Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.
a week after he received the most votes in the May 9 presidential
elections, “presumptive president-elect” Rodrigo Duterte accused Sen.
Antonio Trillanes IV of committing treason in 2012 when he engaged in
backchannel talks in Beijing with Chinese officials over the West
“Trillanes went there
(to China) 16 times,” Duterte said. “After the 16th visit, we have lost
the Scarborough Shoal,” he added. “To me, it’s treason. Somebody has to
answer for that, it means livelihood for the Philippines, for the
Filipinos, our fishermen will be deprived,” he charged.
also known as Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal, is located 124 nautical
miles west of Zambales province in the main island of Luzon, well within
the 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines under the
United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which both
China and the Philippines are signatories.
This treason charge
was Duterte’s political payback against Trillanes for questioning his
integrity and producing documents to the press on April 28, 2016 showing
that Duterte and his daughter, Sara, had been involved in a total of
P2.407-B ($57,309,523) in various transactions in at least 17 bank
accounts over the course of the past nine years. This included the P227
M ($5.4M) Duterte admitted he owned in a Bank of the Philippine Islands
(BPI) account on Julia Vargas Avenue in Pasig City. Not bad for just
being the mayor of a city in Mindanao.
But whatever Duterte’s
political motives may be, he has now declared it the rule that any
Filipino who causes the loss of sovereign Philippine territory to China
is guilty of treason. This may include former Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
whose Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) agreement with China in
2005 paved the way for China to explore Philippine waters and discover
oil and other natural resources there, the impetus for China's
aggressive intrusions in the Philippines since then. This may
also include a future Pres. Duterte if he ever gives up the
country’s ownership of the West Philippine Sea in exchange for China’s
construction of a modern railroad system in Mindanao.
Duterte’s charge of
treason against Trillanes was the subject of a Balitang America
interview of me, as president of U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance, on May
19, 2016 in Redwood City, California. Below is a modified recounting of
the interview conducted by Balitang America anchor Gel Santos-Relos:
Q: Atty. Rodis, the
U.S. Navy says that there is increased Chinese presence near the
Scarborough Shoal - and that this could become the next possible area of
reclamation. Why would this be a major cause of concern not just for the
Philippines – but for the U.S. as well?
A. China has already
invaded, occupied and land reclaimed seven of the Philippine shoals in
the West Philippine Sea. They’ve poured over 10,000 acres of sand and
cement over our coral reefs. In these new man-made “islands” China has
installed aircraft runways, port facilities, and even surface-to-air
missiles. If they succeed in doing the same thing with Scarborough
Shoal, which is only 124 miles from Zambales, this would pose a clear
and present danger to Philippine national security.
Q: As well as to
the United States?
A. Yes, because of our
EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) with the US and because
Subic Bay is located right there in Zambales. Such a militarized
artificial Scarborough island would imperil the “freedom of navigation”
of US naval ships and the ships of other nations passing through the
South China Sea.
Q: Atty. Rodis, yes
or no, has the Philippines really lost Scarborough Shoal?
A. No, not yet. We
have not lost legal ownership. That issue will be decided by the United
Nations Arbitral Tribunal within the next two months. And the chances
are good that we will win. But we have lost possessory control of it as
Chinese vessels have effectively surrounded it as part of their cabbage
strategy preventing our fishermen from fishing there.
Q: Do you believe
the backchannel talks with Beijing by Sen. Trillanes led to China taking
control over Scarborough Shoal?
A. What happened in
June of 2012 was that China had over 90 naval vessels and fishing boats
equipped with communications equipment surrounding the BRP Gregorio Del
Pilar which was the sole Philippine cutter defending our Scarborough
Shoal. As tensions between China and the Philippines escalated with
China imposing a ban on Philippine fruit imports and barring Chinese
tourists from visiting the Philippines, there were furious negotiations
between PH Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario and China Ambassador Ma
Keqing to resolve the dispute.
U.S. BROKERED DEAL
Weeks of bilateral”
negotiations resulted in an impasse which was broken when China
dispatched its Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying to Washington DC to meet
with Kurt Campbell, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and
Pacific Affairs. They negotiated a deal for the simultaneous withdrawal
of Chinese and Philippine vessels from the contested shoal. The
Philippines accepted the terms of the brokered agreement and withdrew
its cutter from the shoal. But China did not leave in violation of the
agreement and it is China's deceit that caused us the loss of
Pres. Aquino described
the theft in his State of the Nation (SONA) address on July 23, 2012:
“if someone entered your yard and told you he owned it, would you agree?
Would it be right to give away that which is rightfully ours?”
Because of China's
deceit, the Philippines filed a motion for arbitration in a UN tribunal
on January 22, 2013 to challenge Beijing’s claim to most of the South
China Sea and compel it to respect the Philippines’ right to its
exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea and stop
Chinese incursions into those waters. China challenged the UN's
jurisdiction to decide the dispute.
On October 29, 2015, the UN arbitral tribunal unanimously ruled that it
has jurisdiction over the dispute between China and the Philippines
setting the stage for a favorable UN ruling for the Philippines.
supporters say Sen. Trillanes and Pres. Aquino should be charged with
treason for conducting these backchannel talks. Do you agree?
A. China’s Communist
leaders in Beijing would pop their champagne bottles and wildly
celebrate if the ASEAN leader who has been their biggest critic, who has
likened their occupation of territories in the West Philippine Sea to
Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland, is charged with treason. China
would pay handsomely for that ironic outcome.
On the other hand,
Sen. Trillanes has not satisfactorily answered questions as to who
funded his 16 trips to Beijing while Secretary Del Rosario was
negotiating with China over the Scarborough Shoal. Malacanang claims
that it was Trillanes who offered to serve as Aquino’s backchannel to
China. Then Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile disclosed in 2012 that
Trillanes never sought nor received senate funds to travel to China. Did
China stoke Trillanes’ vanity to convince him that only he could broker
a peace deal between China and the Philippines?
According to the “Aide
Memoir” of then PH Ambassador to China Sonia Brady, Trillanes shared
with her in Beijing that he told China the Philippines did not have the
military capacity to defend and protect its coasts.
Backchannels are a
regular staple of diplomacy so there is nothing inherently wrong with
engaging in backchannel talks. But was Trillanes Pres. Aquino's
backchannel to China or was Trillanes China's backchannel to Pres.
Aquino? The clue will be found in the answer to the question of who
funded Trillanes' trips to China.
All right, thank you Atty. Rodis, for providing us with your perspective
on this issue. Published
Rodel50@gmail.com or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at
2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).