MANILA, Philippines–Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV formally took his oath of office before a barangay chair in Caloocan City a week ago. That he chose to swear before the humblest elected official in the country is indicative of his conviction that he owed his election to the great multitude that are underserved and underrepresented.
Trillanes, the past. But even before he could take his seat, critics had already demonized him for his unattractive past. Who is this arrogant upstart who has no program of government, no vision, no worthy accomplishment to catapult him to the most eminent legislative hall of this blessed country, so they derisively asked. Opinion writers belittled him as “a boy with a new toy,” “a pseudo hero,” and “a typical neighborhood bully in a perpetual tantrum.” One baptized him “Fidel Castro Trillanes.”
True, Trillanes does not have the credentials of the Senate greats, the intellectual depth of Claro M. Recto, the brilliance of Jovito R. Salonga, the heroism of Ninoy Aquino, or the tenacity of Lorenzo Tañada. Basta, he had no “k” to be in the Senate, his tormentors insisted, oblivious of some not-so-great characters in that august body. All that was projected of him was his audacity in leading battle-weary soldiers during the Oakwood mutiny.
If the elections were held right after that caper in 2001, I doubt if he would have obtained more votes than Joselito Cayetano did. He was simply the head villain in a brazen attempt to seize the nation. But as the power wielders diminished in favor and in grace, and as the President’s popularity ratings were sucked into the maelstrom of “cheating, lying and stealing,” Trillanes grew in attention and in stature. That he tried to topple not only President Macapagal-Arroyo but also the Constitution and the entire establishment did not matter anymore. He became the visible symbol of the people’s angst.
Trillanes, the present. And so, more than 11 million voters elevated him to the Senate. He was their hero, not so much for the failed mutiny he led as for the aspirations he embodied. In him, they found commonality in the goals espoused but not necessarily in the methods employed. In effect, they were telling him, “We agree with your ends but not with your means. We shall make you a part of the democratic establishment, so you can, through legal means, pursue your lofty aims to liberate us from corruption, abuse and senseless killings.”
I shall not discuss here whether Trillanes is guilty of the crimes attributed to him. I do not know as yet what facts have been established to prove the charges filed against him. A judgment is arrived at only after the judge is convinced that the facts proven by the prosecution had (or had not) constituted the crime charged. Sometimes, the facts established may prove a wrong, but if the offense proven is not the crime charged (or one necessarily included therein), an acquittal may be inevitable.
Whether guilty or not, Trillanes must still patiently go through the labyrinths of the rule of law. He should neither ask for nor be granted any special favors. Otherwise, he would be remiss in the observance of the democratic processes that he swore to obey when he took his oath of office. Perseverance in the ways of the law, this is his crucial test in the present.
Trillanes, the future. Verily, by taking his oath of office, he solemnly promised to defend and protect the Constitution and to uphold the rule of law. By serving his mandate, he has become an essential part of the democratic establishment. Hence, he can no longer justify the use of brawns and guns as the means to change society—or even just the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the immediate beneficiary of his crusade. He is now bound by his self-sought obligations to use legitimate means to attain noble objectives.
“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the law.” So says the first and most basic provision of the Bill of Rights. Stress should be on “due process.” In fact, the crucible of a vigilant judiciary is the assurance of due process before anyone is detained, before goods may be seized, and before employment may be terminated.
The past did not bring about the reforms that Trillanes had sought through unconstitutional methods. The present has given him the opportunity to change the establishment from within, through the prudent use of the Constitution and the law. Facing him is the future. Will he take advantage of the unusual opportunity given him by our people to pursue his ends with the proper means? Dreams must never die, but they must live within the law.
In our constitutional structure, the legislative and executive departments are mandated to protect the State from internal and external attacks, to promote the general welfare, and to advance the prosperity of our people. The judiciary makes sure that these legislative-executive goals are pursued only through legitimate means. No short cuts, no fattening of private pockets, no violation of individual liberties. In a functioning democracy under the rule of law, there is a happy blending of means and ends.
Indeed, means are as important as ends. This is the great lesson of history. Hitler and Stalin ignored their interdependence. But Churchill, Roosevelt and Quezon sanctified it. Means and ends, as the old song goes, go together like love and marriage, like horse and carriage.
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