What that Enrile-Trillanes tussle was all about
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-09-23
Immediately after the tussle in the Senate last Wednesday between Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile and Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, inquiries poured from friends — asking what that face off was all about. It started as a debate on the Camarines Sur (Camsur) Bill but developed into an explosive expose in the area of national security and diplomacy. From a local topic, the session transformed into charges of “treason” and “leaking top secret documents” if Trillanes is to be believed.

The confusion is understandable. Many Filipinos don’t care to follow geopolitical developments. To begin with, it’s hard to follow what our showbiz and scandal addicted media hardly cover. Make no mistake about it — this Trillanes caper as a back channel to China in settling the conflicting claims in the South China Sea is serious business. This concerns the possible loss of Philippine territory and sovereignty.

For the enlightenment of those who were confused by last Wednesday’s Senate showdown, let me share my take on the whole thing:

1. Trillanes had serious issues to discuss on the Senate floor against the Camsur Bill. His mistake — and this is typical of his characteristic rashness — was to attack Enrile instead of arguing his points on the downside of the Camsur Bill. Trillanes looked like a little boy riding on skates, with a wooden stick on his hand, taking on a tiger tank.

2. Enrile — and this is typical of the characteristic short-tempered Enrile — hit back at Trillanes on an area where he felt Trillanes was most vulnerable. Enrile simply denied accusations made by Trillanes that he was forcing the Camsur Bill on the pleadings of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA). Trillanes might have been telling the truth but he had nothing to prove his assertions.

Sans any proof that Enrile is in communication with GMA and accommodating her so-called appeal to pass the Camsur Bill, Trillanes cannot press this issue any further. He might score points by banking on the lack of merits of the bill and why the Senate shouldn’t treat it as a priority piece of legislation.

Enrile’s shift to question the back channel negotiator role of Trillanes in the current row with China over Panatag Shoal was a masterful stroke. It diverted attention from the Camsur Bill. The shift to the China problem now pits the credibility of Trillanes with that of Enrile and former China Ambassador Sonia Brady.

Unfortunately for Trillanes, he is going up against Enrile at a time when the Senate President is enjoying an all-time high in approval ratings, a lot of it delivered by the impeachment trial of Renato C. Corona where Enrile is credited for steering it to a 20-3 vote for conviction. Unfortunately for Trillanes, he also cannot hold a candle to Ambassador Sonia Brady — a well-esteemed diplomat and considered a China expert. Even in comparison with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Trillanes lacks the credibility and stature to be taken seriously.

In other words, just like his past misadventures at Oakwood and the Manila Pen, Trillanes went to war without a clear strategy for winning. Isn’t it amazing that a military officer like Trillanes didn’t apply the most basic lesson of Sun Tzu — that you shouldn’t start a war that you can’t win.

Neither the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) nor Ambassador Brady have denied authenticity of Enrile’s notes. Enrile confirmed with media that the Brady notes were acquired from the DFA during a meeting at the Palace. My Palace sources revealed that other cabinet secretaries felt offended during that meeting by the know-it-all mentality that Trillanes had displayed.

The reported Brady notes are very disturbing. Trillanes allegedly told Brady that Sec. de Rosario has been junked by the US and he went as far as saying that Sec. del Rosario committed treason. That’s a lot of venom for a Senator of the Republic to spew against our Foreign Secretary.

Per the Brady notes, as read by Enrile, our country is internationalizing the issue because of Sec. del Rosario. By this, Trillanes suggested to keep it bilateral, just between the Philippines and China. This has to be taken as the personal opinion of Trillanes because the pronouncements and actions of the Philippines have been to involve other claimants and ASEAN. Again, Trillanes’ lack of sober judgment comes under question. How can he defend a bilateral approach when we have nothing to bargain with — no real defense capability, a miniscule economy when compared to China’s and so forth?

Enrile cited Trillanes for saying to Brady that Filipinos don’t want the contested Panatag/Scarborough Shoal. Enrile underscored this by asking if Trillanes is a Filipino and if he has any tinge of nationalism at all. How could Trillanes have asserted that? Filipino passion has been stirred when China encroached on Panatag Shoal. That passion represented national will to keep what’s rightfully Philippine territory.

If Trillanes cannot debunk what Enrile had read as notes of Ambassador Brady, this could mark the end of his public service career. This cannot be debunked by a mere denial by Trillanes but by an outright denial by Ambassador Brady and the DFA of its authenticity and context.

Last Wednesday, Trillanes was all over media, after Enrile had delivered his bomb, and he kept claiming that President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) asked him to perform the back channel service. Spokesman Edwin Lacierda denied this last Wednesday and categorically stated that it was Trillanes who offered to mediate with China.

Trillanes not only shot his foot with a powerful handgun while the foot was stuck inside his mouth — he also became an embarrassment to the Aquino administration. All over social media, even those who admire and support P-Noy had questioned the fitness of Trillanes to be entrusted with such a sensitive function, with such high stakes on the negotiating table. This is the genuine concern of Filipinos who cannot shake off their impression of Trillanes as an unpredictable factor, a reckless adventurer and a loose cannon.

During World War II, the Americans posted warnings that loose lips sink ships. Over here, we have a loose cannon of a Senator who can singlehandedly sink our national interest in the South China Sea.

* * *
Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

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