MANILA, Philippines—Firing his guns even before he takes his Senate seat, former Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes IV yesterday said Team Unity candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri was a beneficiary of election cheating—and declared he would not want “a cheat” to join him in Congress.
Trillanes hurled his accusation after he took his oath of office before Barangay 160 Chair Ruben Gatchalian at a covered court in Caloocan City, where he said he used to play basketball with neighbors, including Gatchalian.
“I believe Congressman Zubiri knows deep in his heart that he benefited from cheating. If he is decent enough, he wouldn’t accept it (his possible election victory) because that is not something you want your kids to emulate,” Trillanes told reporters.
“I wouldn’t want a cheat to join me in the Senate, we should not tolerate it,” he said.
Zubiri, locked in a close battle with Trillanes’ colleague, Genuine Opposition’s Aqulino “Koko” Pimentel III, for the 12th and last Senate seat, shot back at Trillanes by asking: “Look who’s talking?”
“At least, I’m not someone who is charged in court with leading a rebellion, treason, coup d’etat, as well as hostaging of prominent VIPs at the Oakwood (hotel). All of these are unbailable offenses,” said Zubiri.
Trillanes is in military custody facing court martial for leading a failed mutiny in 2003.
Trillanes’ victory has been described as a phenomenon in Philippine politics. Unlike another former military rebel, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, the ex-Navy officer was in detention throughout the campaign, ran on a shoestring budget, and had access to the media only in the last stretch of the campaign.
Zubiri called Trillanes a “loose cannon showing his political immaturity,” and urged him to consult with his advisers on the parameters of what he could or could not say, especially against his fellow senators.
“My lawyers are just waiting for the tape to study it and make the necessary charges against him since he said it on TV and not as a privilege speech,” said Zubiri.
Trillanes vowed to initiate an investigation into poll fraud during the May 14 mid-term elections.
“All of them (Team Unity candidates) benefited from that fraud,” Trillanes said, when asked why he was singling out Zubiri.
The new senator was sworn in before a packed crowd at the court at BF Homes decked out with red ribbons and streamers.
Trillanes wore a dark blue barong and did not let go of the hands of his 8-year old daughter, Thea, during his swearing-in ceremony.
Asked what evidence he had to substantiate his accusations, Trillanes said: “Aside from Maguidanao, we have found out cheating in several provinces and municipalities nationwide.”
He said that he and Sen. Panfilo Lacson had “testimonial and documentary” evidence of electoral fraud.
He also said that he knew and had spoken to the three generals mentioned in recent Inquirer stories who claimed to have knowledge of election cheating.
Trillanes reiterated he would actively participate in the reopening of the “Hello, Garci” tapes inquiry and would summon his former boss, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, to a Senate inquiry on alleged cheating during the 2004 presidential election.
Asked what he would do if Esperon invoked Executive Order No. 464 barring government officials from testifying in congressional hearings without presidential consent, Trillanes replied: “He can invoke that until he retires in February 2008. He better line up and apply for a new position if he wants to invoke that.”
The so-called “Hello, Garci” tapes are supposed wiretapped conversations between President Macapagal-Arroyo and former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano on rigging the 2004 vote, an allegation both Ms Arroyo and Garcillano have denied.
He said Filipinos had suffered for tolerating the alleged illegitimacy of Ms Arroyo’s presidency.
“We tolerated GMA regardless of her cheating, which all of us know (about) and have confirmed. We heard it in the ‘Hello, Garci’ recordings. What (has it brought) to us? Only chaos and division,” he added.
Yearning for closure
He also said that “if the country really wants to move forward, we have to get rid of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.”
He said he was willing to talk to each congressman to advance his cause.
“We will be relentless, we will make sure that there will be closure in any investigation, unlike in the past. We cannot have another cheat in the Senate, we have to make a stand,” he said.
Trillanes said he would also join the investigation into political killings in the country.
Trillanes reportedly got sick in the vehicle carrying him to Caloocan from his detention quarters.
Biazon is Senate mentor
“He felt dizzy and threw up,” according to Jack V. Sales, his brother-in-law.
Trillanes was accompanied by his military escorts.
In a short speech, Trillanes talked of his family as “my strength ever since I went to Oakwood and until now.” He acknowledged Sen. Rodolfo Biazon as his mentor in the Senate.
Biazon, former Caloocan Mayor Rey Malonzo, former Caloocan Rep. Luis “Baby” Asistio, former Congressman Edgar Erice and Princess Nemenzo of Laban ng Masa were among those who attended the oathtaking.
Trillanes said his lawyers had filed a motion to allow him to attend all Senate activities. He is detained at the Philippine Marines headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.
He was allowed by Makati Judge Oscar Pimentel to attend his oathtaking after government prosecutors posed no objection. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.