Trillanes: DFA chief deliberately worsened PH row with China

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If our relations with China are at their lowest ever, and if Filipinos are livid at the superpower for its purported bullying, our top diplomat, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, should to a great extent be blamed.

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That’s the only conclusion one would get from the report of Senator Antonio Trillanes 3rd as President Benigno S. Aquino’s “backchannel” envoy to China from May to August 2012. Trillanes said that he had 14 back-channel meetings, seven of which were in China and seven in Manila.

The senator’s account, and his allegations against del Rosario are contained in his undated four-page aide memoire entitled “Summary of Backchannel Talks,” which had been made available to me.

Trillanes, in his paper, pointed out he had succeeded in his talks with Chinese officials, so that they ordered on June 10, 2012 the withdrawal from the disputed Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc in our maps) of their Coastal Marine Surveillance (CMS) ships and 14 fishing boats. A crisis had broken out on the shoal after a May 30 confrontation between Chinese fishermen and Philippine Coast Guard personnel. Our two Bureau of Fishing and Aquatic Resources vessels carrying the PCG personnel, as part of the agreement, also left the area.

On June 19 that year, though, Aquino called Trillanes to say that they were “betrayed by China.” Aquino referred him to the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s huge banner-photo which showed Chinese uniformed personnel holding a Chinese flag on the shoal, with the headline in huge fonts screaming: “China ships stay on shoal.”

Trillanes claims del Rosario fed the newspaper this report and photo which were false, the latter being a 1980 file photo.

Trillanes claims del Rosario fed the newspaper this report and photo which were false, the latter being a 1980 file photo.

Trillanes in his report wrote that his Beijing negotiators denied the news story, and pointed out that the photo was an old one from the 1980s. The senator himself had suspected so as the photo had clear blue skies and calm waters as background, when in fact a typhoon was passing through the area at the time the photo was published. Trillanes claimed that his contacts in the newspaper told him that the false news story and photo came from del Rosario.

According to subsequent reports, the Chinese ships, both their CMS vessels and the fishing boats, indeed, had left the shoal, although as Trillanes said in his report, the Chinese would not announce that this was due to negotiations with the Philippine government. The official explanation of the foreign ministry was that the ships escorted the fishing boats to the Chinese mainland to escape an impending typhoon that would pass the shoal.

Second del Rosario story
There was a second instance in which del Rosario planted, Trillanes alleged, a false news story in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that roused Philippine ire against China:

“On 24 June, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a story about a Chinese vessel ramming a Filipino fishing boat. Again, P-Noy called me and he was furious about this incident. I told him that I would ask Beijing about it. When I confronted the negotiators, they told me that their ships are in place and that the incident happened in an area that was at least 150 nautical miles away.

“So I investigated further by sending somebody to talk to one of the survivors who was then confined in Ilocos Sur. The survivor said that they were already sinking while tied to a fish marker and that they were not rammed at all. I then asked around again in the Inquirer as to who fed the story. My sources then revealed that the story came from Sec. del Rosario. “ (Emphasis mine.)

According to Trillanes, he recommended in an executive Cabinet meeting on July 5 that Aquino adopt a bilateral approach to resolving the territorial dispute with China, especially that over Scarborough shoal.

He explained that his bilateral talks with Chinese representatives had resulted in the drastic reduction of Chinese vessels from almost a hundred to only three. Trillanes told Aquino that the Chinese committed to pull out the remaining three CMS vessels if the Philippines does not internationalize it by raising the issue at the Asean Regional Forum (AFRE), scheduled July 12. The Chinese, he said, also assured him that they would not put up any structure around the shoal.

Del Rosario, however, pushed for internationalizing the dispute. “I clearly remember USec. Henry Bensurto with a PowerPoint presentation telling everybody in the meeting that the annexation of Scarborough Shoal by China would be used as a springboard to claim Western Luzon. Sec. del Rosario proceeded to present that China had almost 100 vessels in and around the shoal; that they placed a rope at the entrance of the shoal and the Chinese were duplicitous.”

