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MANILA, Philippines – A day after Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV clashed on the floor over the latter’s role as back-channel negotiator with China for the Executive branch, the Palace appeared to distance itself from Trillanes’s work, which was not sanctioned by the Senate.
The former rebel-soldier-turned-lawmaker was not acting as the alter ego of the President when he went to China six times and met Chinese officials 16 times as backchannel negotiator, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
And, President Benigno Aquino III did not give blanket authority nor plenipotentiary powers to Trillanes, Lacierda added, although Malacanang Palace earlier conceded they accepted his services, which Trillanes supposedly volunteered.
Lacierda also called Trillanes' word war with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile as an "unnecessary nuisance."
Asked if the Palace regretted having accepted Trillanes' offer to serve as backchannel negotiator, Lacierda replied, "hindsight is always a 20-20 vision."
Mr. Aquino has sent a text message to Trillanes to stop making media rounds, as his interviews after he walked out of the Senate plenary on Wednesday, when Enrile started grilling him on his back-channelling, have further inflamed the Senate chief.
On Thursday, Ernile vowed to bring to the 2013 campaign trail the issues against Trillanes, who is seeking reelection.
"We would certainly hope that the senator would refrain from making statements," the Lacierda said, referring to Trillanes.
Defense chief rues uncalled for remarks
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin described as "uncalled for" the statements Trillanes allegedly made, as revealed in notes made by Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady. The notes were revealed on the floor on Wednesday by Enrile, who interpellated Trillanes for the latter’s privilege speech attacking Enrile as a “bully” for trying to “railroad” the bill splitting Camarines Sur province.
Enrile said it was obvious Trillanes used his speech on Camsur, which stunned the Senate, as a smokescreen to avoid being called on to explain news reports revealing his role as back-channel negotiator with Beijing in the Panatag Shoal standoff that began early April.
Enrile said it was an unprecedented role for a senator channeling foreign policy; and Trillanes made it worse by not seeking prior Senate permission nor rendering a single report to the chamber where he belongs.
"Yung mga ganung comments di na dapat binabanggit at uncalled for yun," Gazmin told reporters after Thursday’s graduation rites at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP), referring to Trillanes’s remarks.
The senator had criticized Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario’s handling of the China issue; had claimed credit for appeasing the Chinese who had sent warships to the shoal, just off the province of Zambales; had insisted the Chinese fortifications on disputed islands in the Spratlys were not a “garrison”; and accused del Rosario of creating a “war” scenario in the area---among other revelations in the Brady Notes.
Gazmin said statements allegedly made by Trillanes were his "personal opinion" and not that of the "national leadership."
One of the statements allegedly made by Trillanes was that in the Philippines, "no one cares" about the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) issue, remark that critics said hurt Filipino soldiers badly, coming from a former military officer [Trillanes].
Gazmin said he was not aware that Trillanes was working as a back-channel negotiator with China, but said that all avenues should be explored in resolving the territorial dispute. But Gazmin stressed that there should be one voice in addressing the dispute.
Gazmin also hoped that the tiff between Enrile and Trillanes would pose no serious implications on the territorial dispute.
At this time, at least three Chinese vessels remain on Panatag [also called Scarborough] Shoal. The Philippines conducts daily fly-bys in the area to monitor the situation.
Enrile: no reconciliation
Enrile on Thursday said he will bring his squabble with Trillanes to the judgement of the electorate in 2013 mid-term elections.
“I’m going to bring this to the people and tell the people about this man, who he is, what kind of senator he is, what kind of a military officer he is, the hazard he is creating for this country,” Enrile said.
“I don’t know if it would have an adverse effect on his re-election bid. We will find out. Palagay ko kumpiyansado siya [I think he is very confident],” Enrile added.
Enrile also said he would not “waste” time bringing his issues against Trillanes before any judicial forum, including the Senate Committee on Ethics, because “he has better things to do.”
In their heated floor exchange before Trillanes walked out on Wednesday, Enrile asked Trillanes to recall to his colleagues what he replied when Enrile asked him, in a closed door meeting with selected officials at the Palace, who authorized his work as back-channel. Trillanes reminded Enrile that President Aquino himself “told you in your face that he authorized me.”
Enrile said he accepted the President’s admission, but still asked Trillanes why he did not seek the chamber’s permission for each of his six travels, and why he never gave a report to the Senate, a collegial body, about his extra role. To which Trillanes replied on the Senate floor, “I don’t have to report to the SP [Senate President].”
On Thursday, Enrile said “Hindi ko pag-aabalahan ‘yung tao na ‘yun. I have better things to do. It’s not worth my while,” Enrile said. “If they take me on, I’ll take them on,” he added.
Enrile also brushed aside the insinuation that Trillanes is going around and talking to other colleagues to pass a resolution asking for his ouster.
“It doesn’t matter to me if I will be ousted today. He can go around. It doesn’t matter to me. Let the people judge,” Enrile said.
“It’s not of my interest. I don’t care whether he’s talking to anyone. He can go ahead and if he wants to elect himself as Senate President, by all means,” he added.
Enrile also rejected any move or initiation for reconciliation with Trillanes. “No, (reconciliation) I don’t have time for a man like him,” he said. Chichi Conde, Karl John Reyes, Abigail Kwok, InterAksyon.com