North Korea in the Senate
President Rodrigo Duterte recently described Senator Antonio Trillanes as a one-man “political ISIS.” I think Senator Richard Gordon would agree with me instead of with Duterte when I say that Trillanes is really like the North Korea of the Senate, because he never follows the rules but never gets punished, either, for some still unknown reason.
The point is simple: If the Senate allows Trillanes to do whatever he wants because he knows he will never be sanctioned by his peers, how different is that supposed august body from all the other institutions that protect its members by looking the other way when they misbehave?
Gordon, Trillanes’ current accuser, has said that he is out to prove that the chamber where the Olongapo senator has served for a long time is not really an old boys’ club. This is why, Gordon said, he wants Trillanes to pay for his unparliamentary behavior, or basically for thumbing his nose at his colleagues for a long time.
“We keep accusing the police, the people at Customs and everywhere else of protecting their kabaro [co-workers],” Gordon said. “It’s about time someone stood up to this fellow here in the Senate.”
Since the restoration of the Senate in 1987, the Senate has only officially censured two of its members after they were accused of misbehaving before the ethics committee. Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Heherson Alvarez got the equivalent of senatorial slaps on the wrist, the former for accusing Paul Aquino (father of current senator Bam) of various unsavory dealings and the latter for interfering with a purely police matter.
But no senator has really has had the book thrown at him for misbehavior in recent times. And Trillanes, who has developed a unique style of parliamentary trolling that he first perfected on resource persons, seems hell-bent on proving that the Senate will simply not go after one of its own even if he repeatedly trolls his own colleagues.
I already wrote last week about how Trillanes first tasted “victory” as a Senate bully when he so embarrassed Secretary Angelo Reyes that the latter decided to kill himself. But now he seems to have gone beyond mere trolling of Senate witnesses and graduated to irritating his fellow senators just to see if he can get a rise out of them.
Trillanes, of course, is not really as brave as he pretends to be. After he first clashed with Gordon last year, during the Senate investigation on the so-called Davao Death Squad, Trillanes went to visit Gordon in his office to apologize.
But Trillanes, who staged two failed coup attempts during the Arroyo years, is apparently such a creature of habit that he cannot resist doing what he does when the opportunity presents itself yet again. And since he can no longer apologize to Gordon for trolling the latter in the session hall, he delivered a speech yesterday explaining that he was not guilty of unparliamentary behavior when he called Gordon’s committee a “comite de abswelto.”
I think Trillanes has once against been spooked by the possibility of majority of his colleagues deciding to finally do something about his being a general pain in the Senate behind, which is why he had to explain himself. And over the years, Trillanes knows that he has collected an impressive list of enemies even inside the chamber who would probably enjoy nothing better than to see him get what he deserves.
Trillanes has only himself to blame, of course, if nobody likes him in the Senate—or outside of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if even his own colleagues in the opposition, if they didn’t have to present a united front against the Duterte-friendly majority, would vote to sanction him.
Kim Jong-un doesn’t have a lot of friends, either, outside of North Korea. And it’s not really because of that terrible haircut of his.
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Personally, I don’t believe that the Senate should impose the severest penalty of removing Trillanes from office, which it can do, if it really wants to. I think Trillanes should remain in the Senate but only after he serves a suspension or a similar penalty, not just a slap on the wrist.
The penalty should be severe enough to remind Trillanes that he has to abide by the rules of the chamber he belongs to and not act like he is its resident Kim Jong-un. But it should not be so heavy that the senators will lay themselves open to the charge of suppressing dissent—even if I can think of no other senator who so richly deserves being suppressed.
No, I want Trillanes to remain in office and in the opposition because he typifies the quality of the opposition to the Duterte administration—ill-prepared, unreasonable and arrogant in the extreme. As I said last week, if Trillanes is the best that the opposition can offer, then Duterte will have nothing to fear—even if Trillanes totally loses it and decides to stage another of his futile military uprisings.
Trillanes needs to be taught a lesson, after all, even if he appears to be the kind of politician who is so full of himself that he can no longer be expected to have the humility to learn anything. Even if he doesn’t learn manners and humility, it would still be fun to punish him, just for being the Senate’s own North Korea.