(“USec Henry Bensurto” is not an undersecretary but at the time of the meeting, an assistant secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs heading its West Philippine Sea Center and the Secretary-General of the Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat. He would be part of the Philippine team that filed the arbitration case against China on the West Philippine Sea dispute, which is now pending before an Arbitral Tribunal in the Hague. He was assigned June this year as the Consul General of San Francisco, U.S.A., a much sought-after post among Philippine diplomats. “The rope at the entrance of the shoal” del Rosario alleged is sheer nonsense, a source familiar with Scarborough shoal explained. The “rope” seen by Coast Guard personnel was a remnant of anchor ropes floating near the entrance of the shoal.)

Cut ties with China
Trillanes continued: “It was at this point that Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile… raised the ante and proposed on the table that we study the option of completely cutting ties with China. Sec. del Rosario and Sec. Almendras followed suit and the discussion went on with NEDA detailing how many percentage points would be shaved off the GDP; DTI, explaining that the electronics exports sectors would be gravely affected; and DOLE, saying how many OFWs would be repatriated, etc.”

“In the end, when the vote came in, it was lopsided in favor of Sec. del Rosario’s option…” (to internationalize it and bring it to the AFR.)

Del Rosario’s strategy failed, though – or maybe not. The AFR host, Cambodia refused to issue a communiqué for the assembly — the first time this had happened in such ASEAN meetings — which necessarily would have contained a reference to the Philippines’ dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal. When del Rosario began to raise the sensitive issue of the South China Sea at the summit, his microphone went dead. A technical glitch, said the Cambodian hosts.

Right after his arrival in Manila, del Rosario called for a press conference in which he was furious at the Cambodians’ refusal to issue a communiqué, and at an unidentified state’s “increasing assertion” in disputed waters, even warning it was raising the risk of conflict. That certainly made many more Filipinos mad at China.

Trillanes concluded in his report that in August 2012 he “politely declined from continuing with (his) role as backchannel negotiator since P-Noy had already decided his policy action (of internationalizing the dispute.)”

During Trillanes’ stint as backchannel negotiator in 2012, there were persistent reports that del Rosario detested the senator’s role, and had even threatened to resign his post, as he wasn’t consulted on the matter.

I wonder, though: China is such a huge superpower in our hemisphere, and it would affect, whether we like it or not, our nation’s future, the welfare of a 100 million Filipinos. Shouldn’t exposing del Rosario’s complicity, as Trillanes alleges, in our worsening ties with China be of higher priority for the senator than persecuting Vice President Jejomar Binay?

Why would del Rosario, as Trillanes seems to allege, want our territorial tensions with China maintained at an intense level? That on Wednesday.

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
FB: Rigoberto Tiglao

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17 Comments

  1. The bottomline is we carelessly & cowardly allowed China to occupy our Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Island Reefs. That is the gravest and most stupid mistake of the Pnoy Administration. Pnoy should have ordered the PCG and other law-enforcement agencies to confront the Chinese ships and boats and prevent them from occupying our maritime territories whether we internationalize the dispute or hold bilateral talks with China. Our sovereignty is being attacked by China and our government is allowing the Chinese government to bully us. We have an EDCA defense agreement with the US to protect us from Chinese aggression. Peaceful diplomacy will not stop China from occupying our territories. Our government should take law-enforcementr actions and not just watching and letting China do whatever it wants at will.

  2. Benny Antiporda on

    The issue in Spratly is not about sovereignty, it’s all about business, where does Sec. Albert del Rosario gets his orders? Is it from Noynoy? I don’t think so. Base on my investigation there’s this MANAY PANGGIGILAN who calls the shots in DFA.

  3. parang me napanood naman ako interview na ang sinisisi ni del rosario sa tension ng relation ng china ay si voltaire gazmin.

  4. Only a bilateral agreement between China and our country can resolved these territorial dispute. The Americans can not interfere for reason they violated the rights of Cuba by occupying Guantanamo. The British still occupy Falkland in spite the island are thousand of miles away from them. The North Sea oil were resolved by bilateral talks between Norway and England.

  5. The expose is interesting. What spoiled the topic is comparison with the investigation of VP Binay. Investigation of corruption charges of any government official must not be construed as less important to a national concern, it’s entirely different. Come Wednesday, let’s hope that the motive of this expose will remain to the point of importance.

  6. The expose is interesting, what spoiled the good intention is comparing with the investigation of VP Binay. Is the motive of the expose is to say that the ongoing investigation of VP Binay is less important or again to defend him? Common, corruption of all government officials must exposed inside out whatever is their political clout. Come Wednesday, lets hope the name VP Binay will not be there again to spoil the topic. Ngayon pa lang eh marami na ang pumapapel ke Binay lalo na pag naging presidente ito.

