Presidential spokesman Harry Roque will not back down from a debate on the issues related to the West Philippine Sea even if he faces two rivals.
Roque said he was prepared to debate not only with former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio but also former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on the issues surrounding the territorial conflict.
President Duterte earlier backed out of the debate challenge he made to Carpio for a number of reasons, including having doubts it would benefit the nation and invoking executive privilege on matters affecting government policies. Roque will instead take the place of the President in the debate.
“Kung gusto po ninyo two versus one, kayong dalawa po ni Justice Carpio at kayo po Secretary Albert Del Rosario didebatehin ko po kayong dalawa, pero dapat kaparehong oras, bagama’t dalawa po kayong magdidebate okay lang po sa akin iyan (If you want two versus one, I will debate with both Justice Carpio and Secretary Albert del Rosario but we must have equal time. It’s okay with me if I debate with the two),” Roque said over government television Friday, May 7.
Roque however imposed the topics that should be discussed in the debate, including who was at fault for the loss of Panatag Shoal years ago.
Carpio and Del Rosario are among the vocal critics of President Duterte’s alleged weak stance in defending the West Philippine Sea amid latest incisions of China into local waters.
The President recently challenged Carpio to a debate on the West Philippine Sea issues, particularly the Panatag Shoal incident and the 2016 arbitral ruling that favored the Philippines over China. The former Supreme Court justice accepted Duterte’s challenge.
The Palace later announced the Duterte-Carpio face-off will no longer push through after some Cabinet members discouraged him. Apart concerns any statement in the debate might affect government policies, it claimed that it would be unfair if the President will debate with Carpio, an ordinary lawyer.
Asked why the President issued the challenge to Carpio in the first place, Roque claimed that Duterte just wanted to show he has nothing to hide.
Despite the President’s withdrawal, Roque said the debate will still push through if Carpio will agree to the change. He said it was just proper that he and Carpio would debate since they are both lawyers and spokespersons.
“Ako spokesperson po ng Pilipino at ni Presidente, at siya po ay spokesperson ng 1Sambayanan at nagiging spokesperson na rin ng oposisyon pagdating sa WPS o West Philippine Sea. So patas po ang laban, spokesperson to spokesperson (I am the spokesperson of the Filipinos and the President and he is the spokesperson of 1Sambayanan and the spokespeson of the opposition when it comes to the West Philippine Sea. So the fight is fair — spokespersons to spokesperson),” he said.
President Duterte earlier resented Carpio and Del Rosario for supposedly passing the blame for the latest situation in the West Philippine Sea. He had asked Carpio and Del Rosario why the country “lost” the West Philippine Sea if they were “bright.” He lamented that the country lost a territory when Filipino ships were pulled out from Panatag Shoal during a standoff with China in 2012. He has pinpointed Del Rosario, who was then foreign affairs chief of the Aquino administration, for the ship pullout.
Carpio and Del Rosario, however, called on the President to step up asserting the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.