THE TRILLANES PAPERS A Study of Corruption in the Philippine Navy


In 2001 and 2002, LTSG Antonio F. Trillanes IV, prepared two term papers for his master's classes at the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance. Both papers deal with what the author portrayed as widespread corruption in the procurements system of the Philippine Navy. The PCIJ is posting these papers not because it sympathizes with Trillanes's cause but as a contribution to the public's desire to understand the roots of the young officers' disaffection with government and the armed forces.

LtSG Antonio Trillanes IVIn the October 2001 paper, Trillanes listed the prevalent forms of corruption, ranging from outright bribery or lagay to rigged biddings and ghost deliveries. His descriptions hew closely to the forms of bureaucratic corruption documented by the PCIJ in its investigations of procurements in such agencies as the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture. The Navy is particularly prone to such forms of corruption because of the highly specialized nature of its procurements that make it possible to justify negotiated bids and thereby make under-the-table deals with suppliers.

In writing the March 2002 paper, Trillanes surveyed 30 Navy suppliers on their perception of the extent of corruption in Navy procurements. His findings show that paying grease money and negotiated and rigged biddings are the most common forms of corruption encountered by the suppliers. The survey also showed that the offices within the Philippine Navy that are most corrupt include the Commission on Audit branch there, the Accounting Office; and the Procurement Office. Suppliers said they resorted to payoffs in order to expedite the processing of papers and to obtain contracts.

On 26 May 2001, Abu Sayyaf bandits kidnapped 20 persons from Dos Palmas, an up-scale resort in Palawan. The next day, a joint task force was formed to conduct pursuit operations (PDI, 27 May 2001). On 28 May, a reconnaissance plane spotted the kidnappers' group aboard three boats approaching the Mapun Island Group (MIG)(PDI, 28 May 2001). Immediately, four navy patrol crafts were dispatched to conduct a naval blockade on the island. Then finally on 31 May, Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya claims that they have slipped through the naval blockade and are now in Sulu and Basilan (PDI, 31 May 2001). Presidential Spokesperson Rigoberto Tiglao quickly forgave the Navy for its ineffectiveness when he said: "the gunmen's boats had top speeds of 40 knots, way beyond the capability of the Philippine Navy. Using that type of craft they would have eaten up the wide expanse of Sulu Sea between Palawan and Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi (Mapun) in five hours" (PDI, 28 May 2001). Tiglao further stressed that "the biggest problem really is the Philippine Navy has few patrol boats. There are plans to increase the number of these patrol boats" (PDI, 28 May 2001). These statements coming from the presidential spokesperson clearly signified three things: First, is the cluelessness of the PGMA Administration as regards the true situation on the area because of its total reliance on non-incriminating information given by the AFP leadership; Second, is its ignorance on the capabilities of its navy; Last, is the PGMA Administration's penchant for tolerating grossly incompetent acts of the AFP, in this case the Navy, due to her political indebtedness for being primarily responsible for installing her as President of the Republic.

The kidnappers actually used three motor launches (lancha) that run a measly 12 knots as seen by the Air Force reconnaissance plane and reported to the Western Command. This probably explains why the kidnappers took two days (and not 5 hours as Tiglao said) to travel from Dos Palmas to MIG. Besides, the kumpit (fast motor boats used by smugglers in the South), while it is true that it can run up to 40 knots (without load), it is never used for prolonged sorties as it easily runs out of fuel. Its reported fuel consumption is approx 500 liters/hr at speed of 40 knots. For it to traverse Dos Palmas to Mapun, they would need space for at least 10 drums of fuel aside from the space that the kidnappers and hostages would occupy. For a sleek boat, which measures no more than 60 feet, this is impossible unless they had a convoy of at least 5 kumpits, which is totally unheard of and costs around P125, 000,000.00.

The four navy patrol crafts would have successfully blockaded MIG(area approx 30 sq n.mi) had they been deployed correctly. Each craft has a navigational/surface search radar that has an effective scanning radius of 6 nautical miles (n.mi.). This means that if properly positioned, the four patrol crafts' radar sweeps should have overlapped at least at the middle, thus covering the whole MIG upto 3 n.mi. off the coastlines. However, as it happened the Task Group Commander in charge of the blockade, relying heavily on intelligence reports, positioned all four crafts 1n.mi off Tandatao Pt of Mapun mainland at 500-yard intervals thus minimizing their surface search capabilities. The Naval Special Warfare Group team that landed in the area supposedly to rescue the hostages found out that indeed one of the boats used was anchored near Tandatao Pt, but the kidnappers' group were either in Pamelikan Is or Binlut Is, the northern islands of MIG and both were way beyond radar range from where the crafts were positioned. Thus, enabling the group to slip off to Basilan.

