By Pia Lee-Brago
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang yesterday asked Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV to stop talking about the country’s affairs with China and consider national interest first, especially since he was not given blanket authority to deal with Beijing in his Palace-sanctioned back-channel talks.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda reiterated the country’s policy toward China was unchanged, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario having the full trust and confidence of President Aquino.
“When we met with the President, the request was made very clear to him (Trillanes). He spoke to Secretary Del Rosario and asked him to refrain from making further statements. He texted Senator Trillanes and he also asked him to refrain from making further statements. That’s where it is right now,” Lacierda said.
“The position taken by Senator Trillanes is that he is a senator of the Republic. We respect that. …the reason why the President is not making any statements is precisely to settle these things and clear the air,” he said.
Lacierda said the President had asked Trillanes and Del Rosario to refrain from making further comments to limit the fallout over the issue.
He said it would be up to Trillanes to explain why he decided to speak out on certain matters about his backdoor negotiations with China.
“I suppose the point of view of the President is: Does it help solve the issue if a party keeps on talking? And that’s the reason why the President has asked both parties to refrain from making any statements. We would certainly hope that the senator would refrain from making further statements,” Lacierda said.
“In the bigger picture, what will really be good for us?”
Despite Trillanes’ tirades against Del Rosario and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Lacierda said there was no confusion as to how the Philippines would go about its foreign policies and that the foreign affairs chief was still in charge.
He said the bickering between Trillanes and Del Rosario was an “unnecessary nuisance” to the country’s diplomatic tack.
Lacierda clarified he was not referring to the exchange between Trillanes and Enrile.
Del Rosario, for his part, deferred comment on the issue.
“I’m gagged but I’m fine,” Del Rosario told reporters yesterday as he was asked to comment on Malacañang’s gag order on him.
“He’s fine. I saw him this morning and he’s very upbeat and relaxed and as usual very busy with meetings and trying to see how else we could do things as far as diplomacy is concerned,” DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez added.
He said Aquino and Del Rosario are in “constant contact” even after the gag order.
“Secretary Lacierda said that they should refrain from talking about this issue for the time being,” Hernandez said.
Enrile accused Trillanes of working for China.
He said Trillanes, among others, espoused a bilateral solution to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute and even said no Filipino was interested in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
Enrile said Trillanes was protecting the interests of China more in his proposals and even called Del Rosario a traitor.
He said Trillanes himself was committing treason when he tried to usurp the authority of the country’s diplomatic officials, based on the notes of Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady.
Lacierda maintained it was Trillanes who approached the President and volunteered to do backdoor negotiations, contrary to the claim of the senator that he was offered the job.
Sources revealed Chinese representatives have been tapping Philippine government officials and even businessmen to act as emissaries.
Asked repeatedly to explain the qualifications of Trillanes to do back-channel talks, Lacierda said the senator assured them there was a way to move forward.
Lacierda would not confirm if the 16 trips of Trillanes were funded by Malacañang and that it was Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. who tapped his services.
Asked if the President “regrets” allowing Trillanes to do foreign affairs work, Lacierda said they did not discuss it.
Lacierda said Malacañang would wait for Enrile’s action as regards his accusations against Trillanes of committing treasonous acts.
“If he (Enrile) believes it’s treasonous then we will leave it with him if he intends to file any criminal case or complaint against Senator Trillanes. Right now, it’s a fight between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Trillanes… we don’t want to get into that,” he said.
Lacierda said they were not aware how Enrile secured Brady’s notes and stressed they would not want to discuss its contents any further.
“I don’t know who made the notes. It’s just called the Brady notes because it was a meeting between Ambassador Brady and Senator Trillanes,” he said.
Lacierda said the President would keep silent on the issue and would like to speak to both Del Rosario and Trillanes first.
“I think that’s the most decent thing to do, talk to the persons concerned before talking to the media. And I think that’s a modicum of decency on our part… we don’t want to bicker through the media,” he said.
No alter ego
Lacierda said Trillanes did not have blanket authority to enter into any agreement with China.
The senator was also not there as an alter ego because he did not have any formal appointment as special envoy, he said.
Lacierda said the President mentioned “minor successes” of Trillanes “and we certainly appreciate those things.”
“But, as to the details of the successes, we don’t have that,” he said.
Lacierda added Trillanes was supposed to help resolve the standoff at Panatag Shoal and not on the whole deal involving Philippines-China relations.
“The role of Senator Trillanes was to address the immediate issue of the Panatag Shoal, nothing else. There was a policy of de-escalation, that is correct. However, beyond that, was he competent to answer those things or make those statements? Those are not statements echoed by this government or the foreign affairs department,” Lacierda said.
“That’s where the whole context is. There was a situation in Panatag Shoal. There was tension there and he approached the President. Again, this is only a recollection of the President that he was approached by the (senator) and he mentioned to the President that there is a way forward to handle the issue. And the President at the time said we don‘t want to close the doors. We keep all our options open… Secretary Del Rosario was informed of that,” Lacierda said.
He, however, could not say whether the President had terminated the services of Trillanes since the two had not yet talked. But Lacierda said Trillanes himself had mentioned that his job was finished.
“The back-channeling was specific on the issue of Panatag. We have not veered away from our official position of deescalating tensions… we have not veered away from our position that our resources within our exclusive economic zone belong to the Philippines. We have sovereign rights over them. That has not changed,” Lacierda said.
“Our official position is very clear and we have made this position crystal clear actually to the Chinese government through the Chinese embassy,” he said.
Despite these developments, Lacierda said the “big picture is Philippine-China relations are better now than what it was during the height of the tension in Panatag Shoal.”
“So we have seen better relations with China – warmer relations with China now,” Lacierda said.
