Another coup leader in the Senate

Orly Mercado

Posted on June 16, 2007

The recent proclamation of the 2003 Oakwood coup leader Antonio Trillanes IV, a former navy lieutenant, as a duly elected senator, has become the subject of some curious if not naïve statements from the military.

Trillanes, who won in the recent Philippine mid-term elections, is still being held in custody as he faces coup d’etat charges. His electoral victory is almost a carbon copy of the previous election of coup leader Gregorio Honasan, whose coup attempts bedeviled the Cory Aquino administration, yet he was subsequently elected senator of the realm. This, even after the last of his seven coup attempts in 1989, practically derailed the country’s economic recovery.

The conventional wisdom at the time can be encapsulated in the famous inelegant remark of the late US President Lyndon Johnson: “It is better to have him in the tent pissing out, rather that outside pissing in.” The statement may still be true.

The military top brass naturally finds itself in a curious bind. It is pursuing charges against Trillanes for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, but cannot ignore the mandate he obtained from the Filipino people. It has been reduced to expressions of hope that Senator Trillanes would come to its succor by way of its perennial concern: an increase in its budget.

The air force spokesman merely repeated its mantra about outmoded aircraft. That is fine. Nobody actually disputes the needs of the air force, nor the navy, or even the army. We have an air force that can hardly fly, a navy that cannot put out to sea and an army that needs updated equipment. But that is hardly what the Trillanes victory is all about.

The linchpin of their coup attempt was reform in the military establishment. Reprehensible as the means they were employing were, their demands resonated then, and obviously still do now.

Put simply, the electorate voted for reform in the military establishment. But for all the hopes put on Trillanes, the legislature can only be a forum for discussing what is wrong with the military, but not much. The burden of addressing the humongous problem of corruption in the defense establishment rests in the leadership of the defense department.

Some see the election of Trillanes as an unfortunate reward for mutiny in the military. The fear is that like the rewards of corruption in the military, the reward for going against the system with the use of violence, is higher public office. Nevertheless, if the military establishment does not undertake serious reform, and address its long festering problems, there could be more coup attempts, and coup leaders subsequently elected to the Senate.

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