I had a great laugh yesterday when I read about Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s call for an investigation of social media trolls, whom he accused of spreading “false, erroneous, distorted, fabricated and/or misleading news and information… at the expense of rational discourse [and to] deliberately create and/or foment discord and conflict.” After all, I had just witnessed Trillanes troll a colleague of his on the floor of his chamber, in the person of Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Trillanes trolled Zubiri in a media interview last Tuesday by accusing the Bukidnon lawmaker of a joining the plan to whitewash Trillanes’ investigation of the Bureau of Immigration. Then he trolled Zubiri again when the latter rose to give a privilege speech defending his support of killing the Trillanes probe, which was done in a Senate vote on Monday.
In a classic trolling ploy, Trillanes responded to Zubiri’s charge that the ex-coup leader used offensive language by actually admitting that he had meant to offend. “I’m glad that the gentleman took offense because in fact the statement was meant to be offensive,” Trillanes said shamelessly, as is his wont, right in the session hall.
Zubiri, who is apparently unused to trolling, had enough and confronted Trillanes. The two could have come to blows had the proverbial cooler heads not prevailed; Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III suspended the session and later patched up things between his colleagues.
Of course, Trillanes’ trolling is only called “interpellation” because he did what he did in the Senate. If he had done the same thing on social media, he’d be a troll, defined by Wikipedia as “a person who sows discord… by starting arguments or upsetting people… with the intent of provoking [others] into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal… discussion, often for the troll’s amusement.”
Why the Senate allowed Trillanes to get away with being deliberately offensive, as he himself admitted, is what’s bothersome. It called to mind Trillanes’ previous successful trolling expeditions in the chamber, especially his shaming of Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, whom Trillanes repeatedly badgered and bullied during an official investigation, after which Reyes went to his mother’s grave and shot himself in the head.
Of course, Trillanes the Troll also can also end up on the losing side of a trolling match—or a Senate debate, if you want to call it that. He once walked out of a Senate session when Senator Juan Ponce Enrile demanded that he explain his actions as alleged “special envoy” of then President Noynoy Aquino to Beijing, after he had trolled Enrile over something else.
Trillanes’ long record as a Senate troll renders void the expected defense that President Rodrigo Duterte is himself engaged in trolling when he uses abusive language directed at people he doesn’t like or who get in the way of his plans. Trillanes was already a troll when he entered the Senate, long before Duterte even dreamed of the presidency.
And the reason Duterte hates Trillanes is that the senator trolled him, too, in a last-minute bid to deep-six the Davao City mayor’s candidacy with claims of hundreds of millions of pesos in ill-gotten wealth accumulated by Duterte. Duterte won anyway—but Trillanes is still trolling in the Senate.
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Speaking of trolls, I’ve been informed that the so-called “troll-master” of the Aquino administration, former Secretary for Something-or-Other Ramon “Ricky” Carandang, is back in harness, this time as traditional and social media guru of Vice President Leni Robredo. The former television news reader with the constipated, faux-serious mien who assembled the vast and well-equipped troll army of then President Noynoy Aquino officially draws his pay from a low-profile subsidiary of a high-profile business clan identified with the Yellows, but that is not his real job.
Carandang’s true occupation is reassembling his old army of for-pay trolls, hackers and all-around online no-goodniks in the service of Robredo, as well as wooing the brick-and-mortar media. And Carandang’s handiwork can be seen in the coordinated attacks on anti-Robredo bloggers and social media personalities, as well as the friendly publicity the vice president has been receiving in the traditional press.
But as Aquino found out soon enough, Carandang is not as good as he advertises himself, something that prompted Noynoy to fire him from the Cabinet after the fiasco that came to be known as the Zamboanga City Crisis of 2013. In the last elections, Carandang worked for the campaign of one of the few people who still believed in him, Mar Roxas—and we all know what happened to Roxas last May.
The thing about Carandang is that he is as expensive as he is ineffective, which makes you wonder who’s really paying for his new position as Robredo’s top media adviser. Remember, this was the propagandist who was investigated in Congress for allegedly buying so many pricey MacBooks and Blackberry handsets for his troll army—and then charging all of them to his credit card in order to amass free airline miles.
Of course, Carandang’s finding new employment with Robredo can be seen as a positive, because he is providing jobs for himself and for so many people who thought they would never again see a regular paycheck after Roxas lost. But whether or not Carandang is going to help shore up the flagging popularity of the vice president (as the latest surveys show) is another kettle of stinky fish altogether.