The escape of the Abu Sayyaf through the naval blockade was one tactical blunder that caused great humiliation and enormous cost to the country. To be simply ignored and forgiven by the President (through Tiglao's statement) was a display of weakness as a Commander-In-Chief of the AFP. But I am inclined to believe that the President was not as stupid and weak as this gesture had showed. Thus, it is rather safe to conclude that it was her political indebtedness and fear of the AFP that prevented her from imposing sanctions that could have antagonized it. Otherwise, she would also suffer the same fate as former President Estrada through another "withdrawal of support" by the AFP. These unfortunate political concessions, first demonstrated in the case of RAdm Guillermo G Wong AFP during the PN leadership crisis that occurred in February 2001(to be discussed later in this paper), while it would favor certain officers, could further deteriorate the Navy, and the AFP.

While it would seem that the incident cited above has dwelt more on incompetence and ineffectiveness, this paper would show that this is just one manifestation of the ill effects of corruption in the Navy. More specifically, how corruption made this incident even possible to happen.

Through the years, the Navy top brass have always raised the issues of obsolescence and shortage of operating assets of the fleet to cover for the Navy's ineffectiveness. But is this really the case? Or, is it simply caused by an institutionalized corruption that exists in all levels and in all areas of the organization? If so, then what is the cost? How could this problem be solved? These are the questions that this paper intends to answer.

In going about the discussion, a brief look at the history of the Navy will be necessary to appreciate its importance and relevance to the country. Other basic facts about the organization would also have to be laid down to provide the necessary backdrop to the main subject of the paper.



The Insurgent Navy
The Philippine Navy traces its roots way back to the Philippine Revolution against Spain with the hand-over by the Americans of a captured Spanish steam pinnace to Gen Emilio Aguinaldo on 20 May 1898. The vessel was named Magdalo and emerged as the first watercraft of the navy. Soon, several other merchant ships donated by patriots were added to form a nascent fleet. The Insurgent Navy was instrumental to the revolutionary cause through its conduct of basic naval operations such as troop deployments and arms shipments. The first successful amphibious assault against a Spanish garrison was even spearheaded by the Magdalo on Bacoor Bay on 26 May 1898. Its effectiveness went on throughout the Fil-Am War. However, after the capture of Pres. Aguinaldo on 23 March 1901, the insurgent navy disintegrated. (Zulueta 1998, 20)

The Off-Shore Patrol
The Navy was reborn with the creation of the Off-Shore Patrol (OSP) on 14 April 1938. A few patrol crafts and three high-speed torpedo boats, also known as Q-boats, were the pioneers of this force. They were intended to form part of a nucleus of 55 Q-boats that would repel enemy amphibious landings as Gen Douglas McArthur had envisioned. But before the acquisition of more Q-boats, war had broken out. As a consequence, the OSP was relegated to other roles such as; troop insertions, intelligence operations and ferry missions. Though they had a few skirmishes with Japanese Navy ships and warplanes, after the fall of Bataan on 08 April 1942, all ships of the OSP had to be scuttled. (Giagonia 1997, 147)

The Post-War Navy
After World War II, the country had a surplus of war materiel given by the US. Among which were 83 ships of various types. Thus the OSP was reorganized and upgraded into the Philippine Naval Patrol, to become a major command of the AFP. On 23 December 1950, through E.O. 389, the Philippine Naval Patrol was renamed as the Philippine Navy. (Giagonia 1997, 245)

For the next four decades, the Navy experienced a confluence of events and performed various roles in furtherance of national security interests and national development. The first role was to conduct counter insurgency operations against the Hukbalahap then the ferry missions during the Korean War both in the early 1950's. Followed by the anti-smuggling and anti piracy operations in Sulu where the Navy was credited for destroying the network of illegal operations of the most notorious band of pirates and outlaws, including the dreaded Kamlon. The 1960's were highlighted by activities such as the ferry missions during the Vietnam War and by the bilateral and multi-lateral naval exercises that further strengthened the Navy's maritime defense posture in the region. The anti-smuggling and anti-piracy operations in the south were sustained during this era (Giagonia 1997, 247-272). Throughout the 1970's up to the early 1980's, the Navy reverted to its counter-insurgency mode this time against two fronts, the Muslim secessionists and the communists (Zulueta 1998, 44). During the 1986 EDSA Revolt, eighty five percent of the Navy joined the rebels led by then Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and then AFP Vice Chief of Staff and PC Chief Fidel V Ramos. ( Giagonia 1997, 310)

