POSTSCRIPT / September 23, 2012 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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The winner in Trillanes ‘Amateur Hour’ is China

IT’S NORMAL, BUT…: Back channeling is normal practice, usually resorted to when the usual channels of communication do not seem to work as desired. But not just any amateur is sent to do it.

As in propaganda, a communication plan uses several media or lines running parallel to each other but moving simultaneously in the same direction to deliver the message to the intended receiver.

The logic is simple. If you run several lines all meant to deliver substantially the same message, and one or two of them fail, there is still at least one line left to carry the message to the target.

In diplomacy, secret back channeling is resorted to in delicate situations when the traditional routes are proving to be problematic. As some operators say, if you cannot enter through the front door, why not try the back door?

(Sometimes there is also resort to what is called “good offices” — but that is another subject.)

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ENRILE BYPASSED: President Noynoy Aquino has said that he asked Sen. Antonio Trillanes to do back channeling on the Scarborough (Panatag) problem after regular diplomatic efforts to ease the tension while a diplomatic solution was being worked out had hit a wall.

Based on the President’s narration, Trillanes called him from China offering to talk Scarborough with certain Chinese personalities who the senator said could help out.

Since the regular efforts of the foreign office and the Philippine embassy in Beijing seemed to be unproductive at the time, the President gave the senator the go-signal. His instructions have not been revealed.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said during his interpellation of Trillanes days ago that the junior senator had made some 16 secret trips to China as part of his back channeling.

None of those expeditions were made with the prior approval of the Senate president, as the rules require, and not once did Trillanes report to the Senate or to Enrile upon his return.

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BREACH OF COURTESY: As the Trillanes tra-la-la is still shrouded in secrecy, it has raised several questions, not the least of which is what qualifications the frustrated coup plotter brings to the job as the President’s diplomatic trouble-shooter.

Another basic point is that the Congress being a separate and independent branch of government, it appears improper for the Chief Executive to send a senator on an errand WITHOUT the knowledge of the Senate president.

Enrile learned of Trillanes’ missions only when the two senators happened to be present at a Cabinet meeting where the Scarborough question was discussed.

Back in the Senate, Trillanes told off Enrile during interpellation that he is not under any obligation to report to the Senate president on his errands for the President. A number of observers were jolted by such display of arrogance.

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ABANGAN!: The Enrile-Trillanes clash revealed the unsteady hold of Enrile on the 23-member chamber. It has turned out that Trillanes, emboldened by his Palace patron, is a key plotter in a move to depose the Senate president.

The coming weeks will see Enrile consolidating his position after awakening to the fact that his open cooperation with Malacañang, such as in the impeachment of then Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, has failed to cement the support of the Palace for him.

Also being watched is how Enrile will get even with Trillanes. This is something the junior senator must expect after the Senate president had gone out of his way to have him released from detention — only to be repaid with an arrogant challenge.

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WHAT’S THE DEAL?: President Aquino said Trillanes first called him from China offering to do back channeling. That means that the senator was already talking with the other side at that point.

That means also that even before he left Manila, somebody had already talked to him about being a point man for Beijing. It cannot be that he flew to China clueless, was just walking around in that vast country when he bumped into somebody claiming right connections.

Why Trillanes? Who initiated the collaboration while he was still in Manila? That person must have been promoting Chinese interests and found the senator a good prospect for pushing such interests. Is Trillanes operating alone?

Big question: What is the deal? And is President Aquino in on that deal?

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TRAITOR!: As revealed by Enrile from the Senate floor, Trillanes had called Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario a traitor.

That is a serious accusation. When Trillanes pinned that tag on the foreign secretary, was the agent reflecting the sentiment of his principal in the Palace?

It is reasonable to think that the President may have shared enough of Trillanes’ assessment of Del Rosario to prompt him to send the senator on a delicate diplomatic errand primarily entrusted to the foreign secretary and the Philippine ambassador to Beijing.

Unless the President disowns Trillanes and contradicts his assessment of the foreign secretary, Del Rosario should offer to resign on the issue of trust and confidence.

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AMATEUR HOUR: It is bad politics and injurious to national unity for the Chief Executive to meddle in internal administrative affairs of other branches of government and weaken them in the process.

After attacking and sowing division in the Supreme Court, a separate branch, the President should have known better than to raid the Senate and bypass the Senate president while bloating the ego of a junior member into thinking he is bigger than the chamber’s leader.

There is such a thing as divide and rule, but we trust this is not the President’s intention vis-à-vis co-equal branches.

Overall, China emerges as the winner in this embarrassing Amateur Hour on Scarborough.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 23, 2012)

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