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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE2 - 8:20 PM) As Palace officials and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV himself confirmed his ‘backchanneling’ between Manila and Beijing in a territorial dispute, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday drew attention to the serious implications of such an unprecedented role by a senator, calling Trillanes at one point “the Phantom of the Opera in Philippine politics.” He said Trillanes never once sought Senate permission to go to China, and did not write any report for the chamber he belongs to.
Enrile’s stinging criticism of a Senate member’s conduct was made as he read on the floor from “Notes” made by Manila’s ambassador to Beijing Sonia Brady, detailing Trillanes’s views--and apparent meddling---in foreign policy developments. The Notes cited his offer to “give an alternative channel” between the Executive branch and the Chinese government as tensions heightened during the standoff between Philippines and Chinese elements in Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, starting April 2012.
The Notes also cited Trillanes's disapproval of the work of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, and his suggestion to replace him with Secretary Mar Roxas, among others.
Interviewed later on AksyonTV, Enrile said that even if Trillanes got instructions from the President to do back-channelling, as a member of the Senate he should have at least gotten the permission of the chamber, and rendered a report on his work.
“He himself said he went to China six times. He left six times, he never sought permission from the Senate. And not once did he make a written report,” noted Enrile, speaking in Filipino.
Earlier, at one point during Wednesday’s session, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano tried to dissuade Enrile from reading from Ambassador Brady’s notes, saying this might contain matters pertaining to national security. But Enrile, a defense chief for many years in the Marcos government, said he had handled national security for a long time and knew what he was doing.
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. Trillanes said Enrile was either an Arroyo lackey, or owed her much.
However, 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.
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.
Trillanes should be explaining, not I – JPE
Enrile wondered aloud whether this accusation was meant as a smokescreen for news reports naming “a certain senator,” referring to Trillanes, as criticizing Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, calling him ineffective in the China issue in Panatag Shoal, among others.
Trillanes was also reported to have blamed del Rosario for the scuttling of the talks between President Aquino and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the recent APEC summit in Russia, but Palace officials on Wednesday flatly denied Trillanes’s theory. They said del Rosario was blameless in the scuttling of the talks, which they blamed on a sudden scheduling problem for President Hu. The latter wanted to rush back to comfort victims of a big earthquake in China.
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 confirmed this Wednesday and said Trillanes was the one who volunteered his services.
The senator, who shot to fame as leader of the 2003 Oakwood mutiny against the Arroyo presidency and suffered detention before being elected senator, confirmed his backchannel role.
It is known in Senate circles that Enrile had worked hard to allow Trillanes freedom so that he would not have to conduct his legislative work from prison.
But on Wednesday, Trillanes, in a privilege speech that stunned the chamber, painted Enrile as a bully. Trillanes said Enrile conducted business this way: if he liked a bill, he would railroad it, and if he didn’t he would sit on it.
Enrile was visibly shaken by the attack, but then quickly turned the tables on the young senator and asked if such outburst was connected to the fact that, following news reports of his controversial role in the Executive’s crafting of foreign policy, Trillanes would have to do much explaining to his peers. In short, the privilege speech was a smokescreen, Enrile implied.
'Phantom of the Opera in Philippine politics'
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.”
Advice to Trillanes
Asked what advice he had for the young senator, Enrile told AksyonTV’s Martin Andanar and Grace Lee, “Mag-aral muna siya. [He should study first].”
Enrile sidestepped a question of whether he thought the privilege speech that Trillanes delivered, attacking him as a “bully” who sought to railroad the Camarines Sur bill, was tied to reports that some quarters wanted to overthrow him.
Instead of airing his views on whether he saw a connection, Enrile said, “All the time. They can change me any time [if they have the numbers],” a stand he had expressed last week. Even Trillanes is welcome to replace him, he has the numbers and thinks he can do a better job. With reports from Maricel Halili, TV5 and Karl John Reyes, InterAksyon.com