MANILA, Philippines—If coup leader Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes IV won as senator 3 years ago while he was in jail, then why couldn’t his fellow detained rebels Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and Col. Ariel Querubin do the same in the 2010 election?
Political analyst Tony Gatmaitan says Lim and Querubin lost in this election because they were playing an entirely different ball game.
Gatmaitan said Trillanes’s candidacy “clicked” with voters in 2007 at a time when public outrage against President Arroyo was high.
Four years prior, in 2003, the charismatic Trillanes led a group of disgruntled military officers in a coup attempt by seizing control of the posh Oakwood hotel in Makati City.
“He was ideal then, fighting Gloria. There was a sense of the real underdog, sense of adventure, and people were angry at Gloria,” Gatmaitan said.
This year, at the end of Arroyo’s term, Gatmaitan suggests, the mood is more forgiving.
Better in mid-term polls
Gatmaitan also said the timing of Trillanes’s candidacy was more favorable. He ran in a mid-term senatorial election, when voters were “not distracted by the presidential elections.”
Trillanes, who acted as a campaign adviser to Lim and Querubin in 2010, admitted that the concurrent presidential election was a worrisome factor in the senatorial campaign of his fellow detained soldiers.
“If you don’t have a ground campaign, it’s a minus,” he told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak in an interview last week.
Lim and Querubin conceded defeat on May 11, after partial election results by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) showed them far from the top 12.
There are also doubts about the capacity of a jailed senator to perform his functions, and the costliness of maintaining his office. (See related story, “Serving office while serving time.”)
The office is costly as travel expenses ate into the budget of Trillanes’s office. According to a 2008 Commission on Audit report, Trillanes and his staff spent P1.37 million for travel expenses alone—a figure that Trillanes says is “not exorbitant.”
This made him the fourth biggest spender in the Senate, with P17.281 million in expenses next to Senators Gregorio Honasan, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Ramon Revilla Jr., and Francis Pangilinan.
Querubin: I’ll be freed
Trillanes keeps an office at the Senate complex in Pasay City, but keeps a makeshift office inside the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center, where he meets with visitors and gets briefings from his staff.
Trillanes filed over 330 bills, 12 of which were passed into law. Two of these were principally authored by him.
The system has proved “frustrating” to Trillanes, who says he is not allowed to attend Senate meetings or meet with his constituents outside Camp Crame.
“All I am asking for is equality with other senators who can serve,” he said. “But I try to make the most of what I was allowed.”
In an interview with abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak, however, Querubin said he doesn’t worry over such logistical problems. “Because whoever president will win, I will be set free,” he said.
Same market for rebel soldiers
Though Lim and Querubin ran under different parties, they ran a twin campaign because Trillanes said they have “the same market.”
Theirs was not a normal campaign, though, since they had to conduct it by remote.
Lim, Querubin, and Trillanes all ran for Senate positions while facing trial before military and civilian courts for attempting to overthrow the Arroyo government. All espouse reforms in the military.
They had to conduct their campaigns by proxy, either with the help of family members or their campaign supporters, since their movements were restricted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP).
Lim and Querubin were adopted by different political parties this election—Lim by the Liberal Party, and Querubin by the Nacionalista Party.
Lim and Trillanes are detained at the PNP Custodial Center in Camp Crame (where Trillanes keeps a makeshift Senate office), while Querubin is kept at the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP) compound in Camp Aguinaldo.
“It’s my handicap right now. I’m not being allowed to go around while other similarly situated candidates are allowed. Even on my birthday, I was allowed to go out for 7 hours,” Querubin told abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak in an interview a week before election day.
Querubin, while barred from giving televised press conferences, can take cellphone calls or visits from media personnel and their supporters.
On certain occasions, Lim has been allowed to leave the PNP Custodial Center to attend campaigns, on the condition that he will pay for transport costs and food for security escorts.
Trillanes said their limited visibility in public could have been supplanted by access to the media.
“In my perspective, instead of asking to be allowed to campaign, I would rather secure a permit from court to allow the media to have access to me,” Trillanes said. “I’d reach more people that way.”
‘Like a military operation’
Similarly, Lim and Querubin ran on a shoestring budget and a “ragtag” army of supporters coming from different, sometimes opposing, sectors.
Though they were supported financially by their well-oiled parties, each of them claim to have spent only around P6 million to P7 million for the entire campaign.
Querubin said he got P1 million a month from the Nacionalista Party since October last year. It was used for limited TV ads and the campaign activities of “Hukbong Querubin,” a multi-sectoral network of supporters numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
For warm bodies, Lim and Querubin depended on the Samahang Magdalo, a group of rebellious young officers with 70,000 card-carrying members nationwide. These members were tasked to conduct house-to-house campaigns and forge alliances with like-minded groups in their respective areas.
The Magdalo also conducted monthly nationwide pre-election surveys as early as March 2009 (using 3,000 respondents) to guide their campaign tactics.
These surveys consistently placed Lim and Querubin within the top 12, and showed particularly strong support in the Ilocos Region and Mindanao.
“We are treating this like a military operation. We have to be technical,” Trillanes said.
The Magdalo group was courted by several presidential aspirants prior to the official campaign period, including Jamby Madrigal, Francis Escudero, Nicanor Perlas, Manuel Villar Jr., and, on few occasions, Benigno Aquino III.
They also had logistical and financial support from some classmates in the Philippine Military Academy, the Guardians (a fraternity of soldiers led by Sen. Gregorio Honasan), assorted businessmen, and party-list groups.
These efforts were only enough to push Lim to 17th place in the senatorial race with over 6 million votes and Querubin to 19th place with over 5 million votes, as of Comelec tallies released on 2 p.m. Tuesday.(abs-cbnNews.com/Newsbreak)