By Alejandro Del Rosario
Manila Standard Today
In the face of an external threat, the unprecedented word war that broke out on the Senate floor on Wednesday between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV mirrors a deeply divided country and a government clueless in the conduct of foreign policy.
To wit: The President and the Department of Foreign Affairs drew out 73-year-old career diplomat Sonia Brady from retirement and dispatched her to Beijing. She was barely five months back on the job when President Aquino conscripted junior senator Trillanes as special envoy to do back channel work with full powers, independent of the Philippine ambassador and Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
Say what you will about Chinese bullying in the South China Sea but their government can unify and whip up their people into a frenzy as shown by the fury of Chinese mobs attacking the Japanese Embassy in Beijing and consulates across China in the wake of the Senkaku Islands dispute.
In this country, our officials work against each other. But for Enrile’s revelations that Trillanes was undermining national interests, the matter would not have come to light.
Ironically, it was Trillanes who fired the first salvo with a scathing attack on Enrile’s handling of the bill that would divide Camarines Sur into two provinces The proposed law was an offshoot of the feud between Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte and his son, Governor LRay Villafuerte. But that’s another page from another story of this fractured nation.
Speaking on a matter of privilege, Trillanes accused the Senate President of trying to railroad the Camarines bill and keeping him out of the loop during a recent senators’ caucus on the measure. Trillanes claimed that former President, now Pampanga Rep Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, called up Enrile to push the bill.
Enrile relinquished the rostrum to Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada to take the floor and rebut Trillanes’ accusations. When Enrile started to recite the litany of “sins” of the former rebel-turned senator, Trillanes announced that he was bolting the Senate majority and joining the minority. He then walked out of the Senate session hall.
Never one to walk out of a fight, Enrile called Trillanes a “coward” for not staying to answer accusations he was working for China’s interests instead of the Philippines. Enrile then proceeded to unmask “this Phantom of the Opera” who traveled six times to China and met 16 times with Chinese officials unaccompanied by diplomats of the Philippine Embassy in Beijing.
“This is dangerous, because whatever he (Trillanes), or the Chinese officials said could be denied without any of our Embassy people taking notes.” Somehow Philippine Ambassador Sonia Brady’s reconstructed notes of events ended up in Enrile’s hands.
Was Trillanes’ back channeling in Beijing the cause of Brady’s stress that led to her stroke?
Disclosing the confidential content of the Brady notes, Enrile tore Trillanes apart accusing the neophyte senator of badmouthing Foreign Secretary Del Rosario and saying that nobody in the Philippines “cares about Panatag (Scarborough )shoal.” If it is true that Trillanes uttered these words, Filipinos would no doubt vote to disagree with the senator when he seeks reelection in next year’s midterm polls.
“I’m only answerable to the Filipino people,” fumed Enrile as he brushed aside concerns he might be divulging matters of national security in public.
“Who paid for his trips to China?” Enrile asked, calling Trillanes a “fraud, a “novato” on security, diplomacy, military strategy and his actions as bordering on treason.
Trillanes admitted doing back channel assignment for President Aquino after he was alluded to in this column (coincidentally named “Back Channel”) and later identified in another newspaper’s headline this week.
Citing the Senate as the sole government body that ratifies treaties, Enrile said Trillanes should have reported to him on his mission to China.
In his privilege speech, Trillanes accused the Senate President of “bullying” and “railroading” the Camarines measure, and of being “a lackey of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo because he owes her a lot of favors.”
But by casting his lot with the Senate minority, Trillanes unwittingly joined the opposition camp of Arroyo, Reps. Danilo Suarez and Mitos Magsaysay.
Former Senator and now Rep. Rodolfo Biazon commented the Chinese are laughing at us because we are fighting among ourselves. This regrettable episode though might have unmasked the master puppeteers of this Chinese version of the “Phantom of the Opera.”
As the plot sickens, an apt sub-title could be “Tinker, Senator, Soldier, Spy”—with apologies to author Graham Greene.