President Rodrigo Duterte has backed out of the debate challenge against retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on issues related to the West Philippine Sea, designating his spokesperson, Secretary Harry Roque, as his representative.
Roque announced on Friday that Duterte was “prepared” for a face-off with Carpio, but his Cabinet members had advised him against the matter.
“The President said he is designating me to debate with retired justice Antonio Carpio. I have accepted the President’s appointment,” he said in a news conference.
Duterte, through his public address aired Wednesday night, challenged Carpio to debate over the West Philippine Sea, and the former magistrate accepted it on Thursday noon.
The Cabinet members, including Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Duterte’s partymate Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, advised the President to push through with the debate, claiming that it won’t benefit the Filipino nation, according to Roque.
They also noted that the President’s remarks on the debate will affect government policies and will be covered by executive privilege, Roque said.
“It would be difficult for the President to join that debate. Why? Because he is the sitting president,” the official said.
“All of the President’s remarks in that debate would affect government policies and cannot be taken back,” he added.
Roque also said the Cabinet members thumbed down the Duterte-Carpio face-off since pitting the two would be unfair.
“Why should President Duterte agree on the debate with Attorney Carpio? Even if he was a former magistrate, he is now an ordinary lawyer. It does not seem fair,” he said.
Roque also dared former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to accompany Carpio in the debate.
This came after Del Rosario described as a “national tragedy” the remarks of Duterte belittling the country’s 2016 arbitral victory against China over the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.
“If you want, it could be two versus one. Justice Carpio and Secretary Del Rosario, I will debate with you,” he said.
“See you soon at your preferred date and time so the nation would know who is telling the truth and who is lying,” Roque added.
Roque said it was only appropriate for him to debate with Carpio, saying they are both spokespersons.
“I serve as the spokesperson of the President and the Filipino nation, while Justice Carpio is the spokesperson of 1Sambayan, and it appears that he has become the spokesperson of the opposition in the West Philippine Sea,” he said.
The official was referring to the 1Sambayan coalition, which aims to form an opposition slate that will challenge the administration’s bets in the 2022 elections. Carpio is among the convenors of the group.
Both of them obtained their Law degree from the University of the Philippines College of Law at UP-Diliman.
Carpio graduated valedictorian and cum laude in 1975, while Roque finished his degree in 1990 and was hailed outstanding Law intern.
They also taught Law courses at the UP College of Law. Carpio taught tax law, corporate law, and negotiable instruments law at the university for nine years, while Roque taught constitutional law and public international law there for 15 years.
Duterte, in his speech Wednesday night, accused Carpio and Del Rosario of being responsible for the controversial pullout of Navy ships from the West Philippine Sea during the 2012 standoff between the Philippine and Chinese naval vessels in Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Panatag.
He also suggested that both Carpio and Del Rosario could be investigated for their role in China’s occupation of some islands in the West Philippine Sea. Carpio has since denied the allegation.
Carpio and Del Rosario have earned Duterte’s ire over their criticisms of the President’s refusal to act on the implementation of the 2016 arbitral ruling which reaffirmed the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea and junked China’s sweeping claims in the area.
The two led the country’s arbitration case against China before The Hague-based court, filed during the Aquino administration.
Duterte also described the Hague ruling as a “piece of paper,” which he said should end up in the trash bin.
He lamented that “nothing” had happened even after he followed proposals to assert the arbitral decision, citing the lack of enforcement mechanism and Beijing’s refusal to acknowledge it.
“They filed a case; we won. But that paper, in real life, between nations, that paper is nothing,” Duterte said in vernacular.
Amid simmering tensions between Manila and Beijing, Duterte has been insisting that invoking the Philippines’ arbitral victory in the West Philippine Sea would constitute going to war with China.
The Philippines, China, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and self-governing Taiwan have overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea.