And here I was, thinking that the Senate had finally come to its senses about Mang Edgar, the guy who only went to first grade but who knew everything there was to know about the Davao Death Squad. Then the Senate’s mercenary-in-residence decided to take the floor.
So Senator Antonio Trillanes has leveled up, graduating from Senate timekeeper and microphone-minder to privilege-speech giver and resolution-proposer. How can you not believe that the agents of the former regime in the Senate are behind the move to destroy President Rodrigo Duterte using that poor sap, Matobato?
Apparently, the senators who are out to get Duterte have decided that Senator Leila de Lima has crashed and burned and is no longer suitable for the job of using Matobato for his intended purpose. And because Senator Franklin Drilon is, for one wily reason or another, unavailable to fill in for De Lima, Trillanes has stepped up to the plate.
Trillanes gave a privilege speech yesterday that fact-checked the testimony given to the Senate in the past two weeks by Matobato. And Trillanes found—contrary to what many have concluded on their own, without consulting Trillanes, Drilon or De Lima—that the self-confessed killer of up to 50 persons was mostly telling the truth.
That “mostly” is there because Trillanes will accept some minor problems with Matobato’s testimony. According to the senator, any inconsistencies in the witness’ account are understandable given a) his lack of education b) his inability to properly communicate in Tagalog (or, heaven forbid, in De Lima’s English) and c) his terribly advanced age of 57.
Trillanes then declared that he was filing a motion to investigate Duterte for his involvement in the killing in Davao City when the current president was still mayor, on the basis of Matobato’s testimony. It was—in Trillanes’ mind, anyway—the only way to proceed for the Senate.
Sure, it was. After all, one the major gripes about Matobato’s tale of 1,000 death squad killings was that De Lima wanted the Senate to investigate extrajudicial executions that have taken place since Duterte became president—not what he did when he was still mayor.
And so, Trillanes officially declared the shift in the DDS’ (for Drilon, De Lima and Sonny) strategy: If we can’t bring him down for what he did now that he’s president, let’s get him for what he did before that.
The beauty of it all—again, in the steel-trap mind of Trillanes —is that none of Matobato’s testimony will be wasted. The Senate will just use the same witness and perhaps the other witnesses lined up originally by De Lima, as well.
For someone who unquestionably leads the Senate in the number of consultants hired, Trillanes’ plan of recycling Matobato is simply out of character. The senator is just chock-full of surprises.
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But I started this column by calling Trillanes a mercenary. And I believe that, unlike when he displayed a new-found sense of frugality in the case of Matobato’s testimony, Trillanes is not about to shed his reputation as a gun for hire.
As Trillanes told Senator Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday, “I’m not here to oust anyone.” Then Trillanes remembered who he was and quickly added: “Not yet.”
Of course, the reason Trillanes got to the Senate in the first place was his role in what has now been called the Oakwood Mutiny. That takeover of the swank Makati serviced apartment building in 2003 by Trillanes and his other Magdalo brethren would not have been possible if they had not been financed by former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.
Without the money from Estrada, then facing plunder charges, the Magdalo plot to oust then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would have remained a fantasy. It was while the plot was being hatched and then carried out that Trillanes first tasted the mercenary life; he hasn’t looked back since.
Unlike his more principled Magdalo comrades, Trillanes would stay a “merc.” He would become, after his election to the Senate, one of the most famous hitmen of the Aquino administration, brokering surreptitious, unauthorized deals as “backchannel negotiator” with China, playing a co-starring role with Cayetano and now Senate President Koko Pimentel in the longest running Senate investigation ever which demolished the presidential chances of Vice President Jejomar Binay and finally taking solo billing in the last-minute attempt to destroy then-candidate Duterte with tales of hundreds of millions in presumably tainted money stashed in banks on the week before the May 9 elections.
Now, of course, Trillanes has found his new calling as Matobato’s chief handler and protector, after merely playing a supporting role to De Lima. The only question that remains is, who’s paying for Trillanes’ services now?
I guess the the answer to that question may come soon. For all of De Lima’s weaknesses, after all, I think she was still a harder target to bring down than Trillanes.
Frankly, I can’t wait to see that perpetual smug smirk wiped off the face of Trillanes. And I hope the day comes soon when he is again humiliated and led out by the waistband of his pants, just like he was after he destroyed the Manila Peninsula Hotel.