FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - August 24, 2015 - 10:00am

For a while, Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ explanation for the army of consultants he hired at public expense fascinated me.

During interviews, he justified his hiring of over 60 consultants citing the need for ears on the ground. In fact, he lamented he did not have enough consultants to cover all provinces. What a shame. After all, he says intelligence gathering is his strong suit.

If that justification sounded a little contrived, I postponed doubt for a moment — even if this was the same man who once outspent all his other colleagues in the Senate in travel expenses during the time he was detained.

Now the list of those consultants has been publicized. They include, apart from the senator’s own brother, two family drivers, a houseboy, campaign donors and comrades at the bizarre Oakwood Mutiny who have since been separated from the service.

The campaign donors, by Trillanes’ account, contributed P500,000 each to his campaign for a Senate seat. They must have recovered much more than that from consultancy fees paid for by taxpayers. That looks convincingly like political payback.

Taxpayers, in effect, paid for Trillanes’ campaign expenses. While that may not be anything new, milking taxpayer money for political payback and the hiring of domestic help clashes sharply with this politician’s carefully cultivated guise as crusader against graft.

If I recall correctly, this was the same senator who tarred and feathered his colleagues in that august chamber for, among other things, charging their grocery bills to the Senate’s maintenance and other operating expenses. This was during one of those shameful catfights in the chamber that this senator almost always figures in.

“Scandal” almost seems like Trillanes’ middle name, either when he is trying to rake muck or when he is raking it in. The bully at Senate hearings is now caught with some dirt under his nails. He must have a better explanation for the army of low grade personnel he categorizes as “consultants” – one that does not mock the public’s intelligence.


Assuming without conceding this army of consultants actually does work at the Senate to support work Trillanes does as a legislator, what is there to show for it?

Has Trillanes produced earthshaking legislation that might change the life of this nation? I recall none.

Has he expounded on any of the reforms in the bureaucracy or the economy or the rule of law? I recall none.

What I recall is that episode where Trillanes presented himself a “backchannel” negotiator with China. The Palace humored him by accepting that role-playing. Trillanes suggested we withdraw our naval forces from Scarborough Shoal, guaranteeing China would do the same. We did. China has since occupied that shoal unchallenged.

Trillanes, of course, plays a role as part of that triumvirate composing this kangaroo court officially designated as a “subcommittee” of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. The “subcommittee” held last week its 23rd episode and threatens this week to conduct the 24th, breaking all records for public hearings of this sort.

Before each episode, Trillanes announces a “bombshell” forthcoming. After each episode, we are left observing a dud.

Last week, for instance, Trillanes presented an obviously contaminated witness, a political sidekick of Ernesto Mercado. He presented narration of a visitation to two sites in the city where “ghost” senior citizens were supposedly detected. Then he proceeds to extrapolate that hundreds of millions were lost to such “ghosts” and presumably pocketed by the former mayor who is now Vice-President.

The evidence is weak to begin with and the gaps in logic large. All we learn from this session is that a polished Powerpoint presentation cannot possibly offset dubious content.

If Trillanes’ army of consultants was responsible for this miserable show, they should be fired forthwith. They serve their master badly. They are not worth the taxpayer money they are paid.


His army of consultants have been serving Trillanes badly from the very start of this endless string of hearings – intended obviously to squander Senate resources for the very partisan goal of smearing the person of the Vice-President.

At the very start of this hearing, it was clear the exercise overstepped constitutional tenets and existing jurisprudence. The proceedings were not governed by clear rules as required by the Constitution.

It is clearly stated in jurisprudence that hearings in aid of legislation cannot possibly be deemed as establishing guilt or innocence. That usurps the role of the judiciary.

Furthermore, the rights of the accused in such hearings must be duly respected. That has been obviously breached.

The Senate Resolution that forms the basis of the hearings of the “subcommittee” clearly states that the proceedings are convened because of petitions filed before the Ombudsman. That makes the hearings a redundancy. The matter is already under the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.

If any of Trillanes’ large number of consultants were lawyers worth their salt, they would have advised their client about the legal considerations that needed to be taken into account. That would have prevented the senator from stepping way out of bounds in the many statements duly recorded in the transcripts of these hearings.

Those statements, involving prejudgment, will be called up in case the matter is actually brought to court. That will cause exclusion of the testimonies.

But then, Trillanes seems interested in propaganda than in court proceeding, in persecution rather than prosecution — which is beneficial to the Vice-President in the end.

We are, of course, assuming here that these consultants are what Trillanes says they are. The facts that surface about them, however, undermine the assumption.


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