THIS is the second of two parts of Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th’s secret aide memoire which he wrote in 2012 on his activities as President Aquino’s special envoy to China to negotiate for an end to the stand-off between our vessels and that country’s in Scarborough Shoal, which we call Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal.
It is important for us as a nation to know the truth on how we lost Panatag Shoal, as this has been the reason for the diplomatic conflict between us and, whether we like or not, the nation that is emerging as the biggest military and economic superpower in the region. I am convinced that those allied with another superpower that is bent on preventing the rise of China as the superpower in Asia have and will exploit the Panatag Shoal issue to portray it — as even Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has been doing — as exemplifying China’s expansionist policy in Asia.
As Trillanes’ account describes the Panatag Shoal crisis, it is not as simplistic as that.
The following is the second part of Trillanes’ narrative, which he titled “Summary of Backchannel Talks (12 May to 16 August 2012)”:
“On 19 June, just a few days after the media reposted the pull-out of our ships, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a banner photo of Chinese uniformed personnel holding a Chinese flag on top of the shoal. PNoy called me about this and said that we were betrayed by China.
I advised him to refrain from issuing statements while we are validating the info. For the meantime, I told him that the photo couldn’t possibly have been current since, in the background, the skies are clear and the seas are calm. At that time, a typhoon was passing through the area and we, in fact used this pretext to withdraw our ships.
True enough, when I confronted the Beijing negotiators, they denied this and gave me a link to a website showing this to be an old photo back in the early 1980s. I reported this to PNoy and advised him to direct the Navy to conduct an aerial reconnaissance flight to further validate the information. I then asked around in the Inquirer as to who fed the photo. My sources then revealed that the story came from Sec. Del Rosario.
On 25 June, the Inquirer published a story about a Chinese vessel ramming a Filipino fishing boat.* Again, PNoy called me and he was furious about this incident. I told him that I would ask Beijing about it. When I confronted the negotiators, they told me that their ships are in place and that the incident happened in an area that was at least 150nmi away. So, I investigated further by sending somebody to talk to one of the survivors who was then confined in llocos Sur.
The survivor said that they were already sinking while tied to a fish marker and that they were not rammed at all. I then asked around again in the Inquirer as to who fed the story. My sources then revealed that the story came from Sec. Del Rosario.
Around 02 July, I was able to negotiate for the reduction of the remaining CMS vessels to only 3. At that time, PNoy told me that he would need to decide during the 5 July cabinet meeting whether to proceed with the bilateral/backchannel talks or to internationalize it during the Asean Regional Forum on 9 July.
During the executive cabinet meeting on 5 July, I was invited to present the bilateral/backchannel option while Sec . Del Rosario and USec Henry Bensurto** presented the multilateral/internationalize option. I clearly remember, USec Bensurto with a powerpoint presentation telling everybody in the meeting that the annexation of Scarborough Shoal by
China would be used as a springboard to claim Western Luzon.
Sec. Del Rosario proceeded to present that China had almost 100 vessels in and around the shoal; that they placed a rope at the entrance of the shoal and that the Chinese were duplicitous.
On the other hand, I presented that, contrary to Sec. Del Rosario’s experience, our backchannel negotiations held and proof of it was the drastic reduction of the Chinese vessels from almost a hundred to only three with the commitment that they would pull out the remaining 3 CMS vessels if we won’t raise the dispute during the ARF. Plus, Beijing gave the assurance that they will not put up any structure in or around the shoal.
With this, I recommended to PNoy to not internationalize it during ARF and see if they would live up to their commitment of pulling out completely.
In the end, when the vote came, it was lopsided in favor of Sec. Del Rosario’s option. Notwithstanding the rejection of the bilateral option, I assured PNoy that he is my president and I would stand by his decision.
On 14 July, Sec. Butch Abad asked me if the backchannel is still open. Apparently, we were snubbed by the Asean and we’re now stuck with the 3 CMS ships still at the vicinity of the shoal. I asked him if Sec. Del Rosario has a plan B, he said none. I then told him that the precondition for the withdrawal of the 3 ships was that the dispute won’t be raised at the ARF.
I then politely declined from continuing with my role as backchannel negotiator since Pnoy had already decided his policy action.
Finally, around mid-August, I briefed then newly assigned Ambassador to China Sonia Brady about the whole backchannel negotiations to formally terminate my role. In all, I had around 14 backchannel meetings, 7 of which were held in China while 7 were held in Manila. Mission accomplished.”
** Henry Bensurto was del Rosario’s Assistant Secretary heading the DFA’s West Philippine Sea Center during the Panatag Shoal crisis. The online news outfit Rappler which has been del Rosario’s mouthpiece described Bensurto as “the silent hero behind the blueprint of the Philippines’ case against China at The Hague.” After the case was filed in 2013, del Rosario rewarded Bensurto with one of the most sought-after posts in the DFA,Consul General of San Francisco. Aquino in December 2013 awarded Bensurto the “Order of Lakandula with a rank of Grand Office,” the only government official of his rank given such award.