MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has challenged retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on the dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea, but he quickly backed out with so many execuses and instead want his spokesman Harry Roque to debate Carpio instead.
Duterte was criticized for his decision and thus rejected speculations that he backed out because he is afraid of the former magistrate.
Duterte said he opted out of the debate over concerns that his statements “might bind future actions of government” in relation to the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“Ang problema lang kasi dito, nakalimutan ko si Carpio ang (ay) hindi ang Presidente, ako. So policy statement kung anong itanong niya, masasabi ko, and I might bind future actions of government pagdating dito sa West Philippine Sea (The problem here is I forgot that Carpio is not the President, it’s me. So the policy statement, my replies to his questions he would ask me and I might bind future actions of government when it comes to the West Philippine Sea),” he said in a pre-recorded meeting with some Cabinet officials.
He noted that he is no stranger to joining debates, especially during the 2016 presidential campaign period.
“It’s not because I’m afraid of debates. Ilang debate na dinaanan ko nung eleksyon. Araw-araw halos (I have gone through a lot of debates during the elections. Almost every day),” he added.
Last week, Duterte challenged Carpio to a formal debate on issues concerning territorial issues on the WPS to which the latter accepted. He later assigned Presidential Spokesperson Roque to debate with Carpio on his behalf upon his Cabinet members’ advice.
Duterte said he saw nothing wrong with admitting that his administration owes China a “debt of gratitude” for donating Covid-19 vaccines.
He pointed out that accepting the Covid-19 vaccine donations does not mean that he would give up the country’s territorial claims.
“It is never, never wrong to say ‘I owe you a debt of gratitude.’ Totoo e. Binigyan tayo, tinanggap natin, ginamit natin. But it does not mean na tanggapin ko yung bakuna matapos sabihin ko kalimutan ko na yung claim diyan sa West Philippine Sea (It’s true. We were given, we accepted, we used them. But it does not mean that if I accept a vaccine, I say that we forget our claim there in the West Philippine Sea),” he said.
Despite improved ties between the Philippines and China, he said there will be “no compromise” on issues concerning sovereign rights.
“Gagamitin ko pa rin, pero sabihin ko, hindi ito yung kabayaran. Iba ito (I would still use the vaccines, but I’m going to say that this is not payment. This is different) This is Philippine national interest. This is not a health issue na nagpasalamat ako (that I thank you for),” he added.
China has donated two vaccine brands to the Philippines namely “CoronaVac” from China’s Sinovac Biotech and Sinopharm from a state-owned company of the same name.
Jet ski joke
Duterte said his 2016 promise to ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands and plant a Philippine flag there is just part of a “joke” and part of his “bravado.”
“Panahon sa kampanya ‘yan. At saka yung biro na ‘yun. We call it bravado…yung bravado ko, that’s a pure campaign joke. At kung naniniwala kayo sa kabila, pati na siguro si Carpio…(That was during the campaign period. And it’s just a joke. We call it bravado…my bravado, that’s a pure campaign joke. And if the opposition believed it, including Carpio) I would say that you are really stupid,” he said.
He said it would be impossible to ride a jet ski, saying he would “conk out in the middle of the sea.”
Duterte said he was not taking the country’s sovereignty lightly, but merely throwing in jokes when it was his turn to speak during the televised debates.
Should he have made true his promise to ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands, he said he would have died since he did not know how to swim.