Press Release
June 27, 2017

Transcript BBC Interview of Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV

MR. SACKUR: Welcome to Hard Talk. I'm Stephen Sackur. When it comes to populist politics delivered with menace, no one does it quite like Rodrigo Duterte, elected president of the Philippines a year ago. Since he came to power around seven thousand people have been killed in his war on drugs crime. Human rights groups are aghast, but the majority of the Filipinos seem to like his iron fist. My guest is one of the president's fiercest critics, Senator Antonio Trillanes. Is Duterte taking the Philippines and the region in a new direction?

Antonio Trillanes in Manila, welcome to HARDtalk.

SAFT: Hello, Stephen. Thank you very much for inviting me.

MR. SACKUR: We speak at a difficult time for your country, in Marawi, in Mindanao in the South of the Philippines, you have a national emergency, with a town which for weeks has faced siege because it's been - in essence - taken over by jihadist gunmen. The president says this is a national emergency; it is time for the country to unify in the face of the threat. Do you agree with him?

SAFT: Well I agree that what is happening in Marawi is a national crisis. It is something that we should deal with decisively, but I feel that the Armed Forces, historically, have faced more difficult challenges before and they can overcome this challenge once again, and I have no doubt that the Armed Forces of the Philippines will subdue the Maute group.

MR. SACKUR: Yes, now the finance minister, just a couple of days ago, made a very clear point of associating, as you put it the Maute group, the jihadists who are in Marawi, associating them with drugs crime. He said there's no doubt a lot of the money they make, the way they operate, comes out of their involvement in organized drugs trafficking. Do you agree with that?

SAFT: Well, probably that is the case, but the question is: for the past year that they unleashed this deadly war on drugs, how come they did not touch these suspected drug lords who are supporting the Maute?

MR. SACKUR: The finance minister, again, in an important speech just the other day said that it is time for the country to back a president who wants to see a Philippines where obedience to the law is not optional. He's imposed martial law in the area around Marawi and there is talk that he may extend the area on the martial law. You've called this a national crisis, I'm just wondering whether you support him at this time of crisis.

SAFT: We support the claim that what's happening in Marawi is a national crisis. In terms of the reach of Maute group, they can wreak havoc in the whole country, in terms of activities that may be deadly to the Filipino public. But in addressing this threat of terrorism, a martial law is not the cure because it will affect the way of life of the Filipino and at the same time it will affect negatively the economy of the country. My prescription was to enhance the capability of our intelligence community and our law enforcement agencies, so that we can accurately pinpoint the terrorist cells without affecting the way of life of the public.

MR. SACKUR: Isn't the truth, Senator Trillanes, that the Filipino public elected Duterte to the presidency because they wanted a tough guy. They wanted a guy who could impose order on the Philippines and if one looks back at the situation when he took over, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency stated last year that 92% of districts in Manila, for example, were affected by drugs, the overwhelming drug of choice being crystal meth. Your country was in a powerless state, drugs crime was at the center of it, that is why Duterte was voted in to deal with it.

SAFT: Yes, he created, actually, his own crisis. Let me just go back to that premise. 98% of the districts in Metro Manila, but for the whole country, only 27% of the barangays, as we call it, are affected or influenced by illegal drugs. And in terms of national statistics, we only have 1.8% of the population that has used illegal drugs, most of it are marijuana, compared to the global average of 5% of the population. So, in fact, our drug problem is not as bad as it seems. While we agree that it should be addressed, but it is not the primary or the only problem in our country.

MR. SACKUR: Are you a democrat, Senator Trillanes?

SAFT: Yes, I am from the Nationalista Party, but yes I am a democrat.

MR. SACKUR: No, I didn't mean in terms of party affiliation. I just meant in terms of your commitment to democracy. Because, it seems to me, fairly clear, that Duterte, whatever you think of him, was straightforward with the public. His platform was quite clear, I'm just going to give you one quote from his campaign. He said: "Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor in Davao. You drug pushers, you hold up men and do nothings, you better get out because I will kill you. I'll dump you into Manila Bay and I'll fatten all the fish with your bodies." That was his platform and he won a clear victory.

SAFT: Yes, but during the campaign, the public just thought that this is just a rhetoric to make campaign speeches more dramatic. And we have a set of laws. It doesn't mean that he said that during the campaign and he was voted into office just the same, it doesn't mean it will give him the license to kill our own people. He should still be made accountable for his actions outside the law.

MR. SACKUR: Do you think his war on drugs is working?

SAFT: Definitely not. As I mentioned, only the poor people, suspected users, and drug pushers are being killed. Running total, at least, would be more than 9000 already. But he has yet to touch the big time drug lords, which are already mentioned in the list of various law enforcement agencies.

