Nine days later, though, Aquino called Trillanes to say that they were “betrayed by China.” Aquino referred him to the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s huge banner-photo which showed Chinese uniformed personnel holding a Chinese flag on the shoal, with the headline in huge fonts screaming: “China ships stay on shoal.”
Trillanes in his report wrote that his Beijing negotiators denied the news story, and pointed out that the photo was an old one from the 1980s. The senator himself had suspected so, as the photo had clear blue skies and calm waters as background, when in fact a typhoon was passing through the area at the time the photo was published.
Trillanes claimed that his contacts in the newspaper told him that the story and photo came from del Rosario.
According to subsequent reports, the Chinese ships, both their CMS vessels and the fishing boats, indeed, had left the shoal, although as Trillanes said in his report, the Chinese would not announce that this was due to negotiations with the Philippine government. The official explanation of the foreign ministry was that the ships escorted the fishing boats to the Chinese mainland to escape an impending typhoon that would pass over the shoal.
There was a second instance in which del Rosario planted, Trillanes alleged, a false news story in the Philippine Daily Inquirer that roused Philippine ire against China:
“On 24 June, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a story about a Chinese vessel ramming a Filipino fishing boat. Again, P-Noy called me and he was furious about this incident. I told him that I would ask Beijing about it. When I confronted the negotiators, they told me that their ships [were] in place and that the incident happened in an area that was at least 150 nautical miles away.
“So I investigated further by sending somebody to talk to one of the survivors who was then confined in Ilocos Sur. The survivor said that they were already sinking while tied to a fish marker and that they were not rammed at all. I then asked around again in the Inquirer as to who fed the story. My sources then revealed that the story came from Sec. del Rosario.”
He explained that his bilateral talks with Chinese representatives had resulted in the drastic reduction of Chinese vessels from almost a hundred to only three.
Trillanes told Aquino that the Chinese made the commitment to pull out the remaining three CMS vessels if the Philippines does not internationalize it by raising the issue to the Asean Regional Forum scheduled for July 12. The Chinese, he said, also assured him that they would not put up any structure around the shoal.
Del Rosario, however, pushed for internationalizing the dispute. Trilllanes narrated:
“I clearly remember USec. Henry Bensurto with a PowerPoint presentation telling everybody in the meeting that the annexation of Scarborough Shoal by China would be used as a springboard to claim Western Luzon. Sec. del Rosario proceeded to present that China had almost 100 vessels in and around the shoal; that they placed a rope at the entrance of the shoal and the Chinese were duplicitous.”
(“USec Henry Bensurto” was not an undersecretary but a foreign affairs department assistant secretary heading its West Philippine Sea Center, and the Secretary-General of the Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs Secretariat.)
“The rope at the entrance of the shoal” del Rosario alleged is sheer nonsense, a source familiar with Scarborough shoal explained. The “rope” seen by Coast Guard personnel was a remnant of anchor ropes floating near the entrance of the shoal.
Trillanes report continued:
“It was at this point that Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile… raised the ante and proposed on the table that we study the option of completely cutting ties with China. Sec. del Rosario and Sec. Almendras followed suit and the discussion went on with NEDA detailing how many percentage points would be shaved off the GDP; DTI, explaining that the electronics exports sectors would be gravely affected; and DOLE, saying how many OFWs would be repatriated, etc.”
“Yet to this day, the neighboring country has not fulfilled its obligations under the agreement and has maintained its ships inside and outside the shoal, as well as its barrier, in its aim to establish effective control and jurisdiction in the shoal and surrounding waters.”