MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque said on Friday the Chief Executive delegated to him the task of facing retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio in a debate about the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte earlier this week dared Carpio to debate with him on who was responsible for losing parts of the resource-rich waterway to China.
But he backed out after several Cabinet members, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and Sen. Koko Pimentel dissuaded Duterte from debating with Carpio because this might supposedly compromise national policies and confidential information, said Roque, a lawyer.
He said it might also be "unfair" if the President debates with Carpio, who after retiring from the Supreme Court, is now an "ordinary" lawyer. "Debating with Carpio is a demotion," Roque added in a statement.
"Ang sabi po ni Presidente, kung papayag si Antonio Carpio tuloy ang debate dahil importente naman na marinig ang mga ideas para ang mga taong bayan ang makagawa ng konklusyon," he said in a televised announcement.
(The President said if the debate would push through, if Antonio Carpio agrees, because it is important for the public to hear ideas so they could form a conclusion.)
"Ang sabi ni Presidente, tinatalaga niya po ang inyong abang lingkod na makipag-debate kay retired justice Antonio Carpio," he added.
(The President said he was delegating your humble servant to debate with retired justice Antonio Carpio.)
Roque said he accepted Duterte's orders.
Addressing Carpio, he said, "It would be a pleasure to debate against you. I'll see you in the designated time and place."
He said the debate should be limited to who lost Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef, and whether or not Duterte ignored the Philippines' arbitral victory against China and gave away Philippine territory.
"Sabihin lang po ng Philippine Bar Association kung kailan, saan ang debate at sisipot po tayo roon," Roque said, of the organization that offered to host the debate.
(The Philippine Bar Association should just tell us when and where and we will be there.)
Video courtesy of PTV
Carpio said "there is no factual or legal dispute that China seized Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef in violation of international law."
"Hence, it is pointless to debate about Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef," he said in a statement.
"I will not engage in a useless exercise that will only detract the public’s interest on the vital outstanding issues on the West Philippine Sea, like the President’s continuing false claim that 'China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea.'"
This "false claim is conceding more than what China is claiming" because it never said it was in possession of the West Philippine Sea, said Carpio.
"I am ready to debate with the President or with anyone he may designate on the factual accuracy and adverse legal implications to the Philippines of the President’s repeated claim that “China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea," he said.
WHAT DUTERTE SAID
Duterte, in a late night speech on Wednesday, likened to a piece of "paper" the landmark arbitration award that invalidated Beijing's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea, which includes the West Philippine Sea.
The President also threatened to execute "by hanging" former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario if he fails to explain why Philippine ships withdrew from Scarborough.
The shoal is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea and has long been traditional fishing grounds for Philippine fishermen.
Del Rosario said the US brokered a deal to end the standoff, which happened as Philippine sailors attempted to halt Chinese poachers in the area, and that China and the Philippines agreed to withdraw their ships from the shoal at a certain hour.
But Beijing "deceitfully breached our agreement by not withdrawing their 30 or more ships," he said.
Almost a decade later, Chinese vessels continue to encroach into the Philippines' EEZ in the waters.
Del Rosario and Carpio said Duterte "unfortunately" set aside the arbitration ruling in exchange for up to $24 billion in Chinese investment and aid pledges.
Duterte said he "never asked for anything" from China.
"I was asking [for] friendship, that was all," said Duterte.
"Kung ako'y nagsisinungaling, mag-resign ako bukas kaagad," he added.
(If I am lying, I will resign immediately tomorrow.)
Roque said he was open to debating both Carpio and Del Rosario at the same time.
The hashtag #DuterteDuwag (Duterte coward) topped Philippine Twitter trends as of 4 PM.