Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile warned former President Benigno Aquino III that the backchanneling efforts of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV with China was dangerous to the interest of the country and very unwise months prior to the start of the massive Chinese buildup in the West Philippine Sea.
It turned out to be a prophetic warning since Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said yesterday that it was the advice of Trillanes that led to the Chinese occupation of Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal off Zambales.
Exactly six years ago today (June 16), then President Aquino ordered the pullout of Philippine ships from Scarborough Shoal — ending a two-month standoff with China but, at the same time, resulting to the country losing control of the rich fishing ground to the Chinese.
The pullout order came after Aquino sent Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV to China as his emissary for backchanneling talks with Beijing officials, apparently to settle the conflict at Panatag Shoal.
Enrile was among the first individuals to learn of Trillanes’ “secret mission” to Beijing.
Interviewed by the Daily Tribune yesterday, Enrile confided he first learned of Trillanes’ trip to China during a meeting at Malacanang. Though he already forgot the exact date.
“The meeting was a briefing by (then Foreign Affairs) Secretary Albert del Rosario to President Aquino regarding the situation in the West Philippine Sea,” Enrile told Tribune.
Apart from President Aquino, Del Rosario and Enrile, also present during the meeting was Trillanes.
During the briefing, Enrile recalled Trillanes whispering to him that the foreign affairs chief’s briefing was not true.
“So I asked him (Trillanes), how did you know that it is not true, and he told me ‘because I went to China’,” Enrile said.
In the course of the discussion, Enrile said that it was made clear that Mr. Aquino gave the go signal to Trillanes.
“So, I told him ‘Mr. President these backdoor talks are dangerous to the interest of our country, they are not very wise’,” Enrile said.
According to Enrile, Del Rosario’s briefing was halted due to the “snafu”.
It was gathered that Trillanes made 16 trips to Beijing at the height of the tension in Panatag Shoal.
Meetings can be used vs PH
“Whatever statements made during those meetings (Trillanes made) can be used against us in the future and may be against our country’s interest,” Enrile added.
In a broadcast interview yesterday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano solidified Enrile’s recollection of the 2012 incident.
Cayetano said Trillanes indeed served as “adviser” to Aquino in the West Philippine Sea issue.
In fact, Cayetano said that it was Trillanes who told Aquino not to return to Panatag Shoal after the pullout of two ships from the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
“President Aquino decided, through the advice of Senator Trillanes because he (Trillanes) was the one who did the backchannel to China, not to go back there (Panatag) even when the agreement was for both parties (Manila and China) to pullout,” said Cayetano.
Cayetano stressed that upon the assumption of President Duterte, he exerted efforts to ease the tension with China to protect the country’s interest, particularly the fisher folks.
In a recent press conference in Malacanang, no less than fishermen from Zambales confirmed that the Chinese have control of Panatag Shoal.
The Filipino fishermen accused the Chinese coast guard of stealing catch from them when venturing into the shoal.
Malacanang had alerted Beijing over the issue and Chinese Ambassador to Manila Zhao has vowed investigation of the matter and that those who would be found liable will be meted out with government sanctions.
PNoy mismanaged row
No less than Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said that the Aquino administration “mismanaged” the West Philippine Sea issue and the Duterte administration made huge strides to clean the mess it inherited.
Lorenzana said that due to the tension during the previous administration, there was no trade between Manila and Beijing, Chinese tourist arrival was very low and they harassed Filipino troops and fishermen.
Currently, Lorenzana said that trade between the two countries is flourishing, tourist arrivals have doubled and the tension is gone as Filipinos are allowed to fish in the area.
Lorenzana, who has supervision over the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), stressed that Philippine ships and aircraft are regularly patrolling in the West Philippine Sea to protect the country’s sovereignty and territory.
This was contrary to claims by Trillanes’ buddy Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano who said that the AFP has stopped patrols in the West Philippine Sea upon the orders of President Duterte.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. also belied Alejano’s claim.