Back out from debate projected Duterte as loser, Carpio as hero

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - May 12, 2021 - 12:00am

The folly in President Duterte’s challenge to debate Antonio Carpio was that people expected him to back out. Upon announcement of his retreat, friends and foes groaned in texts: “Hay, sabi ko na nga ba!” The Cabinet’s assignment of his spox Harry Roque in his stead only magnified the shame. Memes instantly mocked, “Sa Japan kapag napahiya, nagha-harakiri; sa Pilipinas, nagha-hariroki” and “Biden-POTUS, Duterte-POTSU” (dud). Another, with a photo of potbellied Duterte, counseled that he take back too his threat to slap Albert del Rosario, a taekwondo master and descendant of warrior-martyr Gregorio del Pilar.

A leader does not taunt only to turn tail later. Adding to the months-long hashtag #DutertePalpak, Netizens joined in with new #DuterteDuwag and #DuterteTraydor. Broadcasts from 2003 were reposted online of then-Davao City mayor Duterte daring feisty commentator Waldy Carbonell to a gun duel at a specified date, time and spot at City Hall then not showing up.

Carpio came out a hero. Circulating in social media: “Duterte has made Carpio ‘presidentiable’.”

Soft-spoken, polite and patriotic, the former Supreme Court justice is the opposite of Duterte. For years he has been debunking through facts and law Beijing’s claim to the entire South China Sea. To Beijing’s challenge of “historic rights,” he dug up ancient Chinese maps and records, none of which mention the SCS. On the contrary, old Spanish, Japanese, British and American maps, navigation charts and treaties show the West Philippine Sea overlap in the SCS as Philippine territory. Beijing thus had no right to occupy Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and concrete seven Philippine reefs in the Spratlys as island-fortresses.

Carpio’s research helped win in July 2016 international arbitration for the Philippines. The Hague court outlawed Beijing’s sea claims. China and Duterte belittled the ruling. Beijing in August 2017 blockaded a ninth Philippine sea-feature, Sandy Cay, within the territorial waters of Kalayaan Island municipality of Palawan.

Cussing Carpio on national TV last Wednesday. Duterte said, “Pareho man tayo abogado. Gusto mo mag-debate tayo?” He enumerated two or three topics. Accusing Carpio of involvement in the withdrawal of Philippine Navy ships from Panatag during the 2012 standoff with China, the President said he would resign if unable to prove it. The 2016 Hague ruling supposedly is trash paper because unenforceable. China reportedly is in possession of the West Philippine Sea. Carpio gladly accepted “the challenge to debate anytime at the President’s convenience.”

It would have been an enlightening exchange. As the Philippine Bar Association said in offering to host the event, “The Filipino public will benefit immensely from a frank and straightforward discussion on a matter that affects the entire citizenry.” Hours later Duterte withdrew. Popping in for his boss, Roque proposed a new set of topics that were not in dispute to begin with.

Had the debate pushed through, Duterte could have been put on the defensive. Carpio would have cited facts:

• Duterte in November 2016 set aside The Hague ruling. A President is bound by law and Constitution to defend sovereign rights in the Philippine exclusive economic zone. Duterte had invoked $24 billion in new Chinese loans. That only less than five percent has materialized to date would have been detailed.

• Duterte in September 2016 limited naval patrols to only territorial waters 12 miles from shore. That left open to Chinese incursions the remaining 188 of the 200-mile EEZ. Unprotected, Filipinos could not fish or survey oil and gas. Territorial waters are only seven percent of the WPS.

• Duterte disclosed in July 2019 a “verbal agreement” with President Xi Jinping since 2016 for Chinese to fish in the WPS. Again unconstitutional, since natural resources are reserved for Filipino citizens and firms.

• Duterte said in the November 2018 ASEAN-India Summit in Singapore, in his 2019 and 2020 State of the Nation Addresses and on TV last Apr. 19, 2021, that “China is in possession of the WPS.” Fact is, China controls only nine reefs, shoals and cays. Freedom-of-navigation patrols by naval powers in the area are unchallenged by China. But conceding possession to China derogates national territory and sovereign rights.

• Duterte in his 2019 State of the Nation announced he is “inutile” in defending territorial seas and EEZ. He surrendered national interest.

Carpio’s alleged role in the Navy’s 2012 departure from Panatag would have been easily disproved. Testimonies, official reports and attendance logs will show him busy then in the judiciary. But people expect Duterte to not stand by his word of honor to resign despite his false accusation.

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity”. Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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