By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos
MANILA (Philippines News Agency) – President Rodrigo Duterte is willing to hold a formal debate with former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) issue, Malacañang said on Thursday.
This, after Carpio accepted Duterte’s challenge for a debate on the Philippines’ long-standing dispute with China in WPS.
In a virtual press conference, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said a formal debate would serve as a proper forum for Duterte and Carpio to ask questions about territorial issues surrounding the highly-contested waters.
“The debate [between Duterte and Carpio] has been ongoing as far as the Filipino is concerned. Pero (But) if he (Carpio) wants a formal debate, kahit kailan po iyan welcome naman po ni Presidente iyan (The President welcomes that),” Roque said.
In a taped public address on Wednesday night, Duterte dared Carpio to debate on WPS 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 Secretary Albert del Rosario were involved in the decision to withdraw Philippine vessels from Scarborough Shoal.
Duterte also sought an investigation against Carpio and Del Rosario due to their supposed role in China’s continued presence in WPS.
Responding to Duterte’s latest remarks, Carpio accepted Duterte’s challenge and urged the President to resign if his accusations against the former magistrate are proven false.
Carpio called for Duterte’s resignation, as he stressed that he only had limited knowledge on the withdrawal of Philippine Navy ships from WPS during the 2012 Scarborough standoff with China.
No PH islands lost under Duterte
A word war between Duterte, Carpio, and Del Rosario continues to escalate as the two former Philippine officials keep on criticizing the Chief Executive for his supposed decision to set aside the Philippines’ historic win in the petition filed against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands.
Carpio and Del Rosario, who led the filing of a case against China’s extensive claims in WPS, have also accused Duterte of not prioritizing the Filipinos’ interest in the ongoing sea dispute with China.
Roque turned the tables on the past administration, which he said should be blamed for China’s lingering presence in strategic waters.
He also told Carpio and Del Rosario that the Philippines never lost any islands under Duterte’s watch.
“Ang hindi masagot-sagot ni Justice Carpio — ano ang pinamigay niyang teritoryo? Wala (Former Justice Carpio could not even answer what territory was given to China. None),” Roque said. “Wala po ni isang isla na nawala ang ating bayan sa administrasyon ni Presidente Duterte (No island in our country has been lost under President Duterte’s administration).”
WPS ruling as ‘piece of paper’ explained
On July 12, 2016, the Philippines won against China after the PCA invalidated China’s claim that it has historic rights over almost the entire WPS.
But on Wednesday, Duterte called the arbitral ruling as a mere “piece of paper” that led to nothing.
Duterte also said he had tried to assert the 2016 sea ruling, but the Philippines gained nothing since China refused to acknowledge the PCA’s decision.
Roque explained that Duterte only wants to emphasize China’s stance that it would not honor the arbitral ruling.
“You have to construe his (Duterte) statement in the proper context),” he said. “Ang konteksto ng sinabi ni Presidente (The context of the President’s statement is), ‘That is as far as China is concerned.’ In other words, iyan ang reaksyon ng Tsina kaya binabalewala po ng Tsina (that is China’s reaction that’s why it is ignoring the ruling).”
Roque likewise noted that Duterte even made the “most authoritative” declaration of his administration’s policy on WPS during the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September last year.
Duterte, in his speech delivered before the UNGA, said the PCA ruling is “now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish, or abandon.”
Duterte said his administration also rejects attempts to “undermine” the sea ruling that favors the Philippines. (PNA)