As a Senator, Trillanes was one of the toughest inquisitors on a panel—a trait he now applies to his students’ work. Photograph by Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Culture Spotlight

Sonny Trillanes embraces life as a teacher

Once one of the most fiery members of the Senate, Trillanes now spends his time grilling students and not corrupt officials. And it’s a change of pace that he wholeheartedly welcomes.
Nikko Dizon | Oct 17 2019

His students greeted him for National Teacher’s Month, and it made Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV—former senator, ex-rebel military officer, and still, a thorn in President Duterte’s side— feel at home in the academe.

The unexpected greeting that took place earlier this month “ was some sort of a reminder for me that I am a full time teacher now. It felt good,” Trillanes says. Since August, Trillanes has been teaching the Public Policy class in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) graduate program of the UP-National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG). He meets his students once a week. He is also a lecturer at the Ateneo, teaching a similar course.

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Trillanes himself is an NCPAG alumnus, earning his MPA major in Public Policy and Program Management in 2005. Twice he was a University Scholar, when he got a GPA of 1.0 and 1.25.

Having a teacher with a solid background in public policy—both in discipline and in practice—must be quite intimidating for any student. But if Trillanes’ students feel a bit frightened, they do not show it. Trillanes’ students are from the public and private sectors. One is a young judge. On the day ANCX sat in Trillanes’ class, many participated in the discussion.

“Yesterday, before class, my students were joking that during their presentations they felt like resource persons being grilled during Senate hearings kasi talagang marami daw akong pinupuna sa reports nila,” Trillanes says, laughing a bit at the memory of his intense Senate investigations. “I just told them that I needed to push them to reach their intellectual potential. At the same time, I reminded them that there are heightened expectations from them once they graduate so they needed to exceed the standards set for UP MPA grads.”

 

Challenges and expectations

Class suspensions are now a concern for Trillanes because they push back his schedule for the lessons. He reviewed his students on the definition of public policy. They had not seen in each for the past two weeks because of the weather.

The academic definition of public policy was flashed on Trillanes’ power point presentation. In a nutshell, it said public policy is defined as a course of action or inaction by government with the welfare of the people in mind.

But Trillanes, from his exposure in politics, adds: “At worst, [policies] are intended to pursue the personal interests of the policymakers.”

Former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV feels at home in the academe. Photograph by Nikko Dizon

It’s a reality that Trillanes, who has criticized administrations and was once detained for it, wants his students to ponder on. They went on to discuss the theories of policy process and related it to current issues, such as Oplan: Tokhang as part of the government’s drug war and the military’s modernization program.

Trillanes also brought up his plan to bring the class to the Senate for the students “to see the brilliance of some of our senators.” His students laugh. “Why are you laughing?” Trillanes asks, chuckling.

Two hours flew by and class was over (They took a 15 minute break, with snacks courtesy of Trillanes. A couple of students who sat in also asked for selfies with him.). 

“Thank you, sir!” Trillanes’ students say, as they collected their things. Their tone was striking. They did not sound like they were addressing a senator. It was the kind of “Sir” addressed to a professor. “It's actually a relief for me to have them see me that way. It is necessary to break that wall so I'd be more effective in teaching them,” he admits.

 

A different path

Only 48 years old, Trillanes could have chosen to run for another elective post. But he took the path least traveled by politicians.

A few months before he “graduated” from the Senate after serving the maximum two consecutive terms (equivalent to 12 years) allowed by the Constitution, Trillanes was already thrilled about the prospect of teaching.  “I really don’t know but I somehow feel as excited and motivated as the first day I joined the Navy. It’s a new challenge and experience for me,” he shares.

Trillanes transitioned quite effortlessly from senator to teacher. The day’s lesson was shown in a power point presentation behind him. He called on students to recite. Trillanes looked more relaxed in front of the class than when he spoke onstage in opposition rallies, considering that he is one of the more prominent political figures of his era.

Former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV exchanges notes with his students after class. Photograph by Nikko Dizon

He also looked like any other college professor, except that he has two bodyguards stationed at the door of the classroom, both of whom tried to be as inconspicuous as possible.

How is his routine different now as a teacher compared to when he was a senator?

“While both involve intense reading and preparation, the biggest difference is the almost sterile environment that teaching provides. Therefore, my routine now is a lot less complicated and so much more laid back,” he explains. “When I was in the Senate, since the area of responsibility is so vast and the operating environment is often hostile, my routine was stressful and exhausting.”

In between preparing for his lessons and putting together his class’s midterm exam, Trillanes remains deeply involved in the opposition movement.

Right now, Trillanes said, he does not feel like going back to the Senate. “But I am definitely going to be very active in campaigning for Vice President Leni (Robredo) for President in 2022,” he said.

Does this mean he’d be teaching for a long time?

“That is the plan,” he says. “For as long as I feel that I could still contribute to the learning of my students, I’d hope to continue.”