"By the time things were simmering down to a semblance of peace quiet in the early 1990's, the American naval and air forces, stung by the Philippine Senate's rejection of a treaty that would have prolonged their stay in the Philippines, were leaving in a huff. Suddenly, the Philippines saw its "surrogate" navy and air force heading for the gates of Subic and Clark, leaving the resident highly anxious about its national defense." (Zulueta 1998, 46)

Commo Jose Francisco, former FOIC, on commenting about the American withdrawal, aptly stated "All throughout the years the Americans were here, we had the military assistance agreement with them and logistical support from them, and all that the government had to do was pay our salaries. What happened was that we had an indigestion. We knew it would not last, but when it did end, we were at a loss" (Zulueta 1998, 46). Rightly so, among the benefits the Navy had when the US bases were still around were: the US Military Assistance Program (USMAP), the hand-me-down program of the US; Foreign Military Sales (FMS), part of the bases rental fees are channeled back to the AFP for the purchase of surplus US military hardware or ship repair packages; use of floating drydock and other facilities; foreign training programs and technical consultations; and the security blanket for external threats. (The latter could arguably be considered a benefit since it could also be that because of this dependence, the Philippine Navy never got to prepare to become an independent and credible navy by the time the Americans left.)


The Navy today has for its mission "to conduct prompt and sustained naval operations in support of the AFP's mission".


  1. Provide naval defense to ensure the sovereignty of the Philippines and to protect the people from external threats.
  2. Conduct naval operations in support of air and ground operations.
  3. Conduct maritime law enforcement within the territorial waters and EEZ.
  4. Promote safety of life at sea and environment protection.
  5. Assist in national development efforts.

Personnel 1,687 Officers, 10,561 EP
Marines 387 Officers, 7,142 EP

Budget P6,014,191,000.00 (Source:GAA 2000)

Assets (Total / Operating)

Patrol Ships 14 / 3
Patrol Boats 35 / 10
Transport Ships 9 / 4
Auxiliary Ships 8 / 2
Patrol Craft 32 / 17
Service Craft 19 / 9
Fixed wing 9 / 4
Rotary 5 / 2

Operational Readiness:
Ships 38.5%
Aircraft 42.8%


  • Limited Surface Warfare
  • Naval Gunfire Support
  • Amphibious Warfare
  • Sealift Operations
  • Domestic sea control
  • Search and Rescue

Present Role in Society
The traditional role of any navy is to obtain "sea control" when necessary. Sea control is the ability of a fleet to control certain maritime areas (Mahan 1885) for whatever purpose it may serve. It involves deployment of naval forces to engage, destroy or repel enemy naval forces and carries with it the right to forbid passage through capture or destruction (Agudelo 1994, 25). While the Navy can obtain sea control within our territorial waters, it cannot do so beyond it. This is due to the fact that our antiquated and technology-deficient fleet could not match-up to any of our neighbors' navies (de los Reyes 1996). Thus, the Navy today could not perform its primary mandated task to provide naval defense to ensure the sovereignty of the Philippines and protect the people from all external threats. With this, the role of the Navy has been relegated to conducting internal security operations and maritime law enforcement. But the Philippines, with its recognition as an archipelagic state, where all "the islands, waters and other natural features form an intrinsic geographical, economic and political entity", these roles seemed as paramount to the survival of the state as naval defense. (Zulueta 1998, 14)

Internal Security Operations (ISO) involve naval gunfire support, amphibious and sealift operations. These are defined in an operations plan and are conducted often in conjunction with air and ground forces. For the past decades, the Navy had been very active in this role in support of the counter-insurgency operations.

On the other hand, Maritime Law Enforcement (MARLEN) is actually the primary role of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which was separated from the Navy and transferred to the DOTC in 1998. However, due to the PCG's lack of surface assets and also due to the wide expanse of the Philippine waters that include the EEZ, the Navy was deputized by various government agencies to enforce their specific laws. MARLEN involves the conduct of active and passive patrols to achieve naval presence in areas were illegal activities are perceived to be rampant.

While it is a known fact that several Navy ships are of World War II vintage, most of the boats/crafts that conduct MARLEN operations are new and acquired only in the mid-90's. They are highly effective in coastal waters. Most are armed with 25 mm cannons and have maximum speeds of 30 knots.

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