Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Whether Trillanes offered himself or China asked for him is immaterial---the buck stops with P-Noy. With his world network of connections, JDV would have made an excellent back-channel to China. As Fr. Rannie Aquino puts it, “the trouble with using the front and back doors is that people could bump into each other.” Let’s hope MVP does not throw in the towel and retreat to HK.

Today it appears that the Palace turned around from its earlier hands-off stance---that stressed that it was Sen. Antonio Trillanes who “offered” his mediation services with China to President Aquino. In an interview with media yesterday at Fort Magsaysay, P-Noy finally acknowledged it was China that asked that Trillanes act as back-channel for the Philippines in the Scarborough Shoal issue.

But whatever it is---whether Trillanes offered himself or China asked for him as back-channel---the buck stops with the President. P-Noy agreed and allowed the most junior senator, who has never exhibited much cerebral capability nor does he have the experience to undertake such a sensitive---and secret---mission for him and the country.

Sadly, this young former army officer whose main reputation is pulling off failed  coups, obviously carried out the secret back-door negotiations without coordinating with the “front agency,” the DFA. The result is the chaos we now have on our hands, making us the laughing stock of the diplomatic world.


Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino, Dean of the San Beda College Graduate School of Law and VP for academic affairs of the Cagayan State U, and eminent columnist of the Manila Standard, was one of two guest speakers at the maiden forum of the new civic organization called “Bayan Ko Konsensya Ko” (BKKK), and he opened his talk with this topic that the entire nation---and doubtless all of ASEAN and some parts of the world---cannot stop talking about.

Fr. Aquino noted that the trouble (with  back-channeling) “should be obvious---and has become obvious.”  Said he: When you use the front and back doors, be sure that those who pass through them do not bump into each other, and BE SURE THAT THE MESSAGE YOU GET THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR IS THE SAME MESSAGE YOU GET PAST THE BACK DOOR. Otherwise, you do not only confound the other party. You confuse yourself (emphasis BOC’s).”

We all know about the message Sen. Trillanes delivered to the Chinese, about Scarborough not being important to the Filipino people, and the like---definitely not the same message that the country’s top diplomat, DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario, sought to deliver from Phnom Penh onwards.


Back-channeling is both an art and a science as ancient as mankind. It has been used extensively not only in diplomacy and international relations, but also  as problem and conflict-solving in other fields and endeavors as well---e.g., in winning contracts, securing appointments, in espionage and even in love, courtship and marriage.  As Star columnist Chit Pedrosa pointed out in Facebook, a friend recalled how US President Richard Nixon used super-diplomat Henry Kissinger to literally pass through China’s back-door, Pakistan, in 1971, at a time when there were no diplomatic ties between the giant Asian nation to the North and the US. Eventually this led to the establishment of US-China relations.

Former President Macapagal Arroyo realized the importance of back-channeling on an OFW about to be hanged in Kuwait. From what I recall, GMA was on a state visit to Spain at that time and King Juan Carlos of Spain offered to do some back-channeling with the Emir of Kuwait, his good friend.  The King’s efforts paid off, as the OFW was saved from the gallows.


I can understand why P-Noy succumbed to the inveiglement of Trillanes to appoint himself as back-door negotiator, for there was a point when we thought we’d  go to war over the Shoal---the Chinese with battle-ships and we with a weather frigate! But instead of that young man who’s obviously touched with what a columnist noted as megalomania, P-Noy could have tapped some senior people, such as former Speaker Jose de Venecia who would have done a marvelous job of it.

For one, JDV is legendary with persuasive powers; then too, his contacts in China and around the world have always been the stuff of fable, as he has been chairing a number of international organizations that count with political parties in power  as well as those waiting in the wings. Such groups show the interconnectivity of our global world, which would be useful in reaching out to China on the Scarborough issue---or to friends of China to whom its leaders cannot say no.  

I recall joining then Speaker De Venecia and wife Gina in a visit to Beijing and several other cities in China in January 2008 (just three weeks before JDV was sadly ousted from the Speakership). The reception JDV got was akin to that of head of state---most impressive.


Back-channeling, however, is a most delicate task that involves experience in the craft of state, mature judgment, discreetness and lots of inner reliance---attributes that would enable the “secret” negotiator to closely coordinate with the DFA Secretary, on equal stature if necessary. JDV is by no means the only one who could fulfill the role of  behind-the-scene statesman, but it confounds me why he and such other citizens remain untapped by this administration, whereas a neophyte and blubber like Sen. Trillanes is entrusted with most sensitive tasks.

This controversy puts into question the competence of this administration. P-Noy had better get more competent officials to run this country---as the consequence would be for our people and our neighbors to lose faith in it. As Tribune columnist Jing Paras put it, P-Noy's administration will be regarded as a "Mickey Mouse" government. 


A sorry side-consequence of l'affaire Trillanes is his accusation that entrepreneur Manny Pangilinan and Secretary del Rosario are playing the US hand in the China-Ph controversy, on account allegedly of their business interests in the disputed West Philippine Sea. This angered MVP and provoked him to consider throwing in the towel and retreating to Hongkong where his head office is situated.  His verdict: it’s so “unruly” here. One can’t blame him for thinking so, for if we ordinary citizens find our situation now so chaotic, what more of big business that can only thrive on order and stability.

Let’s hope MVP does not make good his threat to forsake PH, for many of his projects are crucial to the nation’s life.  I especially like the heavy investment of Metro Pacific Investments Corporation (MPIC) in Ph hospitals such as Makati Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Metro Manila, and in Riverside Medical Center in Bacolod and Davao Doctors Hospital in Mindanao, in order to upgrade them to world-class standards. MIPC is currently into talks with other hospitals.


Another truly sad development involving MVP is his recent decision to cut clean from Ateneo University, which he has been supporting generously over the years, including its basketball team which is now orphaned. In his quit-letter to Ateneo President Jett Villarin, S.J. that caught school authorities by surprise, MVP said the University’s views on certain issues were “irreconcilable” with those of the business conglomerate he heads, and more importantly, "my convictions as a Filipino."

The ultimate quarrel of MVP, who chairs Philex Mining, with the Ateneo revolves mainly on the school’s views on this controversial industry, as embodied in its position paper, titled “The Golden Mean in Mining: Talking Points,” written by the Society of Jesus Social Apostolate (SJSA). This paper seeks to identify for its members and organizations the “non-negotiables” in values and bottom-line positions that could serve as a guide to them.  

 MVP obviously feels that the school he supports does not try to maintain a balanced position between the tremendous potential of the industry to contribute to the nation’s GNP, and its environmental and social costs. I get the same feeling too on the Ateneo stand, which seems to be shutting out this industry altogether.

 More on the mining issue next time.

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