Spokesman asserts Duterte never said China is ‘in possession’ of West Philippine Sea


PRESIDENTIAL Spokesperson Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. on Monday said the debate on the South China Sea dispute between him and an opposition leader should focus on whether or not President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s foreign policies have resulted in the loss of the country’s territories.

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio earlier said the debate originally called by Mr. Duterte should focus on the “factual accuracy and adverse legal implications” of the President’s claim that China is in possession of the West Philippine Sea.

In several of his late-night public appearances, Mr. Duterte had repeatedly said that China is “in possession” of the country’s claims in the South China Sea. Mr. Roque, however, denied that the President had made such claims.

The spokesman said this subject matter, which Mr. Carpio wants to be the point of discussion, is “impossible to debate on” because Mr. Duterte never made the statements.

“I am very keen. My request to members of the Philippine Bar Association, we have to agree on what will be debated on because we can’t debate on things the President did not mention,” the Palace official said.

Mr. Roque, meanwhile, said he’s also willing to have a debate with another opposition figure, referring to Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo.

“Once and for all, mayroong dapat tumayo sa hanay ng oposisyon para mag-debate kung talagang ang Presidente Duterte ang namimigay ng teritoryo sa Tsina or mga ibang administrasyon ‘yan (there should be someone from the opposition who will take on a debate that will settle whether it was President Duterte or another administration who has been giving away our territory to China),” he added.

Ms. Robredo earlier said the President’s recent remarks on the South China Sea dispute may affect the country’s territorial integrity.

Meanwhile, Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio warned of the unilateral declaration doctrine, which means that “once the head of state makes a statement adverse to the nation on an ongoing dispute, that statement binds his nation if accepted by the other country.”

He was referring to Mr. Duterte’s statement during a pre-recorded message televised on May 5 that the arbitral award is “just a piece of paper” and that he will just “throw it away in the wastebasket.”

“If China agrees (on throwing away the arbitral award), later on, when we try to assert the ruling, China will say we already abandoned it,” Mr. Carpio said in an interview on Monday over the ABS-CBN News Channel. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Bianca Angelica D. Anago

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