Malacañang said President Duterte has nothing more to prove after Filipinos online called the Chief Executive a coward for backing from his challenge to Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio to a debate on the West Philippine Sea issue.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque made the statement after the hashtag #DuterteDuwag (Duterte is a coward) trended on Twitter on Friday after Roque announced Duterte’s withdrawal from his challenge to the retired magistrate.
In his press briefing on Monday, Roque explained that President Duterte has shown the public his ability to debate when he ran for president in 2016.
“Si Presidente po, ilang beses na naka-debate noong presidential elections. Wala na pong kailangang patunayan ang Presidente (The President has participated in many debates during the presidential elections. He has nothing more to prove),” he said.
“He has nothing to prove. Dahil (Because), unlike Associate Justice Carpio [who], has never debated publicly. Si Presidente po tapos na siya diyan (The President is already through with that),” he added.
The Palace official explained anew that Duterte having a debate with Carpio could have legal consequences.
“As President, everything that he can say becomes presidential proclamations and binding. So mahirap naman po yun (that would be difficult),” Roque said.
“May mga bagay-bagay na (There are things that) should remain confidential pursuant to executive privilege dahil ang mga desisyon ng presidente dapat tamang desisyon miski hindi po ‘yan popular na desisyon (because a president should be able to make the right decision even though it would be unpopular),” he added.
On Wednesday last week, President Duterte challenged Justice Carpio to a debate on the West Philippine Sea, particularly on the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that favored the Philippines over China. Carpio immediately accepted the challenge of the President and said he will face Duterte at any convenient time for the latter. The Philippine Bar Association likewise offered to host the highly-anticipated debate between Duterte and Carpio.
However, on Friday, Roque said over PTV-4 that the President will no longer engage in a debate with Carpio upon the advice of his Cabinet and Senators Vicente Sotto III and Koko Pimentel.
The Palace official added Duterte withdrew from his debate challenge because it won’t do the country any good and the debate might affect existing policies on the West Philippine Sea.
Roque, however, said the debate may still continue but he will be the one to face the retired Supreme Court justice.
Duterte previously asked why the country “lost” the West Philippine Sea if Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario were supposedly bright.
The President blamed the past administration for pulling out Philippine ships from Panatag Shoal during a standoff with China in 2012. When local ships moved out supposedly upon the intervention of the United States, China did not budge and effectively took possession of the territory, Roque said.