Trillanes still PH’s backdoor negotiator

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President Aquino says Senator Trillanes is still Manila's backdoor negotiator with China but they will have to talk soon

'TRILLANES HELPED.' President Aquino credits Trillanes for helping deescalate tension with China but clarifies that the senator volunteered to be a backdoor negotiator with Beijing. File photo by Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Despite the exposure of backdoor talks and a Senate clash, President Benigno Aquino III said Sen Antonio Trillanes IV is still a backdoor negotiator with China.

After days of silence, Aquino spoke about the senator’s backdoor negotiations with China to ease the conflict in the territorial dispute over the Scarborough Shoal.

In an interview in Nueva Ecija on Friday, September 21, Aquino was asked about Trillanes’ status as negotiator. Trillanes is an ally and friend of the President. He is also part of the administration’s senatorial slate for the May 2013 elections.

“As of now, yes he is [still a backdoor negotiator] but I will have to talk to him soon. I’m just loaded with so many things these past 6 weeks, starting with the monsoon but I have to talk to him,” Aquino said.

Trillanes’ role as backdoor negotiator to China was revealed in a Philippine Daily Inquirer story published on Wednesday, September 19. Trillanes later told reporters his work spanned from May to July. 

Contrary to the senator’s statements that the Palace asked for his help, Aquino said it was Trillanes who offered to be backdoor negotiator.

Aquino said Trillanes volunteered amid heightened tensions over Scarborough Shoal, and the Philippines lost informal channels to China.

“So ang tanda ko diyan, kinontak tayo ni Senator Trillanes at tila nasa China siya at that time at nilapitan siya. Tinanong ‘yung posibilidad kung pupwede siyang maging backchannel [negotiator] nga,” Aquino said. (What I remember is that Senator Trillanes contacted us and it seems he was in China at that time and someone approached him. He was asked about the possibility of acting as a backdoor negotiator.)

Aquino added, “So in the absence of any other channels that were existing beforehand, at sa gusto nating maresolba [nang] mapayapa itong sitwasyon sa Scaborough Shoal, so anong mawawala sa atin [kung] pakinggan ‘yung ipararating. So, doon nag-umpisa po iyan.” (And in our desire to resolve the situation peacefully in Scarborough Shoal, so what will we lose if we listen to what they are conveying? So it started there.)

Trillanes, however, has said that it was Executive Secretary Paquino Ochoa Jr who tapped him to help resolve the standoff. The senator said he was able to establish contacts with Chinese officials during an official visit to China last year.

Aquino did not explain why he took up Trillanes’ offer amid questions about the senator’s lack of a background on foreign affairs and diplomacy. Trillanes is a former navy officer who launched coup attempts against the Arroyo administration prior to becoming senator in 2007. 

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has been Trillanes’ loudest critic after the two clashed on the Senate floor on Wednesday about the talks with China and the division of Camarines Sur province. 

‘Trillanes can be credited’

Aquino was asked about the Palace statement that Trillanes achieved “minor successes” in his role as backdoor negotiator.

The President said Trillanes’ work helped reduce the number of Chinese vessels in Scarborough Shoal, deescalating the tension. Aquino was however unsure about the exact number.

“’Yon naman siguro pwede nating i-credit doon sa efforts rin at efforts ni Senator Trillanes at iba pang efforts ano.” (This we can credit to the efforts of Senator Trillanes and other efforts.)

Aquino admitted that he felt uneasy discussing Trillanes’ work in detail because the talks were informal in nature.

“’Pag informal nito, hindi pwedeng sabihin publicly sa China. Meron silang considerations sa pag-a-address nung kanilang constituencies. So hindi ko pwedeng ibigay sa inyo lahat ng detalye pero mukhang napakaliwanag na humupa naman nang maski papaano ‘yung tension diyan at nakatulong si Senator Trillanes.” (When it’s informal, it means we can’t discuss it publicly with China. They have considerations in addressing their constituencies. So we can’t give you all the details but it looks like it’s very clear that the tension was reduced and Senator Trillanes helped.)

SPECIAL ENVOY. Interior Secretary Mar Roxas at the China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, China. Photo by Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda

Roxas’ role

Aquino also explained why he sent Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II as a special envoy to the 9th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, China. Roxas flew to attend the expo which started on Friday, September 21.

The President said he thought it best to send Roxas because China, being a one-party state, had party-to-party dialogue with Vietnam. Aquino said he also thought of adopting the party-to-party approach.

Roxas is president of the ruling Liberal Party.

“My instructions to Secretary Roxas are very simple: ensure that he relays our views to the highest levels of the leadership of the People’s Republic [of China] so it will be clear and nothing is lost in translation,” Aquino said in Filipino.

Aquino said he wants Chinese leaders to know clearly where the Philippines is coming from, its concerns and expectations.

“If they respond, good. If not, it is clear to us that we relayed the message to them in a way that is very clear,” Aquino said.

Aquino clarified that sending Roxas does not mean the Secretary will be the one to always face Chinese officials.

“Not necessarily but he is an addition. Of course, if we have a friendship agreement with China with a tourism component, of course it’s not Secretary Roxas or [Foreign] Secretary [Albert] del Rosario who is needed.” 

He added, “Just for this occasion, I repeat, in our view, the party-to-party relation is what they are after so we asked for Secretary Roxas.” –


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