Palace: No need for Senate concurrence to terminate VFA

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte takes a tour around the facilities of the Sangley Airport in Cavite City during its inauguration on Saturday, February 15. With the president is Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade. | Malacañang photo by Albert Alcain

President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States does not need the concurrence of the Senate, Malacañang argued on Monday, February 17.

“As far as we are concerned in the executive, there is no need for a concurrence in the Senate because the Constitution, if it’s clear to them, it’s also clear to us,” said Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo at a press briefing.

“So we will let the Supreme Court decide if they file the appropriate action in court,” he added.

According to Panelo, senators have the right to bring the matter before the Supreme Court, which issues the final decision on legal questions.

“If they have any constitutional issue to be raised and they are uncertain of what the Constitution really means, that is the job of the Supreme Court to tell us if they are right or wrong,” he said.

“I understand what they are saying… They feel that the Constitution is clear to them, that not only concurrence, when it comes to treaties, but also abrogation. So, if they bring that issue to the Supreme Court, that’s OK,” he added.

Over the weekend, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he would join Senate President Vicente Sotto III and other administration senators in filing a petition that will question before the Supreme Court (SC) the termination of the VFA without the concurrence of the chamber.

“This will be a bipartisan move to assert the Senate’s role in foreign policy. While the president is the chief architect of our foreign policy, the Constitution is clear that such a very critical role is shared with Congress, particularly the Senate,” Drilon said.

Sotto is already preparing a petition and has asked him to co-author it, the minority leader said. 

He also noted that it is only the SC that can rule with finality on the termination of treaties and international agreements since the Constitution does not cover them. 

“The Supreme Court should rule on this issue once and for all. We cannot continue putting the fate of critical treaties such as the VFA, which termination has far-reaching consequences, in the hands of one man,” he said.

He added, “It is our firm belief that if treaties and international agreements the president entered into cannot be valid without the approval of the Senate, the termination of, or withdrawal from, the same should only be effective with the concurrence of the Senate.”

Several senators have expressed their support for the filing of the petition. Among them were Sens. Panfilo Lacson, Grace Poe and Risa Hontiveros.

According to Lacson, who co-authored Senate Resolution 312 that urges Duterte to reconsider his decision until the chamber finishes its review of the VFA, there is something amiss in the constitutional provision that requires two-thirds votes in the Senate to ratify a treaty yet its abrogation is just left to the president.

Meanwhile, Poe said the Supreme Court is a co-equal branch of the government, noting that it’s a necessary part of the checks and balances to be able to clarify the issue once and for all since the law is silent on abrogation.

“It (Constitution) only says that the Senate has to be able to concur on that but it didn’t say that to get out of a particular treaty, you need the concurrence of the Senate, but it doesn’t say either that the Senate is not needed kaya once and for all, not just for the VFA, I think it would be good to have the opinion of the Supreme Court,” she said.

Hontiveros — whose political party Akbayan is opposed to the VFA — said she is supporting the petition to uphold the authority of the Senate when it comes to ratifying as well as terminating any treaty.

Robredo shows support

Vice President Leni Robredo said she is also in support of the petition since bringing the issue to the high court would allow a “free” discussion and debate on the issue.

“Yes (I support it), for the greater good of the people,” she said during her weekly radio show “BISErbisyong Leni.” 

“Even if it will take a long process…a free discussion, where there’s no fear of intimidation or whatsoever, will create good results,” she added in Filipino. 

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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