“The official policy is conveyed to China by way of the Department of Foreign Affairs. There is no ambiguity in the position taken by the Philippine government. So there should be no concern that it’s creating confusion in our foreign policy. That is very clear. The President again, as we have mentioned… is our chief foreign policy maker. So there was no issue to that – even Senator Trillanes has recognized that,” he said.
Before the whole incident blew up, Lacierda said everyone could attest that the country’s policies had been solid.
“Did you notice any change in those positions the whole time that you never knew that Senator Trillanes was the back (channel) negotiator? There was no change… the policy has been very consistent throughout and Secretary del Rosario has echoed it capably, competently. And that’s the reason why we have always stated that Secretary Del Rosario enjoys the full trust and confidence of the President,” he said.
Lacierda also said the whole Department of Foreign Affairs was standing by Del Rosario.
Asked whether allowing Trillanes to do back-channel talks was the fault of the President because the senator was an “amateur and immature,” Lacierda remarked it was “Monday morning quarterbacking.”
“You’re going back to reviewing… you have the perspective of looking backward…that’s why your hindsight is always 20-20,” Lacierda said.
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Trillanes airs side on talks with China
By David Dizon
‘PNoy called the shots on negotiations’
‘Brady’s notes were Enrile’s notes’
MANILA – Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on Thursday revealed the extent of his backchannel negotiations with Chinese officials, saying he received his instructions directly from President Aquino himself.
Speaking to ANC’s Headstart, Trillanes said he was tapped by President Aquino to help de-escalate the tension in Scarborough Shoal from May to July because he knew several officials in the Chinese politburo.
He said Malacañang paid for his trips to Beijing even as the Department of Foreign Affairs conducted their own negotiations with Chinese officials.
In one meeting, he said Chinese officials asked him about removing Philippine fishing boats in Scarborough Shoal.
“[The Chinese] were asking me to have the fishing vessels removed from the shoal. I told them we do not have any means to communicate to fishing boats. Do you want our Coast Guard vessels to come in and get them? No, they don’t want to. I explained to them our fishermen are all over the place and we cannot stop anybody or prohibit everybody from entering Scarborough Shoal so you will have to deal with it,” he said.
Trillanes denied that he told Chinese officials that the Philippines could not protect its own coastline. He said the proper context of his statement is that Chinese officials should accept and tolerate Philippine fishermen in disputed waters “because we cannot prohibit our fishermen…the whole coastline of Western Luzon from entering Scarborough.”
“I was pushing for the interests of our country by letting certain exceptions from that mutual fishing ban,” he said.
In another instance, he said the President called him up before his official trip to the United Kingdom last June 4 to ask if the senator could help negotiate the pullout of 2 Chinese ships in Scarborough Shoal.
This was after the Philippines had already pulled out its own vessels from the shoal.
“On the day the President was about to leave for UK, he called me up and told me, ‘Sonny, pa-tulong dahil meron yung barko ng China nasa loob pa rin when the agreement is simultaneous, may Agreement daw with Washington, according to the DFA, na simultaneous na lalabas.’ I asked him ‘If it was simultaneous, bakit nauna tayo?’ Anyway, it’s there. I was given the task of mediating to have those 2 ships removed, and they did through the backchannel negotiations,” he said.
Slighted by del Rosario
Trillanes said he did his work as backchannel negotiator without fanfare even as Chinese ships in disputed waters dropped from 100 to 3 in recent months.
He admitted, however, that he felt slighted by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario when the latter said that backchannel negotiations did more harm than good in the issue.
“I explained that to the President that I was just slighted when that statement was given that I was doing more harm than good but it’s over now. We are going to convey the same message so it is but natural to be offended and slighted because in my view, I’ve done my job for the country. I didn’t sell out the country. The country is intact. The territorial integrity is intact. We have defused the tension and everybody is moving on. We don’t have that problem anymore,” he said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.
He also said he cannot be gagged by Malacañang as long as he stays on the message about the negotiations with China.
“I can’t be gagged. I am a senator of the republic. My persona now is not as the envoy of the president but as a senator of the republic so I cannot be gagged. But I talked with the president and we agreed on a common message so that we won’t appear to be fighting,” he said.
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the President has remained silent on the issue since he wants to talk to Trillanes and del Rosario first before speaking to the media.
He said the President requested both del Rosario and Trillanes to refrain from making further statements.
“The position taken by Senator Trillanes is that he is a senator of the republic. We respect that but we want to – the reason why the president is not making any statements is precisely to settle these things and clear the air,” he said.
“Does it help solve the issue if a party keeps on talking? That is the reason why the President has asked both parties to refrain from making any statements.”
Trillanes wants Brady notes released
Meanwhile, Trillanes refused to answer some of the allegations being leveled by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that the latter allegedly based on the notes of Philippine Ambassador to Beijing Sonia Brady.
Trillanes urged Enrile to reveal the actual Brady notes, not his own speech, to the media.
He said he is very willing to see the actual Brady notes released to the public.
“Those are not the Brady notes. Those are Enrile’s notes. That is why the media must demand from Senator Enrile. You give us a copy of the original notes. I am willing to get it out in the open… Definitely, I am pretty sure it is not [the original]. I challenge him to get it out so you can read for yourself what the contents are,” he said.
He also noted that Enrile’s speech before the Senate was prepared by his speechwriters.
“It is not the first time that Enrile has faked anything. Remember, he faked his ambush,” he said, referring to the staged ambush on Enrile before the 1972 declaration of martial law.
Meanwhile, Lacierda refused to comment on the Brady notes, saying he does not have a copy of the document.
He said the President has not spoken to Enrile about the issue.