Roxas retreats in verbal brawl with Duterte: ‘Let’s level up’

Bea Cupin
Roxas retreats in verbal brawl with Duterte: ‘Let’s level up’
The LP standard-bearer calms down and says it's time to talk about issues

MANILA, Philippines – After slugging it out with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in a week of media frenzy, the standard-bearer of the ruling Liberal Party said voters didn’t deserve the mudslinging and asked his 2016 rival to “level up.”


In a chat with reporters on the sidelines of a campaign sortie in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, on Wednesday, December 16, Roxas said: “Mayor Digong, let’s level up. Our people deserve better. Itong tapunan, itong putikan, itong kasinungalingan ay walang lugar sa ating political discourse. Ano bang plano mo, anong plano namin; Anong nagawa mo, anong nagawa namin – ‘yun at ‘yun naman lang ang dapat na napag-uusapan dito para makapagpasya nang tama ang ating mga kababayan.”

(This kind of mudslinging, lying has no place in our political discourse. What’s your plan for the country, what’s our plan for the country? What have you done, and what have we done? That’s what we should talk about so Filipinos can make a decision.)

Roxas and Duterte have figured in an ugly word war the past week that involved the debunking of so-called “myths,” challenges to slap each other, a fist-fight dare, and, until recently, a gun duel threat from Duterte.

Asked to react to Duterte’s latest challenge for them to just shoot it out, Roxas said: “Ang baril ay hindi solusyon sa kahit anong problema. Iwan na natin siguro ang usapin tungkol sa pamamaril, sa sampalan, sa karahasan. Malinaw, hindi ko uurungan si Mayor Duterte sa kahit anong hamunan. Malinaw na hindi ako takot sa kanya at haharapin ko siya.”

(The gun is not the solution to any problem. Let’s stop talk about shooting, slapping and other forms of violence. It’s clear, I won’t back down from Mayor Duterte. It’s clear that I’m not afraid of him and I will face him.)

Duterte is already known for his blunt and bombastic statements. Peeved at Roxas’ statement that the low crime rate in Davao was a “myth,” the mayor said he’d slap Roxas given the opportunity. (READ: Wharton a ‘myth?’ Facts on Mar Roxas and his economics degree)

Surprising many, Roxas talked back, saying he should also slap Duterte if the mayor is unable to prove claims he did not finish a degree at Wharton.

What followed were heated exchanges via media interviews in Metro Manila and Davao City. (READ: Duterte to Roxas: ‘UPenn graduate ka, and not Wharton!’)

The LP standard-bearer has been criticized for talking like Duterte. Critics said this has cheapened political discourse in the lead-up to the 2016 elections.

On Wednesday, Roxas appeared to have calmed down. “Lahat itong mga usapin na ito, bale wala ito. Itong mga barilan, suntukan—hindi ito importante sa buhay ng bawat mamamayang Pilipino. Kaya isyu ang pag-usapan natin.” (These things we’re talking about, they don’t matter to the people. We should talk about issues.)

Roxas and Duterte are – or were – friends, tracing their ties to their stint in Congress during the late 90s. Duterte campaigned for Roxas when he ran for vice president in 2010. Up until May 2015, their relationship seemed to be fine.

But late this year, Duterte accused Roxas of being behind rumors that the mayor had cancer, allegedly a form of black propaganda to discourage him from running. Roxas and the LP have denied the accusations.

“This is not about you, Digong. This is not about me. This is about the lives of our people,” said Roxas.

Duterte is the newest entry into an already tight presidential race, and only confirmed his intention to run late November, after weeks and months of playing coy about his plans.

According to a recent survey privately commissioned by a Davao-based businessman, Duterte leads preference polls. Surveys commissioned for public consumption, meanwhile, put Duterte within a striking distance front-runner Senator Grace Poe and Vice President Jejomar Binay. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.