MANILA, Philippines – With half of his colleagues implicated in the pork barrel scam, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV believes his exclusion from the so-called Napoles list is an advantage in his bid for higher office.
Trillanes said not being implicated in the major corruption scandal that enraged Filipinos will help his campaign as an “alternative candidate” for president or vice president.
“Let’s just say that you’ll be coming in without a particular baggage,” Trillanes told Rappler on Monday, June 2. “Yes, definitely, I’ll have to admit that [it’s an advantage].”
Different lists of officials allegedly part of the pork barrel scam have been circulating in the past weeks. Trillanes’ name did not appear in any of the lists so far. In the list from alleged mastermind Janet Lim Napoles, she pointed to 12 incumbent senators as having received kickbacks, including those running in the 2016 polls.
After announcing his 2016 bid last week, Trillanes said the pork barrel scam will affect politicians’ chances in the election.
A former Navy officer, Trillanes first gained national prominence for rebelling against corruption under the Arroyo administration. He said he is running on the same platform as in his 2007 and 2013 Senate bids: “anti-corruption, peace and order, and anti-poverty.”
“But part of my responsibility is to convince the public not to judge prematurely. Let us not prejudge because we do not know the circumstances there and the evidence. So not just because someone was mentioned in the ‘Napolist,’ we already make him or her a criminal. It doesn’t work like that. Let us give these people a chance to explain and let’s listen to Mrs. Napoles to see if she is saying the truth,” he said.
Trillanes is a member of the Nacionalista Party (NP) of former Senator Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr. His partymate, presidential aspirant Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, was mentioned in Napoles’ affidavit as having received campaign funds in 2013, a charge the senator denied.
Cayetano has been positioning himself as an anti-corruption advocate, and even released ads last week to convey this message. Trillanes said being implicated in the scam might harm Cayetano’s bid.
“Maybe if eventually he does not redeem himself or clear his name as far as this is concerned. But if he is able to address the issue, he can still run [for president] because as I said, there are also victims of propaganda here,” Trillanes said.
First exposed in July 2013, the pork barrel scam took a sudden twist in April when Napoles offered to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Three senators were indicted for plunder over the scam – Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile – but the controversy expanded to include other senators named in Napoles’ affidavit and the digital files of principal whistleblower Benhur Luy.
The scam is a sophisticated corruption scheme where Napoles allegedly connived with high-ranking lawmakers and executive officials to channel funds meant for development projects for the poor to her fake non-governmental organizations.
The Villar and Binay factors
Trillanes said he expressed his ambitions to Villar, and the NP will decide about its 2016 candidates by December 2014.
Besides Trillanes and Cayetano, Villar and NP member Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr are also possible candidates. Villar and Marcos were also included in Napoles’ list.
An ally of President Benigno Aquino III, Trillanes said he is ready for higher office even after only one full term as senator.
“I believe while our President restored people’s trust in government for the past 4 years, everybody would have to admit that there are shortcomings and we need to raise this country to the next level. We express readiness to take up the challenge. We believe we served this country well enough to be worthy to be considered by the Filipino people,” he told reporters.
Asked about speculation that Villar is still eyeing the presidency after losing against Aquino in 2010, Trillanes said, “I will neither confirm nor deny.”
Trillanes also weighed in on the NP bets’ chances after a March Pulse Asia survey showed that he ranked 4th among vice presidential bets with a score of 7%. As for Cayetano, he ranked 7th in the presidential race with 4%, and 5th among vice presidential candidates with 6%.
Vice President Jejomar Binay of the opposition remains the strongest contender, with a score of 40%. Trillanes said Binay’s camp should not be too confident.
“You know, the Filipino electorate is quite fickle-minded. One day you’re up, the next day you’re down. Look at President Noynoy Aquino, when he was still a senator, he wasn’t in the radar. He was not even being considered as candidate but events happened fast so they should not be complacent,” Trillanes said.
Will the corruption issue also affect Binay’s candidacy? “Let us wait if those issues will come out. The public will know how to discern if he a person is guilty or is just being politicized.”
Sticking with NP
Trillanes said he is preparing “mentally and academically” for 2016.
“This is the time to prepare as an individual, study. You cannot seek higher office when you do not know how to run the country, when you do not know the problems of our country. When the decision of the party comes, you should be ready for anything.”
If the NP does not choose him as candidate, Trillanes said he will abide by the decision instead of pursuing his plans as an independent.
Villar’s wife, Senator Cynthia Villar, said her husband advised all NP aspirants to ensure they boost their popularity, a primary consideration in elections in the Philippines.
Again asked if he will run for president or vice president, Trillanes said, “You have to be ready for both.” – Rappler.com