A debate between President Duterte and retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio on the West Philippine Sea might still push through when the former steps down from office next year.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque has raised the possibility of the Duterte-Carpio debate by June 2022 after the President backed out of the debate with the former magistrate upon the advice of his Cabinet.
“Much as President Rodrigo Roa Duterte wanted to debate with Mr. Antonio Carpio, the Chief Executive heeded the advice of the Cabinet and decided to designate his Spokesperson instead,” Roque said in a statement Friday night, May 7.
“Debating with Carpio is a demotion. A realization. This after the former Supreme Court justice expressed so much excitement. But perhaps come June 2022, we can have one,” he added.
On Friday afternoon, Roque appeared on government television to announce the President’s decision to withdraw from the debate challenge against Carpio. The President’s spokesperson has been designated to face Carpio in the debate instead.
According to Roque, several Cabinet members discouraged the President from debating with Carpio since such activity would not supposedly benefit the nation.
Another reason cited by Roque was the debate will be unfair since Duterte is the incumbent President while Carpio is an ordinary lawyer. Also, any pronouncement of the President in the debate might affect government policy and be covered by executive privilege.
In a televised address last Wednesday, May 5, Duterte dared Carpio to debate on West Philippine Sea issue, saying he would pose three questions related to the withdrawal of the Philippine ships from Panatag Shoal in 2012 as well as the 2016 arbitral ruling on the South China Sea dispute.
Duterte earlier denounced Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario for having the “temerity” to blame him for their “faux pas” when they supposedly had a hand in the loss of a territory to China. The two former officials however rejected Duterte’s allegations, and instead urged him to strongly assert the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rites in the West Philippine Sea amid the lingering presence of Chinese vessels in local waters.
In a statement Friday, Roque asserted the country’s claims on the West Philippine Sea.
“The Philippines maintains its claim in the contested areas of the West Philippine Sea. We consistently assert and exercise our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” he added.
Roque also said he was ready to face Carpio in the debate, adding Del Rosario could even tag along if he wishes to join. “Bring it on,” he said.
Roque, however, disagreed with Carpio’s claim that it was supposedly pointless debate about Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef. He said Carpio earlier accused the President of committing “grand estafa” and reminded Duterte about the 2016 presidential debate where Scarborough Shoal was mentioned.
“This, and other issues raised by the retired magistrate, such as the President’s alleged setting aside of the 2016 Arbitral Award, the fishing agreement, among others, could be the parameters of the debate,” Roque said.
The President earlier argued that he never made a campaign promise to “retake” the West Philippine Sea and “pressure” China. Carpio however reminded Duterte about his pledge to ride a jet ski to Scarborough Shoal and plant a Philippine flag.
Duterte had later clarified that his “jet ski” statement was mere “hyperbole” to stress his point that he will not give up the country’s territory.