MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesperson rejected on Sunday a senatorial candidate's challenge to debate on an irrigation project in the mountainous Cordillera region.
Former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares earlier claimed the government's loan agreement with Beijing for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project "is onerous and highly favors China."
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said issues raised against the project "have been squarely and adequately responded to by the economic managers as well as by this representation."
"If he (Colmenares) is not satisfied with our responses he is free to go to the courts, as his usual style for media mileage, and we will be happy to oblige him there," he said in a statement.
He added that challenging a publicly visible government official to a debate attracts media attention.
"Surely Mr. Neri Colmenares knows how to grab at a media op(portunity) to improve on his fledgling candidacy," Panelo said.
"He should be commended for that but I have better things to do than to provide him the forum he desperately needs."
Colmenares, however, said Panelo "is wrong in saying I am raising this issue to bolster my candidacy as senator."
"That is a pathetic attempt to divert and muddle the issue," he said in a Facebook post.
Panelo, he said, should explain why the government granted the project to a Chinese contractor when there are Filipinos who can do the job; which assets will be used as collateral for the loan; and why officials allegedly agreed to arbitration using Chinese laws.
The Palace official "would do the country a better service" by answering these questions instead of "engaging in ad-hominem attacks", said Colmenares.
Colmenares, a senatorial bet of the leftist Makabayan party, suffers from low voter awareness, according to a January 2019 Pulse Asia survey.
With only 51% aware of his bid, a low 5.4% of respondents said they would vote for him if elections were held last month.
Colmenares would have placed 24th to 29th if the polls were held around a week before the start of the 90-day national campaign period.