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President called the shots, says Philippines' negotiator to China

Publication Date : 21-09-2012


“It was the President who was calling the shots. I would just make proposals, counterproposals. If the President doesn’t accept the proposals, I would give it back. That’s how it works. Ultimately it was the President who decided.”

Philippine Senator Antonio Trillanes IV outlined his role as President Benigno Aquino’s back-channel negotiator with China on the second day of his verbal tussle with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Trillanes made a round of the TV networks Thursday to explain his role as backroom negotiator since the confrontation between the Philippines and China began over the disputed Panatag, or Scarbourough, Shoal in April.

On the Senate floor on Wednesday, Enrile accused Trillanes of being a “traitor” for pushing China’s position on disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.

Trillanes earlier said he made six trips to China and that he believed the Palace paid for these trips using the president’s confidential funds.

He said he informed Aquino “most of the time at least” whenever he was off to meet with the Chinese.

He said Aquino laid down “certain parametres” during these conversations.

Enrile’s challenge

Enrile in an interview with reporters Thursday challenged Trillanes, leader of the 2003 Oakwood mutiny, to identify his contacts in China, warning that long-term association with a foreign country could mean the young senator would eventually look after its interests.

“He must have been developed or he developed that channel a long time ago and that is the danger…to this country. Eventually if he is going to get (re)elected, China might have a senator in this chamber. Ha-ha-ha-ha,” Enrile told reporters.

Trillanes earlier claimed Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa enlisted his “help” in resolving the standoff with China. This was after Trillanes said he mentioned that he was able to establish friendships with Chinese officials during an official visit to the country last year.

Enrile is not convinced that a year-old association would merit attention from Chinese authorities given the level of anxiety caused by the standoff over the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarbourough Shoal) in April.

“I want to know who contacted him or whom did he contact (in China)? How did he begin? Because it cannot happen just like he suddenly has a channel, you know. There must have been a long association,” he said.

Asked if he believed Trillanes forged these contacts much earlier than his visit last year, Enrile said, “Yes, yes.”

He said Trillanes would not have offered himself to the Palace as negotiator with China if he were not confident that his “channels” would be willing to listen.

“You cannot just go to China and say, ‘hey, can I talk to you?’ It doesn’t happen that way, right,” Enrile said.

Brady notes

In the TV interviews Thursday, Trillanes dared Enrile to produce the notes that he said came from Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady, suggesting that it could have been a “script” prepared by Enrile’s staff.

“You challenge him to get it out so that you can read for yourself what the contents are,” he told one TV interviewer.

Enrile wondered why the senator now wanted him to bare Brady’s notes. “My God, he said that (the contents) should not be revealed. Why? What is secret about it? So now, the guy is being caught through his words, the fish is being hooked,” Enrile laughed.

He said he had “a whole envelope” of notes about Trillanes’ activities and utterances on Philippine-China ties and that what he read on the floor was only part of it. “I have the complete records,” he said.

Enrile said he brought Brady’s notes to the session hall on Wednesday thinking that Trillanes’ privilege speech was against Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario who had questioned the senator’s initiatives.

Little did Enrile realise he was going to be attacked by Trillanes for supposedly putting pressure on senators to pass a bill dividing Camarines Sur into two provinces.

Not about Peking duck

Enrile said Trillanes’ move to discourage Brady from taking notes during the senator’s meeting with her last month could backfire in case Chinese officials recorded the senator making a commitment or a comment that could be used against the Philippine government.

“I do not know what (Trillanes) said but all of those (are now) in the records of the Chinese government. We do not have any record. He never submitted any report either to me or to the Senate foreign relations committee. I don’t know whether he has a report to the Office of the President,” Enrile noted.

“What did he do? He went there to eat Peking duck,” he added in jest.
Oust Enrile moves

Trillanes admitted he was working on convincing his colleagues to oust Enrile as senate president. He said he initiated this move more than a month ago. Enrile himself acknowledged efforts to oust him and said he would gladly give up his post to anyone who has the numbers.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said Thursday the Liberal Party was not involved in any plot against Enrile.

“In fact, this administration owes a lot to him for the way he handled not just the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, but other measures that have come up before the Senate,” he told reporters.

With a report from Leila B. Salaverria


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