Some light is finally being shed on Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s Nov. 29 caper at the Manila Peninsula hotel, which confirms some of our worst fears. The whole affair was clearly based on a completely wishful view of the balance and behavior of forces on the ground, and the main actor’s even more wishful view of his native strength.
The adventure appears to have been not wholly spontaneous. It appears to have had some “planning,” but if in chess, it was a startling opening without anything else, a Plan A without a Plan B, which has characterized all of the failed moves against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ever since.
The Trillanes group had apparently calculated (hoped) that a crowd would naturally build up and join the former Navy lieutenant from the 2003 Oakwood incident as he walked the distance from the Makati courthouse to the five-star hotel. But while his route crossed and followed streets heavy with vehicular traffic, no pride or passion of partisans lined the sidewalks waiting to march.
It now appears that while the group saw their hero as a Pied Piper who would charm the crowds as he piped along, they had made it quite plain that other groups were welcome so long as they were not identified with former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada (Erap).
They forgot that without someone they truly identify with, crowds that could end up at the mercy of water cannons, police truncheons and tear gas will not sprout from the ground like mushrooms; they have to be organized, even rented, to be precise.
At the time, Erap was out on a medical mission in one of Quezon City’s poorest communities. He was in no position and had no chance to respond to the Trillanes media event, precisely because he and his supporters were specifically excluded a priori, by name, from taking part in the effort to confront Mrs. Arroyo with a long bill of particulars that begins ironically with her 2001 takeover of the presidency from Erap.
The Trillanes group apparently fancied themselves above and distinct from the opposition that had consistently questioned Mrs. Arroyo’s right to, and conduct of, the presidency. They seemed determined to save the country from Mrs. Arroyo, from Estrada and from everybody else except themselves.
Asked by the media who would succeed Mrs. Arroyo if she was removed, Trillanes enigmatically answered, in Filipino, “the leadership that would emerge.” But someone identified on radio as belonging to the Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomiya (KME) said, “Chief Justice Reynato Puno.”
Puno’s name was never mentioned again, either during that extended live coverage or in subsequent published newspaper reports. Neither has his name come up in the running, post-standoff revelations of the other Puno, Interior Secretary Ronnie Puno. And not one word has been heard from the Chief Justice himself.
Will the Arroyo government allow this to simply vanish under the rug? Nobody knows.
The first time KME mentioned Puno heading a proposed caretaker junta was in late October. The newspapers carried the story without comment. They still did not comment when Puno decided to keep silent, but permitted (or obliged) the Supreme Court (SC) spokesman Jose Midas Marquez to react to the KME announcement.
In that statement, the spokesman said:
1. The Chief Justice had not spoken to any of the proponents but had only read about their proposal in the newspapers.
2. “The news reports, nevertheless, if accurate, are humbling, and the trust confided in Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno is appreciated.
3. “The Chief Justice, however, would rather stay out of politics and remain in the judiciary which he has committed to ensure its independence and strengthen its integrity.
4. “Chief Justice Puno would also like to appeal to everyone to keep the judiciary out of the present political turmoil --- the judiciary should always be above politics. Otherwise, it loses its authority as an effective and credible dispenser of laws and justice.”
Still no comment. Not a single member of the Integrated Bar, not a single justice, judge, radio or TV channel or civil society critic of the Arroyo government offered any comment. No senator or congressman threatened to investigate.
I found it necessary to point out, in my blog (http://franciscotatad.blogspot.com), which the Tribune regularly reproduces, that:
1. The proposal of a junta headed by the Chief Justice was of such gravity that he should have personally issued his own statement, instead of letting a mere subordinate do it;
2. The SC spokesman can only speak for the Court on matters proper to it, not on issues personal to its members. The junta-proposal is strictly personal to Puno and therefore outside the spokesman’s official responsibility and competence;
3. Nobody ever suggested that Puno had ever met or talked with any of the proponents before they made their announcement. Why then did the spokesman have to point out that Puno had not talked to any of them? Was this not the kind of denial that merely confirms what is being denied?
4. As the primary guardian of the Constitution, the Chief Justice should have been outraged that his name was being associated with an extra-constitutional project. But no, he found the news reports “humbling,” and “the trust confided in (him) appreciated.” In short, he was thrilled.
5. There was not a word from Puno, his spokesman or any SC justice denouncing the junta-idea as outrageous for being unconstitutional, or Puno’s proposed place in it as absurd. I noted that KME was not asking Puno to head the proposed junta; rather the group was asking the public to support the idea of a junta headed by Puno;
6. Puno’s failure to denounce what he had a serious duty to denounce amounted to an expression of support for it. “Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi tractatur de ejus commodo---He who is silent is considered as assenting, when his interest is at stake.”
That was in early November. The fresh mention of the Chief Justice’s name during the Manila Pen standoff makes the whole issue current. Will we finally hear from the Chief Justice? What is Malacanang’s official take on it?
It now seems clear that whatever it was Estrada and his supporters had been pursuing since 2001, it has now been taken over by an anti-Arroyo, anti-Estrada group. Erap and his supporters have been unceremoniously devoured. Yet, without the open support of the masses whom Estrada leads, no group could possibly succeed in forcing Mrs. Arroyo out.
Unpleasant as some may find it, no one in the protest movement --- and for that matter no one in the country today – has Estrada’s drawing power. Since he came out of his six-year detention, he has been mobbed by huge crowds whenever he went. The two other former presidents ---Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos --- are not likely to create any stir inside a crowded sports stadium, shopping mall or busy street.
So, will the Trillanes group set aside its hubris, say sorry and reach out to Erap? Or will Erap now finally recognize that allowing all sorts of people to capitalize on his original cause in order to rail against Mrs. Arroyo while simultaneously rejecting and denouncing him as unworthy of their exalted company has been one very costly mistake? The next move is Erap’s.