Video courtesy of PTV
MANILA — Palace spokesman Harry Roque on Monday dared Vice President Leni Robredo to debate on China's seizure of features in the West Philippine Sea.
President Rodrigo Duterte last week also dared retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio to debate with him on the issue. But the Chief Executive later backed out of the debate and tapped Roque as his proxy.
"Kung talagang ayaw ni Associate Justice na makipag-debate sa ordinaryong abogado gaya ko... tayo po, mag-debate tayo," Roque said in a press briefing, addressing the Vice President.
(If the Associate Justice does not want to debate with an ordinary lawyer like me, then let us debate.)
"Once and for all, mayroong dapat tumayo sa hanay ng oposisyon para mag-debate kung talagang ang Presidente Duterte ang namimigay ng teritoryo sa Tsina or mga ibang administrasyon 'yan," he said.
(Someone from the opposition should stand up to debate on whether or not President Duterte gave away territory to China, or if other administrations did.)
In response, Robredo's spokesman Barry Gutierrez said, "Anlakas ng loob maghamon, eh yung unang debateng hiningi inatrasan naman."
"Mas mabuti pa, tularan na lang ninyo si VP Leni: magtrabaho na lang kayo. Dami nyong oras eh," he said on Twitter.
(You're brave to dare, but backed out from the first debate you asked. Just be like VP Leni: work. You have so much time.)
Robredo voiced serious concern on Sunday over Duterte's recent remarks on the West Philippine Sea, saying these have implications for the country even past the term of the administration.
Duterte's description of the 2016 arbitration award on the South China Sea as a mere piece of paper that he will dump in the wastebasket, and claim that China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea are "wrong" and "pro-China," and should not be left unchallenged.
Roque said he was "friends" with Robredo, who is also a lawyer, and that they were dorm mates when they were still in college.
"Pwede magdebate ang mga kaibigan," he said.
(Friends can debate.)
He said the debate with the Vice President could revolve on whether or not Duterte's "foreign policy resulted to derogation of sovereignty or the loss of territory."
Robredo is an ally of former President Benigno Aquino III, Duterte's predecessor, and serves as leader of the opposition.
Duterte has blamed the Aquino administration for China's effective control of the 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 2013 pursued an arbitral ruling against China.
Shortly after Duterte took office in 2016, the United Nations-backed arbitration court in The Hague 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 obey the ruling and sought investments and loans from the economic superpower.
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.
The United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and United Kingdom have criticized China's recent incursions in Philippine waters, saying these threaten peace and stability in the region.
– With a report Agence France-Presse