After being ridiculed as a coward by Filipinos online, President Duterte said he was not afraid of retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and that he backed out of his debate challenge to him because he forgot that Carpio was not the president.
Duterte made the statement days after the hashtag #DuterteDuwag (Duterte is a coward) trended on Twitter on Friday after the announcement of the President’s withdrawal from his challenge to the retired magistrate to have a debate about the West Philippine Sea.
In his pre-recorded public address on Monday evening, the President said he forgot that he was the president and not Carpio when he posed his challenge to the latter.
“Ang problema dito, nakalimutan ko na si Carpio ay hindi presidente, ako (The problem here is I forgot that Carpio is not the president–I am),” he said.
Duterte said that he was not afraid of debates but admitted that he belatedly realized that he might say some things that can affect the country’s stand in the West Philippine Sea.
“I might bind future actions of government pagdating dito sa (when it comes to the) West Philippine Sea,” he said.
“It’s not because I’m afraid of debates. Ilang debate na dinaanan ko noong eleksyon (I participated in many debates during the 2016 elections),’ he added.
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 accepted the challenge while the Philippine Bar Association offered to host the event.
However, on Friday, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said over PTV-4 that Duterte will no longer engage in a debate with Carpio upon the advice of his Cabinet.
Roque, however, said the debate may still continue but he will be the one to face the retired Supreme Court justice.
The President blamed the previous Aquino 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.
In his public address, Duterte said the Philippines would not have any problem if former Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario had not ordered the pull out of the Philippine ships.
“Sino ang nagbigay ng possession ng China sa West Philippine Sea? Sila. Kung hindi sila umalis, walang problema (Who were the ones who gave China possession of the West Philippine Sea? It was them. If they did not leave, we won’t have this problem),” he said.