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MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATED 3:31 PM) A Palace official confirmed on Wednesday that Senator Antonio Trllanes IV volunteered to serve as backchannel negotiator to China at the height of tensions between Manila and Beijing over a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea earlier this year. At the same time, Palace officials cleared del Rosario of any blame in the scuttling of talks between President Aquino and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the sidelines of the recent APEC meeting, brushing aside Trillanes's claim that the DFA chief was at fault..
And despite Trillanes' accusations that Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario was ineffective and a hawk when dealing with the territorial dispute, the Cabinet official nevertheless enjoys the full trust and confidence of President Benigno Aquino III.
"The President was approached by Senator Trillanes who said that there is a way forward," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Lacierda said the President took on Trillanes' suggestion as part of his policy to keep all options open, and that "it seems there were minor successes."
The spokesperson added that the President will not replace Del Rosario despite Trillanes' very public criticisms against him.
'Del Rosario blameless on aborted Hu-Pnoy meeting'
Meanwhile, Malacañang has denied the claim of Senator Trillanes that del Rosario was to blame for the aborted bilateral meeting between President Aquino and Chinese President Hu Jintao during the 20th Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Vladivostok two weeks ago.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Hu has sent his regrets that the meeting did not push through as planned.
Lacierda said Hu had to leave Vladivostok immediately because he had to attend to the rescue operations in Yunnan Province that was struck by multiple earthquakes.
Trillanes claimed that his backchanneling efforts were about to nail the bilateral meeting until del Rosario took over the preparations.
Del Rosario earlier admitted that it was a "missed opportunity" for both countries to come up with a peaceful resolution to the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
"I think that this probably is not only a downside for the Philippines but also for China because it’s a good opportunity for the leaders to, as I said, to be able to exchange views freely," del Rosario said.
"I can say categorically that Secretary Del Rosario has the trust and confidence of the President," he said. "There is only one chief policymaker, and that is the President. And there is only one official line, and that is the Department of Foreign Affairs. And China knows this.”
Trillanes only attended one executive session meeting of the Cabinet in July, which was when the government was discussing whether to send ships back to the Panatag Shoal.
Lacierda said he was unaware of reports that Trillanes, despite the sensitive nature of his assignment, had been giving off the record interviews to the media and volunteering his role as backchannel negotiator to China.
As this developed, Aquino issued a gag order on del Rosario and will ask Trillanes to do the same until the differences between the two are threshed out.
"They have been asked by the President to refrain from making further comments," Lacierda said.
Aquino already spoke to del Rosario earlier in the day and asked him to "refrain from responding" to media questions.
"The President also wants to talk to Senator Trillanes," Lacierda said.