By Javier J Ismael /Manila Times
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said while Senate ratification was needed to make the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) valid, which the Senate did during the Estrada presidency, it could now be terminated without concurrence of the chamber.
Drilon over the weekend recalled that in 2017, he tried to pass a Senate resolution that required Senate concurrence in termination of treaties in general.
The resolution, however, was opposed by Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao and it was not passed.
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said terminating the VFA could be done by the president as the chief implementer of Philippine foreign policy and as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“The reason stated by the president for terminating the PH-US VFA may sound ‘personal,’ but I see the point of the president. He believes Sen. (Ronald) ‘Bato’ dela Rosa is being punished by the US for having once been the implementer of his main programme of government, the all-out war against drugs. Since that is domestic policy, then punishing someone even if indirectly for a domestic policy shows the intent to interfere by a foreign state with Philippine domestic policy,” the senator added.
He said the agreement should always be subject to review.
“The president may cancel it with or without a reason. He can even say that “times have changed and it is no longer needed by the country,” he added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate National Defence committee, said the VFA between the Philippines and the United States is a bilateral accord that went through diplomatic discussions prior to ratification by the Senate after intense plenary deliberations.
On the other hand, the US visa — of which dela Rosa was denied recently and prompting the president to warn Washington to give back to the senator or he would scrap the VFA — is a conditional authorisation unilaterally given to a visiting foreigner that may be granted, cancelled or even denied outright, without need for explanation or justification, Lacson added.
In the absence of a Philippine Supreme Court ruling on the president’s power to unilaterally break a treaty or bilateral agreement like the VFA without the consent of a two-third supermajority vote of the members of the Senate, according to the senator, the president could do so without the Senate’s approval or consent.
But Sen. Richard Gordon has said Duterte should explain to the 24-member Senate why he wants to terminate the VFA because the president has no absolute power to terminate it.
Gordon, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, added that unilateral termination by the president of a treaty ratified by the Senate is still not a decided case in the Supreme Court.
He noted that there had been cases filed before the Supreme Court on top of the Saguisag vs Ochoa case that contend that the president’s abrogation of a treaty is not absolute.
“It is stated in the Constitution that there should be no agreement without two-third vote of the 24-member Senate,” said Gordon. “A treaty is the country’s word of honour. Its abolition should not be done out of spite or whim,” he added.
Gordon argued that the VFA is attached to the Philippine-US Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT).
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also on Saturday said the VFA might be terminated unilaterally by the Philippines.
“It is well within the right of the Philippine government to do so if it determines that the agreement no longer redounds to our national interest,” Lorenzana noted in a statement.
“The termination does not need the approval of the Congress,” he added.
The Defence chief said he was in constant consultations with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr on the matter.
Lorenzana said future actions to be taken by the Department of National Defense and Armed Forces of the Philippines regarding the termination would be discussed with the president.
A lawmaker also on Saturday urged President Duterte to reconsider his decision to terminate the VFA. Cagayan de Oro Second District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the president’s option to revoke the VFA would be detrimental to the national interest and security of the Philippines.
“I hope our good president will reconsider this move. Although abrogating the VFA is within the power of the chief executive, it will be inimical to our national interest and security,” he added.
Rodriguez said only the US under the MDT and the VFA could come to the defence of the Philippines in case the country’s vessels are attacked in the South China (West Philippine) Sea, an extension of the Pacific Ocean.
The Department of Justice is done with its study on the procedure for terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement.
But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also on Saturday refused to disclose details of the study in deference to a memorandum that he would send to the president early next week.
He said the study, as ordered by the president, dealt only with the procedure for termination, “not on the wisdom of the executive action.” Guevarra added that the study, among others, would provide explanation on nagging questions like whether the VFA is a treaty or an executive agreement.
“Is the VFA a treaty or an executive agreement? If it’s a treaty, is a Senate concurrence required for termination? Who give the notice of termination? Is it necessary to state any ground for termination?” he said.
The VFA was ratified by the Senate of the Philippines on May 27, 1999 after the closure of the American bases in the country in 1991. It is a bilateral agreement between the two countries, which, among others, reaffirms their obligations under the MDT.
Under the MDT, which the US and the Philippines signed in 1951, the two countries are bound to support each other if either of them is attacked by another country.
Under the VFA, American forces are allowed to stay in the country for joint military exercises with Filipino forces, which include, among others, the yearly Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) exercises and the Co-operation Afloat Readiness and Training exercises.
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