Palace denies asking senator to do backdoor talks in China
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday branded Senator Antonio Trillanes IV a fraud and a coward after he stormed out of the plenary session while being grilled about his clandestine meetings with Chinese officials at the height of the country’s territorial dispute with Beijing.
“He can’t take the heat. He’s a coward,” Enrile said as Trillanes left the hall.
Enrile then began reading the notes of former Philippine ambassador to China, Sonia Brady, about her meeting with Trillanes in which the senator allegedly accused Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario of treason.
Before Trillanes walked out, Enrile confronted him about his activities in China.
“You went to China, you asked the ambassador of the Philippines there, Madam Brady, for a meeting and you said, ‘Don’t take notes during our conversation’ and you called the Secretary of Foreign Affairs a traitor. In fact, you told me that he committed treason,” Enrile told Trillanes shortly before he walked out.
Newspaper reports on Wednesday identified Trillanes as the Palace’s backdoor negotiator with China at the height of tensions over the Scarborough Shoal in April, but Malacañang said President Benigno Aquino III had not asked the senator to take that role.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters that it was Trillanes who offered his services to help ease tensions between Manila and Beijing, and that Mr. Aquino only took the offer as part of his policy to “keep all options open.”
But Enrile said Trillanes had met secretly with Chinese officials and sought to protect Beijing’s interests.
Imagine talking to an enemy, a potential enemy of this country 16 times? What did he discuss with these people? Who initiated the discussion? Did he or did they? Did they pay for his trip to Beijing?” he said. “My God, this guy is a fraud.”
Brady’s notes also showed that Trillanes had told her that nobody in the Philippines cares about the Scarborough Shoal.
“My god what kind of a senator is this?” Enrile said.
Enrile also slammed Trillanes, best known for leading a mutiny against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for accusing Del Rosario of treason.
“This is the senator of the Republic calling our secretary a treasonous person in a foreign land. He does not even know when treason arises,” he said.
At one point, Enrile said, Trillanes asked the Chinese whom they wanted to deal with, when Del Rosario was deemed to be taking too belligerent a stand towards Beijing.
Brady’s notes, Enrile said, would unmask Trillanes as “the Phantom of the Opera in Philippine politics.”
Enrile said he learned of Trillanes’ mission during a Cabinet meeting last July when Trillanes reportedly aired some complaints against the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“I just learned about it when I was invited in Malacañang during a Cabinet meeting, when he [Trillanes] was making a report for the Cabinet and he was making complaints against the DFA,” he said. “I was surprised to see him there.”
Enrile said he asked Trillanes, a former military official implicated in several failed coup attempts against the Arroyo administration, who authorized him to hold such talks and the senator reportedly pointed to the President.
Enrile said he was not sure if Trillanes had sought a travel authority from him to go to China.
“I know that he went to China once but I do not know whether he got any travel authority from me for that purpose,” Enrile said.
But Trillanes said there was no need for travel authority because he did not use his official passport and that he went to China on days when there was no session in Congress.
He also said he kept the assignment a secret because that was the nature of back channeling.
“I wasn’t supposed to come out. I finished my job mid-July, early August. But then there was a report that Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said I’m doing more harm than good. I just felt slighted because I did this quietly. There was no media mileage in what I did,” he said.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said backdoor negotiations are not always helpful in solving a problem.
“It is always, always essential in international relations that the other side should know who is the person calling the shots. Before you sit down at the table, each side should know already who is the ultimate authority,” she said.
“Otherwise there is no point to talking and talking and you don’t know whether it would be approved by some higher authority who is unnamed,” she added.
Santiago also said it’s not advisable to reveal in public the problems within the country’s own diplomatic team.
“Never show the enemy that you’re breaking ranks… always present a united front to the enemy no matter how bitter your differences might be,” she said.
Senator Loren Legarda, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said she has “high confidence and respect” for Del Rosario.
“He is doing a difficult job and his efforts are well appreciated, I am sure, by many Filipinos. At the end of the day, there is only one team that addresses issues of foreign policy and that is Team Philippines headed by the President, with the able support of the DFA,” she said.
Del Rosario issued a statement saying the DFA executes the foreign policy of the President.
“We will not dignify those who are working to divide us. There must be one policy and one team in promoting our national interest.”
Lacierda also spoke up for Del Rosario, whom Trillanes had described as ineffective and “a war freak” when it came to issues involving China.
“I can say categorically that Secretary Del Rosario has the trust and confidence of the President,” he said.
“There is only one chief policymaker, and that is the President. And there is only one official line, and that is the Department of Foreign Affairs. And China knows this,” Lacierda added.
Lacierda said The President was approached by Trillanes who offered “a way forward” to the territorial row with China.
Lacierda said there appeared to be “minor successes” in the track pursued by Trillanes. With Sara Fabunan and Joyce Pangco Pañares