MANILA - When Senator Antonio Trillanes IV talks about prison time as being a "crucible for character-building", he certainly knows what he's talking about.
Detained for seven years for leading the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, he spent the first few years of his imprisonment at the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines where he says he was treated as an enemy of the state.
He later ran for the Senate and won while detained at Fort Bonifacio and spent his first three years in office under detention in Camp Crame.
By all accounts, his living conditions were a far cry from what his fellow Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla are currently experiencing.
So following the recent litany of complaints about bad food, stifling heat and rats the size of cats, Trillanes has this advice for his Senate colleagues.
"I believe they just have to man up. They have to make up their minds if they want to fight this through, if they want to play that role of being innocent men being subjects of injustice or playing the role of guilty men who are going to use every loophole to get out of this. So they have to make up their minds," he said in an ANC Headstart interview.
"We dealt with the same rats before and the heat. There is this saying: if you do the crime, you do the time. I believe when we rose against the past administration, no matter how morally justified that cause was, legally it still was (a crime). We did the time," he added.
Trillanes said he was detained under a very hostile administration. He was handcuffed every time he had a court appearance and was sometimes blindfolded when brought out of detention.
He also mingled with other detainees including Abu Sayyaf men, Moro rebels and kidnap-for-ransom suspects.
"There were periods of leniency and periods where they were very strict. There were days when we were detained all day and only given one hour sunning privilege a day at 6 a.m. Often, we would sleep through that so we would not get out at all," he said.
Trillanes said there were periods when their electric fans were taken during summer. Visitation rights were also cancelled every time the camp was on red alert.
His detention cell in Camp Crame did not have a shower and the toilet did not have a flush. "May rehas at may padlock. There is a bed and a comfort room with a wall (chest) high," he said.
Trillanes said the worst time he spent in detention was at the ISAFP. "Nothing beats where your guests are being strip-searched," he said.
Trillanes said the two senators must devise strategies to help them endure the long days and nights in detention.
One strategy is to establish a routine and exercise both body and mind.
"I read books, a lot of books. You'll have to exercise. Physically you have to tire yourself because you cannot sleep. You have to read books in between, it will help you fall asleep," he said.
Trillanes' advice is easy enough for a soldier who's accustomed to a high level of discipline. But for the senators who have lived most of their lives in the luxurious world of show business and politics, Trillanes advised them to look inward.
"They just have to grin and bear it. There's no going around it. That's what they're facing. Use this experience to come out better persons in the end. They can reflect about life in general, what their future holds as public servants. So this is a very good time for them to really change as persons," he said.
He also doesn't favor detaining Senator Juan Ponce Enrile in a similar fashion because of his advanced age.
He said senior citizens have special needs that can't be addressed in a common detention facility.
"He can be detained let's say in a hospital or in a detention facility that can provide for his medical needs. I'm looking at it from a policy perspective. This is not about Senator Enrile. This is about senior citizens, how we would treat senior citizens in general," he said.
In sum, Trillanes believes that instead of decrying the so-called special treatment given to detained senators, the public should instead call on government to upgrade the living conditions of ordinary prisoners.
"I believe we should pressure government not to level down the treatment of senators but to level up the treatment of other prisoners. To treat detainees like dogs is not the way to go. We have to construct new ones to ensure that these detainees will not lose their dignity while in jail," he said.