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SC, voting 11-3, rules VFA is legal

- Delon Porcalla () - October 11, 2000 - 12:00am
Voting 11-3 with one abstention, the Supreme Court (SC) declared yesterday that the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is constitutional.

The High Court said in its decision that there was no abuse of discretion on the part of President Estrada in the ratification of the pact, which the Senate concurred with on May 27, 1999.

The SC maintained that the President cannot be faulted for tossing the VFA to the Senate, which ratified the pact last year with an 18-5 vote. The VFA gave US troops free access to the country for joint military exercises.

"Certainly no abuse of discretion, much less a grave, patent and whimsical abuse of judgment, may be imputed to the President in his act of ratifying the VFA and referring the same to the Senate for the purpose of complying with the concurrence requirement embodied in the fundamental law," the ruling read.

Justice Arturo Buena, who penned the 50-page decision, said those who opposed the VFA failed to convince the court that they sustained injuries as a result of the pact’s implementation, which is necessary in proving a taxpayer’s suit.

Petitioners for the nullification of the VFA included Senators Teofisto Guingona Jr., Raul Roco and Sergio Osmeña III.

"While it may be true that petitioners pointed to the provisions of the VFA that allegedly impair their legislative powers, they failed to sufficiently show that they in fact suffered direct injury," the decision stated.

The justices noted that the President’s ratification and the Senate’s concurrence should be taken as a "clear and unequivocal expression of our nation’s consent to be bound by the treaty" with the duty to uphold obligations and responsibilities embodied in it.

VFA opponents had earlier raised several issues, including US forces bringing in of nuclear weapons, their exemption from tariffs and taxes, as well questions on provisions clearing servicemen from criminal liability in the violation of local laws.

Those who voted for the nullification of the VFA were Justices Jose Melo, Reynato Puno and Jose Vitug. The sole abstention came from Justice Artemio Panganiban, who has ties with former Senate president Jovito Salonga, a top VFA opponent.

HIGH COURT JOVITO SALONGA JUSTICE ARTEMIO PANGANIBAN JUSTICE ARTURO BUENA JUSTICES JOSE MELO PRESIDENT ESTRADA RAUL ROCO AND SERGIO OSME REYNATO PUNO AND JOSE VITUG SENATORS TEOFISTO GUINGONA JR. SUPREME COURT VFA
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