Trillanes: I helped defuse tension in Panatag
“I did not inject myself here. My work began in May and finished in July but you never heard a word from me about it. I have kept my peace.”
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on Wednesday said Malacañang appointed him as a “special envoy” to dialogue with Chinese officials to ease tensions between Manila and Beijing and that he held more than a dozen meetings with them, half in China and the rest in Manila.
Trillanes disputed claims by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario that his efforts were not helping the country.
He said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa asked him in May whether he “would like to help” at the height of tensions between Manila and Beijing following an attempt by the Philippine Coast Guard to confiscate endangered marine life that Chinese fishermen took in Panatag Shoal in April.
“I had just made an official visit (to China) last year. I was able to… make some contacts. I said ‘yes’… I told (Ochoa) that I needed authorization from the President,” Trillanes said.
He denied a claim by presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda that he had offered to mediate.
8 different channels
“The opportunity just presented itself during my conversation with the Executive Secretary,” Trillanes maintained.
The senator said he had eight contacts in China, describing them as “people in different channels.” He did not elaborate. He said he worked with a Chinese special envoy as well.
“The situation then was already very tense. There were 80 to 100 ships in (Panatag Shoal) and the President used back channel as a policy tool, as an option to resolve that issue.”
“I am happy to say it was successful in deescalating situation. There are now only three ships but practically in international waters. And Philippine exports are now accepted in China,” he added.
But after helping defuse tension in Panatag Shoal, Trillanes was confronted with a complaint from Del Rosario that the senator was “doing more harm than good.”
“Let me be very clear, I don’t have any disagreements with Secretary Del Rosario. The President … is still the sole source of foreign policy in this country,” he said.
“I was just tasked to help deescalate the tension in (Panatag) last May. Our currently improved situation is a result of the collective effort of all involved and all this time it was the President who was calling the shots.”
Meeting Chinese 16 times
The senator insisted that tension in Panatag was diffused without giving any concessions to China.
“Our exclusive economic zone is still observed. (Panatag) is still there. And there are no Chinese installations in the area. We did not give them anything and I don’t think we did them a favor. It was really just goodwill created during those (talks) that led to this,” he noted.
In a separate interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Trillanes said he met with Chinese emissaries 16 times after an initial discussion in Hong Kong.
The senator denied that his authorization lapsed two months ago, saying the Palace even asked him to find ways to re-establish contact with Chinese President Hu Jintao following a failed meeting with Mr. Aquino in Vladivostok, Russia, on Sept. 9.
“I’ve asked permission (from the President) to stop (negotiating),” said Trillanes, but was told by an unnamed Palace official: “If you’re still willing, please continue talking with them.”
According to the senator, China became angry at Manila following the failure of the two leaders to meet.
Malacañang had said that the meeting, which was sought by Hu, did not push through because of “scheduling problems.”
“Let’s stick to the story,” said Trillanes, insisting that his behind-the-scenes efforts resulted in the deescalation of tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
“There are only three ships left from about 80 to 100 ships, but they are already in international waters. The ships have left Scarborough Shoal. That’s the situation now. There has been a huge improvement (of the stability in the area),” he said.
Told that Malacañang had issued a gag order enjoining them from further commenting on the issue, he said: “(As a senator), he can’t order me to shut up, but Del Rosario can do so,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.