MANILA (Updated 3:05 p.m.) -- President Benigno Aquino III on Friday defended the role of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV as the country's backroom negotiator for China, saying the young senator helped ease tensions at the West Philippine Sea.
Aquino told reporters in Nueva Ecija that it was Trillanes who approached him to do backchannel talks with China.
"To my recollection, Senator Trillanes contacted me when he was seemed to be in China at that time. He was approached (by the Chinese officials) and was asked about the possibility if he could act as backchannel negotiator," Aquino said.
The President said he accepted the offer of Trillanes because the formal diplomatic channel turned "very belligerent" at that time.
"So, in the absence of any other channels that were existing beforehand, and we want to resolve the situation at Scarborough Shoal peacefully, what would we lose if we hear their side. That's when the backchanneling started," he said.
Aquino did not mention the Chinese officials who approached Trillanes.
While Trillanes's backchanneling negotiations have raised eyebrows among several senators, Aquino admitted that it has helped in easing standoff at Scarborough Shoal.
"There was a time when the boats of China in Scarborough Shoal reached I think 18 aside from their fishing boats which perhaps reached 30. That number gradually decreased. Maybe we could credit that to the efforts of Senator Trillanes," he said.
The President refused to give other successes from the backchannel talks, citing confidentiality.
"I could not give all the details but it is very clear that the tensions (at Scarborough) had subsided howsoever and Senator Trillanes has helped to make that happen," he said.
An administration ally said there is nothing wrong with Trillanes' move to act as backchannel negotiator because it has been done in past instances.
"It's quite normal," Senator Sergio Osmena III said in a text message. "But no one can bind the Philippines until you have what are known as Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary powers. It belongs to Ambassadors confirmed by Commission on Appointments."
Trillanes walked out from the Senate session last Friday when Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile started grilling him over his role as backdoor negotiator to China.
Enrile revealed some portions of supposed notes of Philippine ambassador to China Sonia Brady where Trillanes allegedly accused Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario of committing "treason" and called him a "traitor" for nearly bringing tensions with China to war. (Jill Beltran/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)