TO debate or not to debate. That is the question.
And a day after Malacanang announced that its spokesman Harry Roque Jr. will replace President Rodrigo Duterte in his supposed verbal tussle with formerSupreme Court justice Antonio Carpio on issues related to the West Philippine Sea, the Palace said on Saturday that this may still push through but when the Chief Executive steps down from office in 2022.
“Much as President Rodrigo Roa Duterte wanted to debate with Mr. Antonio Carpio, the Chief Executive heeded the advice of the Cabinet and decided to designate his spokesperson instead,” Roque said in a statement.
“Debating with Carpio is a demotion. A realization. This after the former Supreme Court justice expressed so much excitement. But perhaps come June 2022, we can have one,” he added.
In a taped public address on Wednesday night, Duterte dared Carpio to debate on the West Philippine Sea issue, particularly on the withdrawal of Philippine ships from the Scarborough Shoal in 2012.
Duterte made the challenge, as he insisted that Carpio and former Foreign Affairs chief Albert del Rosario were involved in the decision to withdraw Philippine vessels from Scarborough Shoal.
Carpio and Del Rosario are among the vocal critics of President Dutertes alleged weak stance in defending the West Philippine Sea amid incursions by China.
Carpio readily accepted the Presidents challenge, which the Philippine Bar Association has offered to host.
The Palace later announced the Duterte-Carpio face-off would no longer push through after some Cabinet members discouraged him.
The President was also advised that any statement in the debate might affect government policies and that it would be unfair if the President would debate with Carpio, whom the Palace said was nor “an ordinary lawyer”.
Carpio immediately rejected a debate with Roque, calling it “pointless.”
“I accepted the President’s challenge without any conditions. Now the President has backed out of his personal challenge to me without giving a definite reason. Instead, he has designated his spokesperson Harry Roque to debate with me on the issue of what administration lost Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef to China,” he said.
Carpio said he had accepted the challenge on the premise of Dutertes arguments, such that China has the whole possession of the West Philippine Sea.
But with Roque coming out with a list of topics not covered by Dutertes claims, it was Carpios turn to thumb down the challenge, saying no one was disputing the fact that China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines during the time of former president Benigno Aquino 3rd and no one is also disputing the fact that the Mischief Reef was seized by China during the time of former president Fidel Ramos.
“There is no factual dispute that China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines during the Aquino Administration. There is also no factual dispute that China seized Mischief Reef from the Philippines during the Ramos Administration. Further, there is no factual or legal dispute that China seized Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef in violation of international law,” he said.
“Hence, it is pointless to debate about Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef. I will not engage in a useless exercise that will only detract the publics interest on the vital outstanding issues on the West Philippines Sea, like the Presidents continuing false claim that China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea,’” Carpio added.
Roque, however, disagreed with Carpios claim.
He said Carpio had accused the President of committing “grand estafa” and reminded Duterte about the 2016 presidential debate where Scarborough Shoal was mentioned.
“This, and other issues raised by the retired magistrate, such as the Presidents alleged setting aside of the 2016 Arbitral Award, the fishing agreement, among others, could be the parameters of the debate,” Roque said.
The Palace official also asserted the countrys claims on the West Philippine Sea.
“The Philippines maintains its claim in the contested areas of the West Philippine Sea. We consistently assert and exercise our sovereignty and sovereign rights,” he added.
Roque also said he was ready to face Carpio in the debate, adding former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario could even tag along if he wishes to join.
“The Palace reiterates its challenge to the former Justice and former Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, if and when he wishes to join, in tandem with former Justice Carpioto set once and for all the record straight at their designated time and venue. I will face him/them,” he said.
“Debate mode set. Bring it on,” the Palace official added.

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