By Mei Jingya, Sina English
A Philippine senator named Antonio Trillanes has suddenly become the headline topic of local media. He claimed he had engaged in unofficial back-channel talks with China as a special envoy of President Aquino, and openly described Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario as a “war freak” who nearly brought the Philippines to war with a superpower neighbor. He said Del Rosario was ineffective and unfit to negotiate with China.
Trillanes’s remarks have triggered a political earthquake in the country.
Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario said in an earlier interview that a back-door negotiator ruined his efforts to find a solution to the territorial disputes with China, complaining that “while back-channeling has its purpose, it’s doing more harm than good.” He said that it was important that “we speak with one voice on this matter.” Trillanes accused Del Rosario of alluding to him, although Rosario did not mention his name.
In a report entitled“Trillanes: From coup plotter to backdoor negotiator”,the ABS-CBN said Trillanes, a former navy lieutenant, was among the leaders of two failed coups in 2003 and 2007 against then president Gloria Arroyo. He won a Senate seat in 2007 from a jail cell while on trial for rebellion. He was subsequently granted amnesty by Aquino, a fierce critic of Arroyo, before the trial ended.
Trillanes said he got the assignment in May at a meeting in the Philippine presidential palace and he had since been present in cabinet meetings on China. “The tension was high. There were around 80 ships then at the Scarborough Shoal (Chinese Huangyan Island). We needed another medium to convey the message that we want a peaceful resolution to the incident,” he said.
Trillanes told AFP Wednesday that he had met "top Chinese officials" at least 15 times in Manila and in Beijing since May and successfully eased tensions between the two countries. "Right now there is no more crisis, but we were nearly brought to war. That was a treasonous act (by del Rosario)," Trillanes said.
In a phone interview with the Daily Inquirer, Trillanes said, “If Secretary Del Rosario was only close to being effective as a foreign secretary, then there wouldn’t be any need for a back channel in the first place.” “I’d rather that Secretary Del Rosario be just happy with the fact that somebody else did the job he was supposed to do,” Trillanes said. “Back channel talks have enabled us to normalize our relations with China again without even ceding anything, he is still complaining?”
Trillanes also claimed Del Rosario’s opposition to any peaceful settlement with Beijing and his purported desire to bring the United States into the confrontation arise from his covert connections with an oil company, which is allegedly owned by his former boss and has huge business interests in the South China Sea. He criticized Del Rosario for being “unfit to represent the Philippines on the negotiating table with China”.
Trillanes said Del Rosario should be responsible for many unpleasant incidents between China and the Philippines, saying he failed miserably in his attempt to convince US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in May to intervene when Washington announced it would stay neutral in the conflict. The senator also blamed Del Rosario for his failure to get a joint statement from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) due to his insistence on including Huanyan Island in it, which other countries opposed.
Trillanes also said Del Rosario is also responsible for Aquino’s failure to secure a one-on-one meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Russia earlier this month. He said back channeling efforts were close to working out an informal meeting between Aquino and Hu until Del Rosario got wind of these talks and insisted on taking over to ensure his presence during the meeting.
The infighting has become the top story on the Philippine media.
On September 19, Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, the third highest official in the country, launched a blistering attack on Trillanes in a nationally televised address. "This guy is a fraud," Enrile said. "He told the Chinese we cannot impose our coastal protection." Enrile asked Trillanes to explain his unauthorized trips to China and the content of his backroom negotiations.
Trillanes refused to answer questions from Enrile, saying they are state secrets, and walked out of the Senate session. He also announced that he was leaving the majority coalition in the Senate.In an effort to limit the fallout , Philippine presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said at a press conference on Wednesday that Trillanes approached the President at the height of tensions with China over the Huangyan island, and “the President said let’s keep our options open.”
GMA News reported that Lacierda the spokesman said Del Rosario knew Trillanes’ role but he refused to recognize him a special envoy of the president. Lacieda reiterated that the secretary of foreign affairs has “the trust and confidence of the president," and is still the top negotiator of the Philippine government.
But since the chief policy maker is the President, China wouldn’t be confused on who to talk to, despite the double channels of diplomacy by del Rosario and Trillanes. Lacierda also added that Philippine President has asked both the foreign secretary and the senator to refrain from making further statements to contain the fire stoked by revelations of infighting between them, according to the spokesman.
Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III will send Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas as his special envoy to the 9th China-ASEAN Expo (CAEXPO) this week in Nanning, China, a senior government official said on Thursday.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, in a news briefing, said Aquino approved the recommendation of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to designate Roxas as the special envoy to CAEXPO from Sept. 21 to 25.
Del Rosario is arranging a meeting between Roxas and his delegation with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is attending the CAEXPO, Lacierda said.
CAEXPO, co-sponsored by China and ASEAN, is an international event held annually since 2004 with the objective of promoting the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA). The CAEXPO is an excellent platform for cooperation in the fields of infrastructure investment, trade, and tourism, among others.