(UPDATE) After challenging retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio to a debate over the West Philippine Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte has instead assigned his spokesperson to represent him.
Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque said Friday he was tasked by the chief executive to face Carpio, a staunch advocate of Manila's rights in the West Philippine Sea, at the debate a day after the former justice accepted the dare.
Claiming that Cabinet officials advised against the debate, Roque said it wouldn't be fair for a sitting president to face someone like Carpio.
"Bakit papayag sa debate, e nakaupong Presidente naman si Presidente Duterte, at si Antonio Carpio, bagamat sya ay dating mahistrado, ay ordinaryong abugado na ngayon?" Roque said.
"Parang hindi naman po tabla," Roque said.
WHAT DUTERTE HAS SAID:
Duterte challenged Carpio to a debate on Wednesday night as the chief executive blamed the administration of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, over the Philippines' loss of Scarborough Shoal to China. The President alleged that Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Sec. Alberto del Rosario were involved in the withdrawal of Philippine ships stationed in the area.
Roque added that it would be difficult for President Duterte to debate with Carpio since his arguments might be construed as policy statements.
"Wala pong mabuting magiging resulta ang debateng ito para sa sambayang Pilipino," Roque said.
Carpio on Friday said he was ready to debate with the President or "anyone he may designate" on "the factual accuracy and adverse legal implications to the Philippines of the President’s repeated claim that ‘China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea."
“This false claim is conceding more than what China is claiming—for China has never claimed that it is in possession of the West Philippine Sea," Carpio said in a statement.
Duterte is facing criticism for his handling of the country's maritime dispute with China as Beijing's ships continue to linger within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone despite Manila's repeated protests.
China has ignored the Philippines' call to pull out its vessels nearly half a decade since a UN-backed arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of Manila and invalidated Beijing's vast claims in the South China Sea.
Duterte on Wednesday called the arbitral ruling a "piece of "paper," adding that the more powerful nation dictates the situation on the ground.