Kalayaan Atin Ito, a youth volunteer group, assailed Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on Wednesday for allegedly not releasing information related to his backchannel negotiations with China on 2012 over Scarborough Shoal, known locally as Panatag Shoal.
However, the group – which had attracted attention after they sailed to Pag-asa Island in December 2015 – had kinder words for President Rodrigo Duterte, despite his pronouncements encouraging closer ties with the mammoth country that has been militarizing the West Philippine Sea.
“What happened during the 16 visits and meetings of Senator Trillanes in China?” the group said. “We know that after a month since his talks with China, the country began building its artificial islands at Spratlys.”
As early as his first few days in office, Duterte has been slammed Trillanes, one of his most vocal critics, over the backdoor negotiations, calling it treason.
Kalayaan Atin Ito also attacked Rep. Gary Alejano, who is reportedly considering filing a supplemental complaint against Duterte for allegedly being subservient to China. Alejano also led the first impeachment bid against Mr. Duterte.
Duterte had earlier claimed that he had allowed China to send survey ships to Benham Rise under an agreement. But the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it was not aware of any talks over the territory east of Luzon.
“They have no right to use the issues in the West Philippine Sea for their political moves,” the group said.
The group spared the president from their stinging words, though he had expressed that the Philippine government could do anything if China should decide to build a radar station on Scarborough Shoal.
Student volunteer Brian Castillo said the pronouncements were saddening but hoped Duterte would stand by the country’s sovereignty claims.
“Sovereignty is not negotiable and we hope our president stands by this,” Castillo said. “We could have a diplomatic negotiation with China, but we should not set aside the legal aspects that involve our rights in the West Philippine Sea.”
Mariel Ipon, Cagayan de Oro-based volunteer, said she still respected Duterte’s “wisdom..” But she added: “”If we continue to do business with China, then we should make them understand that what is ours.”
Kalayaan Atin Ito said it might have make a trip to Benham Rise – but “only if the Filipino people are ready” to stand with them.
“We will be glad to have the president join us on his Jet Ski,” Ipon said.
She was alluding to Duterte’s remark during the campaign season that he would ride a Jet Ski to Scarborough to plant a Philippine flag and make a stand against China.
Despite being accompanied by Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, a former Marine captain, Kalayaan Atin Ito insisted that they were nonpartisan.