The Guy and the Dragon Tattoo

When my feed turned into an intriguing pastiche of dragon tattoos, allegations Chinese Triad membership and myriad expressions of shared disgust, I had to ask: who is Trillanes and why does he seem like a waste of time?

“Failed mutineer, useless senator,” said Inah.

“Complete waste of oxygen,” said Michelle.

“One big idiot,” said Omar.

“Troublemaker,” said my Mom.

“At least he signed a waiver of bank secrecy,” said Liana.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is famous (or infamous) for his big mouth. He says what he wants, when he wants, how he wants, and he is extremely skilled at causing a ruckus. He’s so good, he was sent to jail for it. To be fair, it takes more than a big mouth to get sent to jail. Plotting to bring down the government will do the trick, and he did it not once, but twice, damaging a historical hotel into the bargain.

Still, he rose from the junior ranks of military personnel, parlayed his notoriety into winning a seat in the Senate and is now known as the loudest proponent against the Duterte administration. He occupies prime media space, and is constantly in public eye. No publicity is bad publicity, as they say. To win voters, you need familiarity and instant recall, and he has that in spades. Attention hungry blowhard, or canny political strategist? At this point, it’s almost as if he’s both. Not a bad move, for an alleged dimwit.

By accounts, Trillanes is all about stopping corruption, which is not a bad goal to have. But his involvement in the Oakwood Mutiny and the siege of the Manila Peninsula Hotel, both attempts at a power grab in the name of eradicating corruption, seem to imply that for him, the end game isn’t just about changing the system, it’s also about ruling the system.

Give him props for sheer doggedness and consistency. (If nothing else, I admire consistency.) Trillanes has gone on record, by saying he would prove that the president and his family are not the bastions of moral uprightness they claim to be, and he hasn’t stopped trying.

The latest imbroglio is his attempt to link Paolo Duterte, son of the President and current Vice Mayor of Davao City, to the Chinese Triads, and, by extension, the drug trade (the very existence of which his father is trying to extinguish), through a dragon tattoo which he alleges to be on the Vice Mayor’s back. Understandably, Mr. Duterte refused to take his shirt off in Senate to help the good senator prove his point, so at this juncture the question is now whether or not the inking actually exists at all. Show up with receipts and don’t lead the witness; hearsay won’t bring the hangman. Also, if proof of wrongdoing lies in being tattooed, everyone with a questionable tattoo is doomed. I see you, funky hipster.

Still, it doesn’t matter how many times Trillanes falls; he gets up and keeps at it, like a bloodied, battered fighter who goes by the law of numbers. The more punches attempted, the greater the likelihood one will land. It would be laudable if the strategy didn’t always resemble someone throwing handfuls of pasta at the wall, just to see what sticks.

This is a man who has learned to use dissent to further his goals. This is a man who encourages chaos, hostile takeovers, even espouses “creative means” of getting his way. It’s like a child believing throwing tantrums will get results.
Can we blame him? He ran for, and won, a seat in the Senate while he was serving time for throwing two such tantrums. That’s on us. But the right to decide who gets to lead the country is also on us. It belongs to all Filipinos. It’s called an election.

Could his constant harping against the current president’s administration be fuelled in part by resentment, i.e. Duterte succeeding where he had failed? We may never know. Seen in a certain light, it very well could be. When the goal of the fight becomes more about taking over than it is about seriously advocating for change, that’s a coup d’état. It’s spitting in the face of the majority’s wishes. Unless Senator Antonio Trillanes IV can prove that his motives are pure, I’m not wholly convinced he’s really after the truth and nothing but.

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