MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said he is not afraid of retired Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who the Chief Executive challenged to a debate on the West Philippine Sea, from which he later backed out.
Duterte said when he dared Carpio last week to face off with him about loss of Philippine territory, "Nakalimutan ko na si Carpio, hindi ang Presidente—ako."
(I forgot that Carpio is not the President—I am.)
The President said he tapped out of the debate because with anything he could say there, "I might bind future actions of government pagdating dito sa West Philippine Sea."
"It’s not because I’m afraid of debates," he said in a taped speech.
He said he sparred with rivals for the presidency in various debates in 2016.
Addressing Carpio, Duterte said, "Hindi ako takot sa ‘yo. Ang problema, hindi ko nga alam, hindi ka Presidente."
(I am not afraid of you. The problem is I didn't know you were President.)
The hashtag #DuterteDuwag (coward) trended last Friday after Duterte tapped his spokesman Harry Roque to debate with Carpio.
Duterte has blamed the administration of his predecessor Benigno Aquino III over the loss of Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea after a standoff in 2012.
Albert del Rosario, who served as Aquino's foreign affairs chief, said China "deceitfully breached" its agreement with the Philippines to end their standoff by withdrawing ships from the area.
Del Rosario in 2014 pursued an arbitral ruling against China, a move that Carpio backed.
Shortly after Duterte took office in 2016, a United Nations-backed court ruled in favor of the Philippines and junked Beijing's claims to about 90 percent of the South China Sea, within which is the smaller West Philippine Sea.
Duterte has refused to press China to follow the ruling and sought investments and loans from Beijing
The President last Wednesday called the arbitral ruling a piece of "paper," which he said led to nothing.
Beijing and Manila's maritime dispute flared up again in March after hundreds of Chinese boats were spotted inside the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone.
China has refused repeated calls from the Philippines to withdraw the boats, and tensions have intensified as Manila stepped up maritime patrols in the area.
– With a report Agence France-Presse