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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE3- 8:24 PM) Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV walked out of the Senate plenary on Wednesday after Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile grilled him on reports of his backchannelling role between the Executive and the Chinese government, later calling him the 'Phantom of the Opera of Philippine politics.'
Enrile turned the tables on Trillanes after the latter accused the Senate chief of trying to railroad the bill dividing Camarines Sur province and linking this to a call made to Enrile by former President now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The session was briefly suspended and when it resumed, the 88-year-old Enrile said this was the first time in his career as lawmaker that he was accused of railroading a bill, and wondered aloud whether this accusation was meant as a smokescreen for news reports naming Trillanes as criticizing Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, calling him ineffective in the China issue, among others.
Trillanes was also named in newspaper headlines on Wednesday as the Palace’s backdoor negotiator with China at the height of tensions between Manila and Beijing over Panatag Shoal last April. Palace officials said Trillanes was the one who volunteered his services.
Trillanes announced, before leaving the plenary, that he was quitting the majority bloc because of the CamSur issue.
Enrile proceeded to read a report on the “Notes” by Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady, alluding to the meetings that Trillanes attended and where he aired his views on foreign policy.
At one point, Trillanes offered to “give an alternative channel” to the Chinese side at a time when del Rosario was deemed to have taken a very belligerent stance towards Beijing. In short, said Enrile, a senator of the land like Trillanes had volunteered an unprecedented role as “channel” for the President’s foreign policy.
Trillanes also allegedly wanted del Rosario replaced by then-DOTC secretary Mar Roxas II.
Enrile said he shared the Brady notes with his peers in order to unmask the “Phantom of the Opera in Philippine politics.”
Trillanes's beef on CamSur bill: a smokescreen?
In a privilege speech, Trillanes said he was quitting the majority because he had been jolted “into the realization,” after several meetings where Enrile had acted with arbitrariness, “that this shabby treatment and even shabbier policy should not be tolerated anymore.”
He singled out the CamSur bill as prime example of such arbitrariness. He claimed that Enrile called them to a caucus on July 24, and took up with them the CamSur bill. “Without elaborating on the details of what happened in that caucus, suffice to say that I was shoved aside for the nth time.” He said it proved Enrile’s style of leadership of “kung gusto ko, isasagasa ko; kung ayaw ko, uupuan ko [if I want something, I’ll railroad it; if not, I’ll sit on it].”
He said he left that caucus feeling “trampled upon by a bully determined to get his way.” At first he thought it was just Rep. Luis Villafuerte exerting pressure on Enrile to pass the CamSur bill, but later read a Sept. 6 Philippine Star report quoting sources saying that Mrs. Arroyo herself had called Enrile to pitch the bill, which he described as “gerry-mandering at its worst,” meant to accommodate lawmakers who had reached the end of their third term. Trillanes said Enrile was apparently either a lackey of Arroyo, or was deeply indebted to her.
Rep. Arroyo's spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn denied the newspaper report on which Trillanes based his allegation that Enrile sought to railroad the CamSur bill to please the Pampanga congresswoman. "Former pres arroyo never called senate pres enrile," Bautista-Horn said in a text message to reporters.
Trillanes said that if, as Enrile says the CamSur law is still subject to a plebiscite, then he could also suggest cutting up Enrile’s own province, Cagayan Valley, and “let the people decide.”
Enrile wondered aloud later if Trillanes's outburst was connected to the fact that he was the subject of newspaper headlines referring to his volunteered role as "backchannel negotiator" with China, and was a smokescreen for the explaining that Trillanes would have to do to the chamber.