Back-channeling senator

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Monday, October 15, 2012


Dear Sir/Ma'am:

I am writing this letter to address the different issues that have come out in relation to the back-channelling efforts of Senator Antonio “Sonny” F. Trillanes IV. The issue on the back-channel negotiation has generated opinions from various quarters which, unfortunately, rather than clarifying matters has spawned confusion, complicated by ulterior motives and vested interests.

In the interest of objectivity and fairness, I would like to clarify the following points:

First, the back-chanelling negotiations were done to further the government’s foreign policy and to promote and protect our national interest. It must be emphasized that during the said negotiation, every decision arrived at were made by President Aquino himself. Senator Trillanes’s role during the negotiations was only limited to being a messenger – all proposals and counter proposals were presented to the president for his approval and it was his decisions which were relayed to the other party.

Moreover, the scope of the mission given to Senator Trillanes was limited to the de-escalation of the tension in the West Philippine Sea. It did not cover the definitive resolution of the on-going dispute.

Second, it was the Philippine Government (through Malacanang) which shouldered the cost for the back-channeling efforts contrary to malicious insinuations made by different camps not privy to the matter. A total of about 15 meetings were conducted covering the period of May to August 2012. Of these meetings, less than half were held in China and the rest were done here in the country.

Third, Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady was never part and was never present in any of the meetings of Senator Trillanes with the Chinese officials. In fact, the first and only official meeting he had with Ambassador Brady in Beijing was held on August 17, 2012, at the Philippine Embassy. Senator Trillanes arranged for that meeting, specifically, to brief her about the status of the backchannel talks since she just reported at the embassy sometime in early August.

During their private meeting, they were only accompanied by Philippine Consul Evangeline Ong Jimenez-Ducrocq and a member of the Senator’s staff and definitely, THERE WERE NO CHINESE OFFICIALS PRESENT. The media could easily ask Consul Jimenez-Ducrocq to confirm this. So, if those Brady Notes indeed exist, this is where she or Consul Jimenez-Ducrocq probably wrote it. There was nothing treasonous about this briefing.

If our reporters and opinion columnists are only basing their analyses on the few phrases lifted and interpreted by Senator Enrile during his monologue, that is very dangerous as the same have been taken out of context and given malicious twists. Sadly, this is exactly what happened.

Fourth, Senator Trillanes avoided publicly discussing his role as the country’s back-channel negotiator but this was revealed on national media by Senator Enrile during his interpellation at the Senate Floor. At that time, Senator Trillanes had just delivered a privilege speech expressing his loss of confidence on Senator Enrile’s capability to lead the Senate as a result of the railroading of the bill dividing the province of Camarines Sur upon instructions of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It is sad that the entire nation saw how Senator Enrile exposed state secrets on national TV because of his apparent desire to divert the public’s attention from the issues raised by Senator Trillanes instead of just confronting the said issues.

While some were quick to criticize Senator Trillanes’s supposed lack of qualifications as a back-channel negotiator, I wish to state that Senator Trillanes is one of the few senior officials in government who had actual field experience involving face-to-face encounters with Chinese vessels in Scarborough during his sea duty stint when he was still in the Navy.

This actual exposure in Scarborough helped him better appreciate the tactical conditions, as well as the psyche and conditions of the sailors of both sides. This knowledge is complemented by his background on national security and naval warfare which he acquired as a naval officer and his training in Public Policy analysis, which was his major when he took up his Master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of the Philippines.

On top of this, Senator Trillanes is the principal author of the Philippine Archipelagic Baselines Law (RA No. 9522), which officially defined our country’s boundaries. He likewise wrote a policy paper on this subject and explained the options we have in dealing with the Scarborough Shoal as well as other foreign policy issues. In short, Senator Trillanes has enough credentials to stand up to any of the so-called experts on the Scarborough Shoal.

Regardless, the fact that President Aquino has expressly acknowledged the successes of the negotiation and continues to consider Sen. Trillanes as the negotiator exemplifies the trust that President Aquino has reposed upon his capability and effectiveness. It further vindicates our claim that he did not betray the Filipino people. Even the Chinese Government acknowledged the strides made through the negotiation, saying that the tension has already eased because of effective communication between the two parties.

Lastly, the pronouncement of Secretary Mar Roxas that there are still gaps or points for negotiation on the issue of Scarborough during his talks with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping proves that Senator Trillanes did not sell out any of our islands to the Chinese. Again, the mission of Sen. Trillanes was only to help de-escalate the tension and not to resolve all of the issues relating to this centuries’ old dispute and I believe that Senator Trillanes was able to accomplish this without compromising our country’s interest.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

Reynaldo B. Robles
Chief of Staff
Office of Senator Antonio "Sonny" F. Trillanes IV

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 15, 2012.

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