Manila, Philippines – In his first public statement on a raging diplomatic firestorm, President Benigno S. Aquino III revealed yesterday that China initiated the move to have Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes IV as backdoor negotiator in efforts to resolve a territorial dispute on the Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
The President explained that he accepted the offer to jumpstart informal talks between the two countries after noticing “formal” diplomatic channels have become “very belligerent” at the height of the dispute.
Aquino credited Trillanes for helping ease tension in the West Philippine Sea during his informal talks with China, adding that he will remain backdoor negotiator on the issue for now.
“As far as I can remember, I was contacted by Sen. Trillanes. He was at China at that time and he was approached and asked about the possibility of serving as backchannel (negotiator),” Aquino said. He did not identify who actually approached Trillanes.
“So in the absence of any other channels that were existing beforehand and we want to peacefully resolve the situation at the Scarborough Shoal, what can we lose if we listen to them? That’s how it started,” he added.
The President defended Trillanes, a former rebel soldier, amid the controversy created by his controversy in his role in the secret talks with China.
The designation of Trillanes caused a heated argument with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who claimed that Trillanes was undermining the country’s sovereign interests.
It has also reportedly caused a deep spat with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario, who is officially in charge of efforts to resolve the sea dispute with China.
Prior to Trillanes’ designation, the President said he was surprised about the heated exchange in the formal channels as well as the absence of backroom negotiations to ease the tension between the two countries.
“I was wondering when the Scarborough Shoal incident happened, the formal channels have become very belligerent. You may remember the heated exchange of their ambassadors, the phrases: Indisputable historical right to Scarborough Shoal,” he pointed out.
Aquino was also surprised that “informal conduits” usually sent by China vanished into thin air. “There were no longer informal channels that were usually used to send the sentiments of the other side. They were missing,” the Chief Executive said.
Asked if Trillanes remains the country’s backdoor negotiator to China, Aquino said: “As of now, yes, he is but, I will have to talk to him soon. I’m just loaded with so many things these past six weeks starting with Habagat.”
Trillanes earlier denied he volunteered for the assignment and claimed that he was merely asked by Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. to help. He had more than a dozen meetings with some Chinese officials from May to April.
The President meantime acknowledged that the “successes” made by Trillanes to help diffuse the standoff at the Panatag Shoal, citing the dwindling number of Chinese ships in the area. (Genalyn D. Kabiling)