Journalist Stephen Sackur shows the rest of the world’s “journalists” how it’s done on his BBC talk show HARDtalk where he put Philippine “senator” Antonio Trillanes IV through the wringer. Trillanes is one of the harshest critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and, by far, the most rabid — like a dog with a bone in his resolve to cut down Duterte’s government midway through its term.
Sackur did not mince words. He first got Trillanes to confirm that he is an avowed democrat then proceeded to grill him on the matter further citing the inconsistency of this vow to uphold democratic rule with his track record of launching coup d’etats (notably described by Sackur as “pathetic” in the way they lasted for no more than a day or two) against a duly-elected president, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, through the 2000s.
On that single point, Sackur built a consistently-themed conversation with Trillanes. He kept referring to the simple fact that Duterte had, during his campaign for the presidency, been fully up front about what he envisions his rule will be like, laying on the table every gory detail of the way he plans to make good on his promises to run roughshod over every obstacle — even over “human rights” — to fulfill his mandate to clean up his country. That he won the presidential election with all those ideas laid out before the public to digest is, as Sackur points out more than a few times during the interview, democracy at work.
Today, “the majority of Filipinos seem to like his iron fist,” Sackur observes. From there, more pointed questions were fielded by Sackur in rapid succession. One of his most difficult questions to Trillanes was, around whether or not his efforts to take down the Duterte administration were in tune with ordinary Filipinos’ sentiments. Sackur even went as far as describing Trillanes’s comments on the Philippine government as “constantly negative” in that light. Trillanes could only stammer out a response that merely speculated about where Duterte’s numbers could go in the mid-term. Without any actual logic or facts to support or substantiate his claims that Duterte’s popularity cannot be sustained, Trillanes could only insist that he was “confident” that Duterte’s days are numbered.
Even more bizarre was Trillanes’s claim that the “bulk” of the Filipino public are really not aware of what is going on and are, instead, being routinely fooled by what he describes as the Duterte administration’s “propaganda machine”. It is bizarre because Duterte’s critics have long insisted that Duterte’s war on drugs is “targetting the poor” and have even succeeded to some extent in convincing international media organisations to dub Duterte’s campaign against drugs as a “war on the poor”. How then can the poor and those among them directly affected by this “war” who number in the hundreds of thousands if we are to believe Duterte’s critics and the “reports” of the media outfits like the New York Times and Reuters, no less, that they had managed to fool, “not know what is going on”?
Sackur chided Trillanes many times on his continued insistence that he is on to something marshalling his office and even the International Criminal Court around his efforts to demonise Duterte. Sackur, at one point tells Trillanes, “you’re bashing your head against a brick wall”, citing how, in political terms, Duterte is a success having held the confidence of the vast majority of the public and kept them squarely behind his government.
Suffice to say, the emptiness of the rhetoric Trillanes uses to stir media circuses to undermine the Duterte administration had been put under a harsh spotlight in this interview.