MR. SACKUR: It's not easy for me to judge but looking at the comments made by members of the public in Manila to news agencies, they're saying things like "public streets are safer now; here in the Philippines we needed a ruler with an iron fist." These are quotes from the general public. That seems to be the mood that ratings for Duterte still remain high, 75% approval rating. I'm just wondering whether your comments, which are constantly negative, are out of tune with ordinary Filipino opinion.

SAFT: Well, the numbers that you mentioned are the latest numbers way back in March. But if you look at where his numbers were when he assumed office, it went as high as 92%. So in less than a year, it went down by 17% points, and I believe, the numbers in June, would be much worse -

MR. SACKUR: Believe me, Senator, if a Western politician could command 75% approval rating, they would regard that as the happiest day of their life, believe me.

SAFT: Well I agree, but the issue here is: the bulk of the Filipino public are not really aware of what's happening on the ground. It's the propaganda machine of the Duterte administration is very very effective. And bulk of the Filipino public are just busy with day to day living, that they don't really get to know the magnitude of the damage that Duterte has done. That's why, historically, in the Philippines, the popularity ratings go down as the information have radiated to the general public. And I believe that the numbers would continue to go down as they know more and more about the real situation.

MR. SACKUR: Right. Talking about the real situation, you, personally, seem very committed to trying to bring legal action against President Duterte for his past actions, particularly going back to his long time as mayor of Davao in Mindanao. Now, is it true that you are still offering your help to an individual called Arturo Lascanas who works in the so-called death squads that were operated in Davao during the time of now president's running of the city. There's some confusion about whether you personally have intervened to safeguard Mr. Lascanas. What's the situation?

SAFT: I assisted Mr. Lascanas when he appeared in the Senate. We provided security for him while he was there, while he was testifying. But when the State filed cases against him, and now he is technically a fugitive, I personally do not know his whereabouts. But here's the thing: we have a witness that would testify, yeah.

MR. SACKUR: I mean you've made great play of his testimony and we should remember it was very dramatic. I mean, back in April, I think he testified that he heard Mr. Duterte say, and he was talking, of course, of drug criminals suspects, "throw them in the ocean or the quarry; make it clean, make sure there are no traces of the bodies." There was one particular story, where Mr. Lascanas claimed that Duterte had signed off the murder of the pregnant wife and four year old child of one particular drugs crime suspect. Do you really believe this testimony? And do you believe this adds up onto something which should lead to legal action against Mr. Duterte now that he's president?

SAFT: Most definitely. I believe his testimony, and, in fact, even the state believed him enough that they used the testimony in the Senate to file cases against him

MR. SACKUR: Maybe it's in Mr. Lascanas' interest now to blame Duterte for actions which he himself took. I mean the man is a self-confessed murderer many times over. It seems a little odd to me that you - as an experienced politician - has put so much faith in a self-acknowledged mass murderer.

SAFT: The testimony that pinned down Mr. Lascanas was about the murder of a journalist in the Philippines. Mr. Lascanas has no interest whatsoever with the journalist. Even in his testimony, he was just part of the planners. He was not even the triggerman in that murder. And now the whole country saw that testimony and it's not only my own judgment that we believe Mr. Lascanas. A great number of people believe him, as well.

MR. SACKUR: The thing is, this isn't just about the law. It's also about politics. And I come back to the point, I mean Mr. Duterte has said many different things at different times, in a sense one can compare him in that way in which he is difficult to pin down, to you know other politicians of our time who use twitter to send different messages at different times. But the point about Mr. Duterte is in May 2015, for example, he said: "Am I the death squad? It's true, that is true." So, again, he has put his own record in front of the public even to the point of discussing his association with death squads. And the Filipino public decided this was the man to clean up your country. So in political terms, it seems to me you're bashing your head against a brick wall.

SAFT: Well, I'm not about to give up on this, even on the Filipino. It will take some time because the propaganda of the Duterte administration is getting in the way of the flow of information or the flow of the truth to the public. So, it will take a little time, but his numbers continue to go down and I'm quite confident that towards the end of the year, his numbers would be way below 50, by then.

MR. SACKUR: I asked you earlier if you were a democrat, and I think you feel you are, but let's look at your track record. You, twice, tried to mount coups against an elected Filipino president, in that case it was Mrs. Arroyo. Back in 2003, you had an abortive coup attempt which lasted, well, let's face it, only a day, it wasn't very successful. And then even more, to many Filipinos, even more, so that pathetically you've made another attempt to gather out in 2007 and you ended up in prison for best part of 7 years. Are you thinking that a coup is a legitimate response again to the Philippines' current political situation?

SAFT: Definitely not. I believe we have enough remedies for a problem like Duterte. But let me just go back to that premise. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power, back in 2001, through a coup. They tried to cover it up with some semblance of constitutionality, but we knew for a fact that she assumed office via coup. Now, Duterte, in Duterte's case, we have, as I mentioned, legal remedies within the Constitution and even part of the international laws, like the ICC, that we can resort to, to resolve or rectify this anomaly that is Duterte.

