Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo is willing to debate with former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio on the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea after President Duterte backed out of the challenge.
Panelo made the offer after rejecting allegations that the President’s withdrawal from the debate with Carpio was supposedly a sign of cowardice. He argued that Carpio was actually no match for the President since they don’t have “the same rank, same intelligence, and same status.”
“Hindi naman siya presidente ng bansa. Pangalawa, hindi pa nga siya opisyal (He is the president. Second, he’s not even an official),” Panelo said about Carpio during a recent episode of his “Counterpoint” program.
“Kung gusto mo makipagdebate Tony Carpio, tayong dalawa. Pareho tayong Sigma Rho, tayo ang magdebate (If you want to debate Tony Carpio, just the two of us. We’re both Sigma Rho, I’ll debate with you),” he added.
Last Friday, the President pulled out from the debate challenge he issued to Carpio following the advice of his Cabinet members and instead designated his spokesman Harry Roque to take his place.
Duterte, in an earlier televised address, dared Carpio to a debate on the West Philippine Sea issues, including the 2012 pullout of local ships during the Panatag Shoal standoff with China as well as 2016 arbitral award that nullified Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea. Duterte earlier said the court ruling was just piece of paper meant for the “wastebasket” amid concerns it could not be enforced.
Carpio had immediately accepted the challenge with the Philippine Bar Association offering to host the debate.
But two days after the President initiated the challenge, the Palace realized the Duterte-Carpio debate would not supposedly benefit the nation, adding any pronouncements to be made by the President in the exercise might affect government policy. It would also supposedly be unfair to pit the President against Carpio, describing him as an ordinary lawyer.
Roque readily agreed to debate with Carpio and imposed the topics to be debated including which administration lost control over Panatag Shoal. He said former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario could even accompany Carpio to the debate against him, citing he was prepared for a “two versus one” debate.
The former magistrate however said it would be pointless to debate on the Scarborough Shoal or Mischief Reef since there were no factual or legal disputes that China seized these territories. He preferred to debate on the President’s controversial claim that China was supposedly in possession of the West Philippine Sea.
The President’s withdrawal from the debate triggered the rise of hashtag #DuterteDuwag in the trending topics of Twitter last week.
Panelo, however, insisted the President was not a coward, adding the exchange of words with Carpio about the West Philippine Sea could already be considered a debate.
“Hindi kaduwagan iyan. Unang-una, wala na ngang pagdedebatehan. Masyadong klaro eh. Klarong-klaro ang posisyon (That’s not cowardice. First and foremost, there’s no need for debate. It’s already clear. The position is very clear),” he said.
“Kung gusto mo tayo na lang magdebate (If you want I can debate with you),” he added.