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(Updated 1:29 p.m.) FORT MAGSAYSAY, Nueva Ecija -- It was China that initiated moves to have Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV work as the Philippines’ backchannel negotiator in the territorial rift involving the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, President Benigno Aquino III said Friday. Trillanes in turn called the President to ask for the job. “Ang tanda ko diyan, kinontak tayo ni Senator Trillanes at tila nasa China siya at that time. At nilapitan siya, tinanong ‘yung posibilidad kung pupuwede siyang maging backchannel [negotiator] nga,” Aquino told reporters on the sidelines of the inauguration of the Aquino-Diokno Memorial in Nueva Ecija. This was contrary to Trillanes’ claim that it was Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. who proposed that he negotiate with Chinese authorities on behalf of the Philippines. He said Ochoa brought up the issue during a social gathering in Malacañang last May.
Trillanes' successes Aquino said Trillanes, a former Navy officer, was instrumental in lessening the number of Chinese boats near Panatag. “‘Yun naman siguro pwede nating i-credit doon sa efforts rin at efforts ni Senator Trillanes,” Aquino said. He said before Trillanes came into the picture, there were more than 48 Chinese vessels in the disputed territory. The President did not mention other supposed accomplishments by Trillanes, saying enumerating successes gained through informal channels shouldn’t be publicly announced. “Alam niyo medyo nag-aalanganin akong sabihin lahat nung detalye dahil nga pag-informal hindi pwedeng sabihin publicly sa China. Meron rin silang considerations sa pag-a-address n’ung kanilang constituencies, [pero] mukhang napakaliwanag na humupa naman nang maski papaano ‘yung tension diyan at nakatulong si Senator Trillanes,” Aquino said. — KBK/KG, GMA News
Aquino also hinted that his hasty acquiescence to Trillanes’ request was pushed by a “belligerent tone” coming from the formal channels, something which was absent in the cooperation between China and the Philippines during the Manila hostage crisis. “Nagtaka tayo nung umusbong itong Scarborough Shoal na incident, ‘yung formal channel naging very belligerent ’yung tono kaya tandaan ninyo ’yung sagutan nung kanilang ambassador na—ano nga ba ‘yung mga phrases [na nabanggit,] ‘indisputable historical right to Scarborough Shoal,’” Aquino said.
“Nagulat tayo na ‘yung mga dating mga informal na conduits nila para mapadala sa atin ‘yung kanilang mga pananaw ay tila nawala lahat, ano. Walang informal channels na dati’y agaran pinararating ’yung kanilang mga gustong iparating e. Bigla na lang nawala,” Aquino added.Aquino also confirmed that as of the moment, Trillanes remains the country’s backroom negotiator with China pending his meeting with the neophyte senator. “Well, as of now, yes, he is [our backroom negotiator] but, I will have to talk to him soon,” he said. Aside from Trillanes, newly confirmed Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas will be talking with some Chinese authorities after he was named presidential envoy to China. The Palace said Thursday it is sending Roxas to the 9th China-Asean Expo in Nanning, China upon the recommendation of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario. Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda earlier confirmed that the Palace hopes Roxas will have a chance to speak with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. However, in an interview with Arnold Clavio on "Unang Hirit" Wednesday, Roxas was tight-lipped when asked if his new assignment involves the Panatag Shoal.
Nothing to loseAquino said he agreed to Trillanes’ proposal, noting the absence of any other options for backroom negotiations. He said he felt he had nothing left to lose if he gave Trillanes the job. “So, in the absence of any other channels that were existing beforehand, at sa gusto nating maresolba na mapayapa itong sitwasyon sa Scarborough Shoal so, anong mawawala sa atin pakinggan ’yung ipararating?” he said. Trillanes’ role as backroom negotiator came to light when he himself announced it, raising some eyebrows. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, with whom Trillanes engaged in an argument at the Senate session hall Wednesday, accused Trillanes of undermining the Philippines' position in the issue. Enrile called Trillanes a fraud, saying that in his talks with Chinese officials, Trillanes said the Philippines “does not care about the Panatag Shoal.” Del Rosario said the backchannel negotiations did more harm than good, although he did not name Trillanes. For his part, Trillanes, who was once jailed for attempting to overthrow the government, accused Del Rosario of "treason" because of his allegedly aggressive tactics in dealing with the dispute.
In a privilege speech, Trillanes also promptly announced that he was leaving the majority block, citing a loss of confidence in Enrile’s leadership.