Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Atty. Salvador Panelo on Saturday defended the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to back out of his challenge to debate with retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on issues related to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) after the hashtag #DuterteDuwag trended on social media.
In his daily online program, “Counterpoint,” Panelo maintained that the withdrawal of Duterte is not an act of cowardice, saying Carpio will only use the chief executive for media mileage.
“This is not cowardice, in the first place there is no reason for a debate since the position of the President on the issue is clear,” Panelo said.
On Friday, Roque announced Duterte was “prepared” for a face-off with Carpio, but his Cabinet members had advised him against it.
“What else do you want? The government through Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has been filing diplomatic protests against China,” he added.
Panelo added that Duterte and Carpio are already debating with their exchanges of statement in the media.
“Carpio has his position, the President responds to him and he also answers the statement of President Duterte, so effectively, they are already debating on the issue of West Philippine Sea and we all know who ordered the withdrawal of the Coast Guard. These are rhetorical,” he explained.
Panelo said he will personally advice Duterte not to proceed with the debate with Carpio.
“If the President will ask my advice, he has no reason to debate with a retired justice. You should debate if you have the same ranking, like if you are both presidents. In the case of Carpio, he is a retired justice. Carpio only wants media mileage in his intention to debate with the President,” he said.
According Panelo, a debate between Duterte and Carpio can only be possible if they are both running for the same position in the coming elections.
“The debate can proceed if they will be both running in the next elections but the President is prohibited to seek reelection under the Constitution” he explained.
At the same time, Panelo doubted whether Carpio will accept the offer of Roque to represent the president during the debate.
Duterte, through his public address aired Wednesday night, challenged Carpio to debate over the WPS, and the former magistrate accepted it on Thursday noon. The Philippine Bar Association has already offered to host the event.
The Cabinet members, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Duterte’s party-mate Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, counseled the President not to push through with the debate, advising that it won’t benefit the Filipino nation, Roque shared.
On Friday, the hashtag #DuterteDuwag trended on Twitter following Roque’s announcement on Duterte’s withdrawal.