The Trillanes Paper

The author is the Coordinator of Action for Economic Reforms, a research and policy advocacy NGO focusing on macroeconomic policy and governance issues.

Antonio Trillanes IV, the handsome spokesman of the failed coup d’etat,
is now a household name. Public opinion is split on how to treat
Trillanes and company. While the majority oppose this latest military
“caper” against civilian authority, many among them express sympathy
toward some grievances of Trillanes et al. But for others, Trillanes
and company are just a bunch of traitors, whose so-called idealism is
but a messianic complex.

But what made promising young officers like Trillanes rebel? What
worldview shapes their actions? Trillanes’ past writings can offer
insights into these questions. Journalists and scholars have delved
into the academic papers written by Trillanes when he was a graduate
student at the University of the Philippines National College of Public
Administration and Governance. A foreign correspondent even wrote a
story titled: “Philippines: Academic roots of rebellion.” This kind of
description gives a scholarly gloss to what actually was a crude
attempt to grab power, (Those interested can download the Trillanes’s
papers from the website of the Philippine Center for Investigative
Journalism: www.pcij.org).

The paper titled “A Study of Corruption in the Philippine Navy,” which
Trillanes wrote in October 2001, is informative on three counts.

First, it exposes the extent of corruption in the Philippine Navy. Said Trillanes:

The loci of corruption in the Navy are found in two distinct areas: in
operational activities, which are ship-based and in administrative and
support activities, which are shore-based. Ship-based activities
include individual Navy ship activities and Naval Task Forces (NTF)
directly involved in ship operations. Shore-based activities,
meanwhile, include operations or functions of the various staff/support
units such as personnel, intelligence, logistics, finance, training,
etc. Under these are various forms of corruption, which are not
necessarily peculiar to each.

Trillanes presented nine case illustrations of corruption in the Navy.
The cases are rich in details, including the specific circumstances,
the dates, the offices or the ranks of the officers implicated, and the
amount involved.

Second, the Trillanes paper provides insights into his and the other
young officers’ views on how reforms can be undertaken. Trillanes was
quite impressed with Commodore Ruben Domingo who set in motion a
successful reform program to combat corruption. Here is how Trillanes
distilled the lesson from Domingo’s program (the passage is quoted
verbatim and hence any error is to be attributed to the paper’s author):

Surprisingly, Domingo’s reform program did not resemble the radical
redesigning” concept of Reengineering (Hammer and Champy 1993), the
“entrepreneurial government” spirit espoused by the Reinventing
Government concept (Osborne and Gaebler 1990) nor was it a form of
“Neo-Taylorism” (Reyes 1998, 189). Its only main components were his
technical competence, moral integrity and political will as a
Commander. Specifically, the technical competence to formulate reforms
and the moral integrity and political will to enforce them.

Trillanes’s conclusion reveals a simplistic outlook that the
individual, not institutions, is the most decisive in effecting change.
He attributes the success of the anti-corruption program to Commodore
Domingo’s “technical competence, moral integrity, and political will.”
For Trillanes, the role of institutions and the design of rules and
procedures are inconsequential. This kind of thinking that glorifies
the individual is not only naïve but also dangerous for an officer; it
breeds the military messiah.

Third, the paper traces the origin of Trillanes’s disappointment to
Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and President Gloria Macagapagal-Arroyo.
Specifically, Trillanes deplored the decision of Secretary Reyes to
transfer Rear Admiral Guillermo Wong to another post in order to
satisfy the Marines who demanded Wong’s relief. Wong, described by
Trillanes as being incorruptible, initiated a crusade against
corruption, but which led to a conflict with the Marines. President
Arroyo upheld Secretary Reyes’s decision, which Wong interpreted as a
demotion. Wong hence opted for the honorable way out-resignation.

Trillanes does not mince words in expressing his disgust. He wrote (again, this is a word-for-word quote):

For a President and Commander-in-Chief, whose government was supposed
to be founded on such slogans as “New Politics”, moral regeneration and
good governance, to say that what Gen Reyes did was “the right thing”
was truly demoralizing to say the least. This was the first indication
of the type of leadership the AFP would expect from its
Commander-in-Chief. RAdm Wong should have been fully backed by his
Chief of Staff and his Commander-in-Chief as he was on the right and
principled side. More importantly, he was “the” advocate of good
governance and, certainly, someone who has both the moral ascendancy
and political will to effect change in the Navy. Unfortunately,
according to the ‘New Politics’ philosophy of Pres.Arroyo, this is not
so.
A long and winded and self-righteous lament. Indeed, Trillanes and
company have many things to say about what is wrong with the Armed
Forces of the Philippines and the civilian government. But they reflect
an overly self-important military-abetted by years of misrule. And
there lies the continuing challenge for government: how to address
valid military gripes while ensuring civilian supremacy at all times.

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