MR. SACKUR: Yeah, well okay. So, you say, no coup on this occasion, we'll use the law. You've already been involved in the filing of an impeachment complaint that was rejected by the Justice Committee of the House of Representatives, so that appears to be going nowhere and you've also been involved in the call to have the International Criminal Court in the Hague examine whether Mr. Duterte has committed crimes against humanity, but there's absolutely no indication that I can see that the ICC is prepared to pick up your case. So, I'm not sure where your faith in the law, both national and international, is actually taking you.

SAFT: Well, I'm quite confident that the ICC would take up the case because it falls right at the center of the essence of the ICC and probably in a few months, we'll see some developments. Now, as far as the impeachment is concerned, next year, we can also again file an impeachment case against Mr. Duterte, if we still have a democracy by then. Because I believe Duterte, at some point, will install a revolutionary government via Martial Law because that's the only way, that's the only kind of governance that he knows. As you mentioned, in Davao City, he ruled like a tyrant, a king, a whimsical king at that. So, that's the world that he lives in, that's why he can't deal with active members of the opposition. He cannot deal with the objective media, both local and foreign media.

MR. SACKUR: Do you feel safe, Mr. Trillanes, saying these kinds of things, given what you also say about Mr. Duterte's style and character?

SAFT: Well, there are things that one must do as a public servant and this is not the first time that I went up against a sitting president, a sitting vice president and a very powerful senate president. So, I believe I'm just being consistent regardless of the dangers that I could probably face.

MR. SACKUR: You spent 7 years in prison, you thinking you might be spending a few more years in prison before too long?

SAFT: Probably. The minions of Duterte have been trying to fabricate cases against me, but so far, nothing has worked.

MR. SACKUR: You're talking to me from Manila and there is no doubt that in some ways, Duterte represents a movement in the Philippines to change the way politics work. He's talked about imperial Manila, he says the country has never been governed by people who really have the best interests of the poor and the disadvantaged at heart, and in particular, he says the country has never been governed before by someone from Mindanao who is not obsessed with looking after the elite and the oligarchs based in Manila. He has a point, doesn't he? If you look at his economic program, he is committed to radical poverty elimination program which is gonna raise up the poorest Filipinos, particularly in those neglected areas in the south of the country, and that appeals to many people.

SAFT: Well, that's the campaign rhetoric. But one year from his election into office, up to this point, he has yet to actually come up with an economic program for the poor, and in fact, he has been killing them. So, he can never say that he feels for them and he wants them to succeed. And even Duterte himself admits that he doesn't know anything about the economy and his economic managers have come up with this ambitious economic program that is hinged on a tax reform program that is basically inflationary and, therefore, anti-poor. So, more or less, I, we know the situation here in the Philippines, the tide is changing and I feel it. Even though I'm very vocal against Duterte, I don't even fear for my safety as far as the ordinary Filipinos are concerned because a lot of them are starting to agree with what we have been saying.

MR. SACKUR: Okay. But look, the country's growing a pretty much 7% a year, which in the west would be regarded as a wonderful achievement. The World Bank says, it expects that growth curve to continue, at least through 2019. Mr. Duterte's done deals with Chinese investors, which suggests 15 billion dollars worth of Chinese investment is coming into your country. He's been crowing about the way, in which, by realigning the Philippines in terms of its diplomacy and outreach: It is now great friends with China, with Russia; and, still, has, of course, the security relationship with the United States. In a way, Duterte-ism appears to be working for the Phiippines.

SAFT: Well, on paper, as I mentioned, it may appear so. But let me just talk about the much-hyped 15 billion or 24 billion deal with China. It's basically official development assistance, it's a loan, that is again hinged on the passage of the tax reform plan, tax reform bill that the economic managers of Duterte are pushing. But we in the Senate, do not have any plan of passing it because it is again, inflationary and anti-poor. So, we cannot afford to give additional burden to the public and the public appreciates that.

MR. SACKUR: Yeah. What you didn't address was my point about this economic success. You have a 7% growth rate, which is going to continue and I, just, as a final point, put it to you, that for all of your fears about what Duterte means for the Philippines, right now, viewed by many ordinary Filipinos, this guy is doing a decent job.

SAFT: Well, that will change. As I mentioned, once more information will reach the ordinary Filipino, they will change their impression about Duterte. I've seen it happened before, it may take a little while but it does happen. Now, regarding the 7% GDP, well, it's happening despite of Duterte. It is fueled mostly by the remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers and that has been the case all these years, at least the past decade. So, he cannot solely take credit for anything at this point in time. And in fact, he promised to restore law and order, but the Philippines now is more chaotic today than when he first entered into office, and that's a fact.

MR. SACKUR: We have to end there, but I thank you very much Antonio Trillanes for joining me from Manila. Thank you.

Video file of the full BBC interview (Link:

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