ambassador to Beijing, detailing the discussions that Trillanes had with Chinese officials related to the ongoing dispute over the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. What was he doing getting involved in foreign relations, the Senate president thundered? What was he doing without getting the permission of the Senate leadership?

Trillanes explained that he had been sent on a mission by the President of the Philippines to create a backchannel for the negotiations. But the Senate President didn’t buy the explanation, implying that the back channeling of Trillanes was inimical to the national interest. In the heat of the debate that had shifted from the division of a province to the dispute over troubled waters, Trillanes walked out of the session hall. That’s when the veteran lawmaker called him a coward.

At that very moment, I was expecting Trillanes to come back and take the microphone and reply:

 “Mr. President. I am called a coward, but I would challenge those who do to look into the mirror.

I challenged a President I deemed corrupt and unworthy of the position when she was at the height of her power and I was a simply senior grade lieutenant in the Philippine Navy; in contrast, my accuser challenged an ageing dictator who was in the twilight of his years – after buttressing him in power – while he was Defense Minister – Who is the coward?

Mr. President: I chose to go to jail and lose all my benefits as a soldier of the armed forces rather than submit to a person who I felt was without moral and legal basis to call herself President – while my accuser virtually traded with the devil – actually not just one devil but two….Who is the coward?

Mr. President, my record is as clear as my accuser’s, like white to black: I refused to deal with a president who lied and cheated to hold office, while he helped a president lie and cheat to declare martial law and hold onto power, and then helped another one years later after she stole the elections to remain in power, so he could remain in power too.

Who is the coward?”

I wonder what would have happened if Trillanes had spoken those words?

If indeed Senator Trillanes is a coward, he should be running scared now. Many would tremble at the thought of crossing swords with someone like the Senate President.

But just like those who have stared cancer in the face and survived have no further fear of death, Trillanes does not appear to me to be showing any signs of fearing anyone in power. He had, for goodness sakes, dared the might of the Government by going against a sitting President – and with the peoples’ grace he survived and triumphed. What greater and more powerful foe can you face than that?

My first introduction to Trillanes happened when he was still a brash and bold junior officer, incarcerated in Fort Bonifacio, and the identity of his visitors was routinely checked. My fellow columnist, Ellen Tordesillas, brought me on a visit once, and that was when I first came face to face with the leader of the only “guests” to occupy Oakwood and not pay the hotel for their accommodations!

Who would have known that the young officer I met would eventually run for the Senate on an opposition ticket – while in jail – and win? I wouldn’t have imagined that at all.

But I COULD imagine the same young officer continuing to dare the powers that be on issues he deemed violative of the principles and ideals to which he as a cadet, as a young officer and now as a public servant had sworn as bases for serving the Filipino people. 

There may be some positions or some issues on which I may agree with some of the critics of Antonio Trillanes IV, but on the issue of cowardice I do not.

Indeed when you are running on the basis of principles and ideals, how can you be a coward?

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SUCH IS LIFE. Today my family marks my father’s 81st birthday as well as my mother’s 20th death anniversary. I have always said that Fate united my mom’s “birth into the afterlife” with my dad’s birth into this life. In the end I suppose it is true that what matters is not the length of one’s life but the value you bring to others…and I would like to think that an abbreviated life like my mom’s is continued by those of us who survive her, bringing value to others in ways she may have done as well – but surely better!