SEN. Antonio Trillanes IV is in an interesting place right now. Many people used to chide him for adventurism for openly accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of committing shenanigans at a time when Duterte’s popularity was at an all-time high. That was after the Duterte camp succeeded in sending the other Duterte critic, Sen. Leila de Lima, to jail. He was like Don Quixote tilting at the windmill.
But Trillanes stayed the course even if he has been left alone in the Senate with de Lima’s incarceration. He reiterated his claim that the President had bank transactions through the years involving more than P2 billion, then engaged presidential son Paolo Duterte in a battle of will and wits in a Senate hearing, accusing the latter of being a member of a Chinese triad.
To Duterte supporters, Trillanes is the devil incarnate and they bash him incessantly in social and traditional media (I think their favorite label of him is “sundalong kanin,” him having been a former Navy officer and coup plotter). I remember hearing a neighbor’s visitor in the early months of Duterte’s presidency calling Trillanes names and predicting he would never win reelection in 2019).
I myself was both in awe of Trillanes’s guts and questioning what propped up his daring. Wasn’t he thinking of his well-being? Consider that months ago, almost all trapos (traditional politicians) clambered into the Duterte bandwagon and the few that remained in the opposition got muted either out of worries for their own safety and political standing or for fear of being bullied by Duterte fanatics.
In the Senate, the pro-Duterte sneers at him while the minority steers clear of him. His only ally seems to be his Magdalo colleague Gary Alejano, but he is in the House of Representatives controlled by a pro-Duterte “supermajority.”
I say Trillanes is “slightly” seen in a different light nowadays, though. This reminds me of an opinion piece I read somewhere months ago that considered as wrong the President battling Trillanes directly instead of ordering his subalterns to do the fighting for him. The author’s point was that by doing so, Duterte elevated Trillanes to the presidential level. Or to put it differently, the President is going down to Trillanes’s level.
I think this was proven lately when the President, apparently eager to hit back at Trillanes, launched an offensive by waving documents of Trillanes’s supposed illegally acquired wealth hidden in several bank accounts abroad. Because the President was the one who personally “exposed” Trillanes, he was vulnerable to the senator’s counter. Trillanes has so far been able to parry the accusations, making him look good and the president look not too good.
But that is not only the reason for the shifting perception of Trillanes. With a good number of people slowly recovering their voice as shown in the conduct of the biggest protest action under the Duterte administration last Sept. 21, Trillanes was naturally positioned at the forefront of the growing wave. The increasing number of protesters and Duterte administration critics already see Trillanes not as foolhardy but heroic.