“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,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said at a press briefing.
Salvador Panelo Facebook Photo
Palace: No need for Senate nod to junk VFA
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte’s decision to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) does not require the concurrence of the Senate, Malacanang insisted yesterday.

“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,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said at a press briefing.

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

Panelo said senators have the right to bring the matter before the SC, 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,” the Palace spokesman 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.

More senators back petition

More senators have voiced support for a petition asking the Supreme Court (SC) to decide whether Senate concurrence is needed before President Duterte’s abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) can take effect.

Sens. Grace Poe and Risa Hontiveros in separate interviews yesterday said they support the filing of the petition so that the SC can finally interpret constitutional provisions on treaties and end once and for all the debates on the matter.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also backed the petition being pushed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Sen. Richard Gordon and committee on national defense and security chairman Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

“I support it because the Supreme Court is a co-equal branch of the government and it’s a necessary part of the checks and balances to be able to clarify the issue once and for all because the law is silent on abrogation,” Poe told reporters.

“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 said while her political party, Akbayan, is opposed to the VFA, she is supporting the filing of the petition to uphold the authority of the Senate when it comes to ratifying as well as terminating any treaty.

She also dismissed the rumored threats against Sotto’s leadership, pointing out the planned filing of the petition has strong bipartisan support even if some administration lawmakers appear to be cool to it.

“This (VFA issue) is one of the transcendental issues of foreign affairs and national sovereignty and SP Sotto is leading us in saying that that’s in the shop of the Senate. We are rallying behind the Senate President on the VFA issue,” she said.

Sotto told reporters former senators Rodolfo Biazon and Francisco Tatad, the original sponsors of the VFA in 1999, will also join the filing of the petition.

“We’re just polishing the wording because I would want a simple petition asking the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution on whether it should pass the Senate or not, when an agreement or a treaty is abrogated,” Sotto said.

“We’re filing it for the Senate to assert its right,” he said.

He said he does not expect the filing to lead to a quarrel with Malacañang.

Lacson meanwhile said forging of military pacts similar to the VFA with other countries was easier said than done.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Felimon Santos last week told senators the military is pushing for agreements with other countries in the region like Japan and Indonesia to fill any security gaps that may be left by the VFA termination.

Lacson said there was nothing wrong with going into similar agreements with other countries, but Duterte should have waited for them to be forged before deciding to abrogate the VFA.

“It’s as if we stripped ourselves naked without looking for clothes first,” Lacson said.

Malacañang has cited four reasons that impelled Duterte to terminate the VFA: the US Senate resolution condemning the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines; the demand by some American senators to free detained opposition Sen. Leila de Lima; travel ban on individuals responsible for De Lima’s detention and the cancellation of the US visa of Duterte ally and former police chief Sen. Ronald dela Rosa.

‘Trump would have done the same’

At the same press briefing, Panelo claimed Duterte was not necessarily campaigning for US President Donald Trump when he said the American leader deserves to be reelected due to his “circumspect and judicious reaction to the termination of the VFA.”

“He (Duterte) is expressing his sentiment about it, not necessarily campaigning and he explained it. He said given the character of the man when it comes to national interest issues, he makes a stand, a principled man,” Panelo said.

“The President said, ‘If I were in his shoes, I would be doing the same and I’m sure he would have done the same if he were the Filipino President so that makes him a good president and he deserves to be reelected.’ That’s his exact quote,” he added.

Trump had said he was OK with the termination of VFA because it would allow the US to save a lot of money. Earlier this month, Duterte claimed Trump had tried to save the VFA but the Philippine leader held his ground. 

Panelo also brushed aside comments from communist leader Jose Maria Sison that Duterte could after all become the “greatest president” if he asserts the Philippines’ national sovereignty against the US.

“Only history will write him to be a great or greatest President... of the Filipino people. Not him, not Joma, not anybody,”  he said.

Minority Leader Drilon argued that while Duterte is the chief architect of foreign policy, the Constitution is clear that such very critical role is shared with Congress, particularly the Senate.

He said treaties and international agreements cannot be valid without the approval of the Senate so the termination of such accords should also secure the chamber’s concurrence.

Some sectors have warned against terminating the VFA, saying it could weaken the Philippines’ external defense and its campaign against terrorism.

Meanwhile, as the nation tries to come to terms with the trashing of an agreement with a long-time ally, Russia Ambassador Igor Khovaev made a courtesy call yesterday on Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr. at Camp Aguinaldo.

AFP Public Affairs Office chief Capt. Jonathan Zata said the meeting “was an introductory courtesy call requested by Ambassador Khovaev to General Santos who assumed the position on Jan. 4.” –  With Alexis Romero, Michael Punongbayan

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