  7. Wala yata si Aquino sa mga nag-uusap at mukhang hindi yata siya ang may desisyon ng lahat na ito!
    Mga palabas lang ito ng Aquino para ang mga pilipino ay abala sa pagtatalo tungkol sa mga chino! Nauto nila ang mga tao Hindi namalayan ang pagpasok ng Edca!
    Maraming pilipino ang mas yadong mapaniwalain kay Aquino!
    Kaya ito ang napala natin,nailagay tayo ni Aquino sa war na alam-na alam naman natin na wala tayong kapakapanalo!
    Na unggoy tayo ni abnoy!

    • Agree!! Kaya sa 2016, huwag na huwag ire-re-elect si Noynoy. One term lang, tapos, talsik na dapat.

  8. If there is a perception of an imminent threat, there will be bigger allocations for buying second hand scrap ships from the US Navy and there will be commissions that will change hands.

    Second, this Mr. Al Burt seems to have the grand illusion that the US will still come to our rescue when the shooting starts. Hence, he wants to make the fire bigger to draw Uncle Sam into the conflagration. He seems to forget that the US never interfered in the Ukraine and they have a recent history of just dropping allies like a hot potato when the going gets rough. While they wanted to make it appear that they want to protect their interests in the Asean Region, their economic interests from a continuing business relationship with tsay-nah is more paramount for them. Mr. Al Burt does not know that the US and tsay-nah have just signed recently the agreement to return the gold to tsay-nah?

  9. Our leaders have no guts and would rather bow down to China rather than arm ourselves to the teeth. A disgrace to our ancestors

  10. Manila Times columnists have always held Senator Trillanes in high regards. To include that Senator Trillanes exposes are to be believed —– including the latest , namely Bise Binay is big-time kurakot.

  11. Bert O. Romero on

    If true, this is a highly explosive story which highlights the incompetence, bordering on treason, of Secretary del Rolsario, the country’s topmost diplomat. Faking a news story together with an equally unauthentic photo to buttress a similarly spurious appreciation of the country’s national interests is the height of oxymoronic diplomacy. As the Philippines’ top diplomatic honcho, he is mandated to promote the country’s bilateral relations with other countries. And in the Asia – Pacific region, if not in the entire globe, China, with its growing economic, military, diplomatic, and geo-strategic stature, is recognized as a preeminent player. Instead of courting China’s friendship as a way of promoting Philippine interests, del Rosario has gone out of his way to provoke China to brinkmanship and thus dangerously taking the country to a potential war. How come that other neighboring countries with similar maritime claims against China and possessed with more extensive resources in the event of war have gone out of their way not to bring to the brink of war their maritime claims? If this is not treason, I don’t know what treason is.
    To add insult to injury, del Rosario was recently awarded by the Management Association of the Philippines as the Management Man of the Year. If he has failed to manage the country’s foreign policy with a key player in international relations, which is his foremost mandate, in what field of management has he excelled? Definitely not in the internal management of the DFA. The reported low morale of that agency’s rank and file, the Secretary’s well- known hands off approach to protecting his personnel, the favoritism in promotions and foreign assignments ( Assec. Bensurto’s is just the tip of the iceberg), and the general drift and purposelessness do not speak well of del Rosario as management man. In light of all these, it will be to the Philippines’ national interest if HE RESIGNS NOW.

  12. If its true as reported also that Trillanes told the Chinese that Philippines is not really interested with those pieces rocks, and that Philippines is only doing these efforts to save face.

  13. Insightful article, Mr Tiglao. However, will you provide us a copy of the reports of Senator Trillanes? For a more critical examination of the issue.

  14. The report proves only one thing: that our senators are lap dogs of the Office of the President. Where in the world can you find the a member of the Executive branch giving orders to a member of the Legislative??? Are they not supposed to be separate and distinct from each other??? So much for the Constitutional System of Checks and Balances! If Filipinos are that stupid of electing such officials, THE WE DO DESERVE THE GOVERNMENT THAT WE HAVE RIGHT NOW.

  15. This is a very interesting article. Lets wait for Wednesday. In the meantime one hopes Sec. del Rosario will read this article and prepare his reply to what Trillanes alleges, that is it is only an allegation, not the truth.