Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte backs out of debate with Carpio, Roque to represent him

Pia Ranada

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Duterte backs out of debate with Carpio, Roque to represent him

NOT DEBATING AFTER ALL. President Rodrigo Duterte had challenged retired justice Antonio Carpio to a debate but he is eventually 'dissuaded' by his Cabinet members.

File photo by Malacañang

(2nd UPDATE) Cabinet members and senators supposedly dissuaded the President against debating with retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio
Duterte backs out of debate with Carpio, Roque to represent him

After challenging retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio to a debate on the West Philippine Sea, President Rodrigo Duterte has backed out and tapped his spokesman to debate with the magistrate instead.

Ang sabi ni Presidente, tinatalaga niya po ang inyong abang lingkod na makipag-debate kay retired justice Antonio Carpio, at tinanggap ko naman po ang pagtatalaga ni Presidente,” said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Friday, May 7, in a televised address.

(The President is designating me to debate with retired justice Antonio Carpio, and I accepted the task.)

“Retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, it would be a pleasure to debate against you. I’ll see you at the designated time and place,” said Roque.

Duterte backs out of debate with Carpio, Roque to represent him

He added that the Philippine Bar Association, which has volunteered to host the event, just needs to name the time and venue of the debate. Carpio had accepted Duterte’s challenge the day after the President issued it.

Duterte backs out upon advice of Cabinet

According to Roque, it was the Cabinet, Senate Presidente Vicente Sotto III, and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III who advised the President not to push through with the debate himself.

Three reasons were cited:

  • Nothing beneficial to the Filipino people will come out of the debate.
  • Duterte is a sitting president, while Carpio, being retired from the high court, is now an “ordinary lawyer.”
  • Whatever Duterte says in the debate could affect public policy and may be covered by executive privilege.

Handang-handa po sana ang Presidente na dumebate, pero kagabi po tinaggap po niya ang advice ng ilang miyembro ng gabinete, kasama na po si Executive Secretary [Salvador] Medialdea,” said Roque.

(The President was ready to debate, but last night, he took the advice of Cabinet members, including Executive Secretary Medialdea.)

On the second reason, Roque said that, for the Cabinet, pitting Duterte against Carpio would not be “fair.”

Bakit papayag sa debate eh nakaupong Presidente naman si Presidente Duterte at si Atty Carpio naman po, bagama’t siya’y dating mahistrado, ay ordinaryong abogado na ngayon. Parang hindi naman po ata tabla na ang Presidente mismo ang haharap sa ordinarying mambabatas. Parang hindi po patas,” said Roque.

(Why will he agree to a debate when President Duterte is a sitting president while Carpio, though he was a former justice, is now an ordinary lawyer. It doesn’t seem fair that the President himself will face an ordinary lawyer.)

There was a sense from the Cabinet that Duterte might make irreversible policy declarations, posing big consequences to government initiatives.

“Everything the President will say in that debate will affect the policies of government. He can’t take back what he says in that debate apart from the fact that there is what we call executive privilege,” said Roque in Filipino.

Yet, it was Duterte himself who challenged Carpio to a debate on the basis that both of them were lawyers.

Itong Carpio naman, sulat nang sulat ng mga decision para sa kanyang utak lang. Isa ring ugok itong…Bak…Supreme Court justice. Pareho man tayo abugado. Gusto – eh gusto mo mag-debate tayo?” said Duterte last Wednesday, May 5.

(This Carpio keeps writing decisions just for his brain. He’s a fool, this Supreme Court justice. We are both lawyers. You want to debate?)

In a reaction to Roque’s statement, Carpio said he will not debate with anyone issues that are no longer disputed about Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef because he will “not engage in a useless exercise that will only detract the public’s interest.”

“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,” said Carpio.

What Carpio is willing to debate – with Duterte or anyone – is what he called the falsity of the President’s 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. I am ready to debate with the President or with anyone he may designate on the factual accuracy [of the claim] and adverse legal implications to the Philippines,” said Carpio.

Responding to Carpio yet again, Roque later on Friday said they “disagree with the assertion of Mr Carpio when he said it is pointless to debate about Scarborough Shoal and Mischief Reef for he is the one who accused the President of committing grand estafa reminding the Chief Executive of the 2016 presidential debate where Scarborough Shoal was mentioned.”

“This, and other issues raised by the retired magistrate, such as the President’s alleged setting aside of the 2016 Arbitral Award, the fishing agreement, among others, could be the parameters of the debate,” Roque said.

Roque said he is ready to face Carpio and even former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario “at their designated time and venue.”

“Debate mode set. Bring it on,” Roque said.

The President is fond of challenging public figures critical of him to debates that never push through.

In 2016, for instance, he challenged UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard to a “public debate” about his controversial anti-drugs campaign. – with a report from Lian Buan/

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.