MANILA (Mabuhay) – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Monday disputed presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that the country has lost Scarborough Shoal to China after a tense standoff in 2012.
Citing statements made by senior defense officials during two Senate hearings on the issue in 2013 and 2015, Trillanes said it is clear that the area remains a part of the Philippines.
“Hindi totoo that we have lost Scarborough Shoal,” Trillanes said. “Tinanong ko mismo sa mga defense and security officials ng ating bansa kung nawala na ba sa atin ang Scarborough, at lahat sila sinasabi hindi.”
“Scarborough is still ours and it is still the main subject of our arbitration complaint,” added Trillanes, who chairs the Senate committee on national defense and security and a vocal critic of Duterte.
Trillanes said he is clarifying the status of Scarborough Shoal because it is “very dangerous” of Duterte to say that the country has already lost it.
“It’s very dangerous for the presumptive President to say we’ve lost Scarborough Shoal because it will weaken our claim unless nagpapauna siya at ituturo lang sa amin,” he said.
“I will not allow that to happen because I have it on record na bago siya (Duterte) mag-assume ng office ay sa atin ang Scarborough Shoal,” Trillanes added.
During the Senate panel’s first hearing on October 30, 2013, Trillanes asked National Security Council Director General Cesar Garcia if the country has lost the shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, to China.
In response, Garcia said: “No sir, we have not lost Scarborough Shoal.”
Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino affirmed Garcia’s statement at the hearing.
Nearly two years later, on May 7, 2015, Trillanes posed the same question to Garcia at another Senate hearing, which was jointly conducted with the Senate committee on foreign relations.
Garcia issued the same response and added that the shoal is the subject of the Philippines’ arbitration case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands.
On the campaign trail, Duterte blamed Trillanes, who ran for vice president, for the country’s supposed loss of the Scarborough Shoal, saying China started building structures on the area after the senator made his 16th visit to Beijing as part of backchannel negotiations.
Trillanes, however, said China has not undertaken any reclamation activity in the area.
Contrary to the mayor’s belief that the backchannel negotiations with Beijing caused Manila to lose Scarborough Shoal, Trillanes said his backchanneling mission was a success.
“Ako, nung nag-back channel ako doon, ang only mission ko was pahupain ang tensyon kasi nung mga panahon na ‘yon, naggigirian na ang mga barko ng Pilipinas at Tsina at maaaring mapunta sa putukan. Hindi namin pinag-usapan ‘yung sovereignty claims. So nagawa ko ang aking misyon at napahupa ang tensyon kaya nga walang reclamation diyan at wala ring girian ng mga barko,” he said.
Trillanes had earlier claimed that his action had the blessing of President Benigno Aquino III. (MNS)