In his public address Monday night, Duterte defended his decision to withdraw from his debate challenge and to designate his spokesperson, Secretary Harry Roque, in his stead.
“The problem here is I forgot that Carpio is not the president, but me… I might bind future actions of the government regarding the West Philippine Sea,” Duterte said in a mix of English and vernacular.
The Philippine leader also maintained that he was not frightened to face the former magistrate, noting that he had several debates during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Duterte’s chief legal counsel Secretary Salvador Panelo, who was among the Cabinet members present during the meeting, also defended the President by saying there is no topic to debate on.
Panelo noted that even Carpio acknowledged that there was no factual or legal dispute that China seized some areas in the West Philippine Sea.
In effect, he said the two could no longer argue on whose administration was responsible for China’s seizure of Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Panatag, during the 2012 standoff between the Philippine and Chinese naval vessels.
“From the start, I was opposed to the debate because what is there to discuss? There is none because the issue has been resolved — we know the Aquino administration is to blame for that,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Carpio said it was saddening that Duterte backed out of a debate challenge he posted himself, saying it could have been an opportunity to inform the public about the country’s maritime dispute with China.
“Everybody will be glued to their television, to their computer monitors to watch it… I’m sad that he withdrew, but that’s his privilege,” Carpio told ANC in an interview.
Last week, Duterte dared Carpio for a face-off so the latter could explain the controversial pullout of Navy ships in Scarborough Shoal.
He had said he also wanted to ask the former magistrate how the Philippines could enforce the 2016 arbitral ruling which reaffirmed the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea and junked China’s sweeping claims in the area.
“Who asked the ships to retreat and what did you do after the retreat? We filed a case; then we won. Can we enforce it?” the President asked.
A day after Carpio announced that he accepted the challenge, Roque said Duterte’s Cabinet members had opposed the debate since the President’s remarks will affect government policies and will be covered by executive privilege.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Duterte’s party-mate Senator Aquilino Pimentel III also advised the President not to push through with the debate, claiming that it won’t benefit the Filipino nation, according to Roque.
Carpio has earned Duterte’s ire for criticizing the President’s refusal to act on the implementation of the 2016 arbitral ruling.
He was among the legal luminaries who filed before the Hague-based court the country’s arbitral case against China, which Duterte recently dismissed as a “piece of paper” that should end up in a trash bin.