I got to meet senator-elect Antonio Trillanes IV during his victory party last Sunday at the Marine Headquarters brig or detention facility where he and 29 other rebel soldiers are being held. There were a lot of groups and personalities coming from different political causes present during the affair. Leaders of the opposition were also there. Families of the soldiers were present too.
Going inside the Marine Headquarters wasn’t easy as we had to get clearance first from the J2 or intelligence staff of the base. Seems all names of visitors go straight to the intel folks.
Trillanes joined our table for a short chat on the elections and his stand on different issues. There were around seven people in the round table listening in. After the usual congratulatory greetings, we got down to talking about the probe on extrajudicial killings and the death squads in the military.
As a professional soldier, Trillanes did not agree with the policy of killings non-combatants using “death squads” who operate “outside the chain of command.” News reports earlier quoted him as describing these “death squads” as composite teams from various intelligence units of the different service branches of the AFP.
No other military officer, active or retired (or resigned), has openly admitted the existence of such informal units. It was therefore a major revelation coming from the neophyte senator. Trillanes knew where to start in his investigation. He knew the death squads existed and that some very powerful and influential official/s is/are behind them.
“We have to go after the policy makers,” he said. However, this is easier said than done because he knew the Arroyo government would try to block investigations into the truth about the killings. He was right.
True enough, AFP chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon is already invoking EO 464 as his defense when he is called upon to testify before the Senate. Weird really because it is the President who decides and gives clearance, if ever required, for officials who are called to testify. The decision will be made by GMA as chief executive. So it is really premature for Esperon to be invoking anything at this point especially since his participation in the probe is not his decision to make.
Back to Trillanes. Not many know that he opposes the anti-terrorism law recently signed into law by GMA and set to take effect in July. When asked if he thinks the law will be abused and used against the Opposition, he replied, “definitely.”
Trillanes has a very simple and reasonable approach to terrorism and that is resolving social injustices especially in places like Mindanao. He believes that terrorism takes root in these areas because of the violence and oppression faced by the people. He cited a story of a fellow detainee in Camp Aguinaldo who threw a grenade at a public market in Mindanao. His reason for throwing a grenade? It was getting even for the losses he suffered after the military indiscriminately bombarded his town in the course of their ant-insurgency operations. The man was offered the job by some rebel group and didn’t think twice of accepting the offer.
From the short discussion, it was clear that one issue he really felt for was the issue of peace in Mindanao. Establishing peace in Mindanao by addressing the injustices will take away the breeding ground of the terrorists. He said that a lot of killings happen in the region but do not get publicized as much as the extrajudicial killings of activists.
Of course Trillanes also felt the need for a comprehensive national internal security framework under which anti-terror legislation would fall. “The country doesn’t have one right now,” he said. “But isn’t the Bantay Laya the implementation of the National Internal Security Plan,” I asked. He didn’t seem impressed with Bantay Laya and its authors.
The chat with Trillanes was interrupted by frequent photo op sessions with guests. In true Pinoy fashion, everyone lined up the wall for photo sessions with the new senator. Families, friends, guests, supporters, all had their picture taken with a very game and accommodating Trillanes. You can see from their wide smiles that the people were truly happy with the proclamation of the Magdalo leader.
As we prepared to leave, another detainee approached us and wished us luck in our undertakings. “Balik kayo ha.” he said with a smile.