MANILA (UPDATE) -- President Rodrigo Duterte's remark blaming senatorial candidate Mar Roxas for an anti-terror operation that killed 44 elite policemen in 2015 is "politicking" and part of "diversionary tactics", Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Saturday.
In a campaign speech last week, Duterte accused Roxas, a former interior secretary, of "wasting" the lives of 44 police commandos massacred in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
The matter has been investigated by the Senate and charges have been filed, said Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, which backs Roxas' Senate bid.
"Raising the matter anew is pure and simple politicking, and a means to shun important and pressing issues affecting the Filipinos such as poverty, lack of opportunities, indignation over China's aggression, and corruption hounding many of the administration candidates," he said in a statement.
The public, he said, should remain "vigilant and not be misled by these diversionary tactics meant to confuse and keep voters from scrutinizing the administration's failures and their candidates' track records."
"Let's allow the judicial processes to proceed and give the persons involved their day in court. That is where accountability is ultimately determined," Pangilinan said.
"If we act like a broken record, we will not be able to move forward and attend to the real issues at hand," he added.
The Mamasapano tragedy has been blamed on lack of coordination with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and reinforcement from the military.
Roxas has said he was kept out of the loop in the Mamasapano operation and a Senate probe said he was bypassed by then suspended Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima.
Roxas mulled stepping down from Aquino's Cabinet but did not push through with his resignation.
PALACE FIRES BACK
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Pangilinan's statement on the issue was "noxious nonsense."
"The achievements of the administration far exceed that of the administration of his idol, PNoy (former President Benigno Aquino), where incompetence and trust issues among its top officials were prevalent," he said in a statement.
Previous administrations "pale in comparison" with Duterte's infrastructure push and his campaign against narcotics, crime, corruption and terrorism, said the Palace official.
This, he said, has resulted to "stratospheric" public satisfaction, approval and trust ratings for Duterte.
"Like the other critics and detractors, Senator Pangilinan is deaf and blind to the unprecedented survey numbers of the President. It is about time he and others in the opposition wake up from their self-destructive illusion lest they are swept away to oblivion by the horses of change galloping in the country," said Panelo.
Duterte and Roxas traded barbs in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections. The Davao mayor prevailed over the Liberals' bet with a 6.62-million vote margin.
Roxas is among the probable winners of the upcoming May elections, landing in the 11th to 17th bracket of a Pulse Asia survey last March.