Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Igor Bailen attends the Senate inquiry into the need for Senate concurrence on withdrawal of treaties.
The STAR/Mong Pintolo
DFA gave input on effects of ending VFA but decision had already been made, exec says
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( - February 20, 2020 - 3:06pm

MANILA, Philippines — Diplomatic officials advised President Rodrigo Duterte on the potential effects of terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States but the decision to end the pact had already been made by then.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. previously said he would prefer a vigorous review of the military pact with the US rather than terminating it completely.

In a Senate hearing Thursday, a DFA official admitted that they had advised Duterte on the risks of ending the VFA, which stands as a legal framework for the presence of US military personnel in the Philippines.

"Secretary Locsin met with the president and Ambassador [Jose Manuel] Romualdez... but the president had already made up his mind and it's a decision, of course, that we're bound to pursue," Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Igor Bailen told the Senate panel.

Romualdez is Philippine ambassador to the US.

Duterte initially said he would terminate the country's defense pact with the US if it fails to "correct" the visa cancellation of Sen. Bato dela Rosa, Philippine National Police chief when the so-called war on drugs was launched in 2016.

Asked about the real reasons why the Philippines is ending the deal, Bailen said, "The DFA — we don't think we could read beyond what the president has pronounced on as to the reasons."

Senate concurrence not needed to end VFA

Bailen, who heads the DFA Office of Treaties and Legal Affairs, also told the Senate that the termination of the VFA does not require Senate concurrence.

"The president is the singular voice and authority of the country in foreign relations," Bailen said.

"The role of the Senate in the treaty process is to give or withhold its consent or to concur in the president's ratification," he added.

The DFA official cited two provisions in the 1987 Constitution requiring Senate concurrence in presidential ratification on treaties.

Under Section 21, Article 7 of the Constitution:

No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.

Section 25, Article 18 of the Constitution states that:

After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and, when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose, and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.

Bailen further noted that participation of the Senate in treaty making was to provide a system of checks and balances on the executive branch in the field of foreign relations but this is limited to giving or withholding the consent or concurrence in the ratification.

"When President Duterte sent the VFA notice of termination, he was merely exercising his diplomatic powers granted to him by the Constitution. As the power to enter into treaties is vested in the president, the power to terminate the same is incidental or residual thereto," Bailen said.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: March 5, 2020 - 1:34pm

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which will expire 180 days after the notice of termination is sent to the US.

That notice was sent on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, according to Philippine government officials.

Duterte had previously warned the United States that he will terminate the VFA if the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa—believed but not confirmed to have been over the continued detention of Sen. Leila De Lima and the government's "war on drugs"—is not "corrected".

The decision to terminate comes amid a resolution by the Senate recognizing the president's authority to terminate agreements and treaties but also asking him to hold off on the decision while lawmakers conduct a review of the VFA and other agreements with America.

Activist groups have been calling on the government to scrap the deal since 1999, saying the Visiting Forces Agreement favors the US, keeps the Philippine military dependent on assistance and aid, and puts the Philippines at risk from America's enemies.

Main photo: In this May 19, 2018 file photo, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Salamat and US Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley lead the ceremonial furling of the Balikatan flag during the closing ceremony of the Philippine-US military exercises. The STAR/Boy Santos

March 5, 2020 - 1:34pm

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers is calling on the Senate to not get in the way of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, saying a resolution that the chamber adopted shows "who among our top legislators remain to be partial to the US."

The Senate this week adopted a resolution asking the Supreme Court to rule on whether the concurrence of the Senate is needed in abrogating treaties, as it is in ratifying them.

The move "seems like a thinly veiled, last minute attempt to salvage [the Philippines'] unequal ties with US, and puts into question our senators' loyalty to the country over protecting foreign interests," ACT national chairperson Joselyn Martinez says in a release.

"Legitimizing the use of our territories and resources for US military purposes violates our sovereignty. So does allowing US soldiers' presence in our lands all-year round and letting them get away with several cases of grave human rights violations against our peoples," Martinez also says.

March 1, 2020 - 9:27am

The Philippines should enter into a military agreement with the US like the Visiting Forces Agreement but with the status of "a real treaty ratified by the Senate of the Philippines and Senate of the United States."

And the House of Representatives should be part of the negotiations for it, Rep. Raul Tupas (Iloilo) says in a release.

"Let us learn from the lessons of these past decades. The VFT should be a treaty between equal sovereign states, far removed from the relationship status of former colonizer and former colonized with excess baggage from World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War," Tupas, chair of the House Committee on National Defense and Security, says.

"While the Senate has the power of treaty concurrence, the House of Representatives has the power of the purse," he says as he urges the inclusion of legislators in the negotiations "for comprehensiveness, completeness, and circumspection before, during, and after the negotiations with the United States."

February 13, 2020 - 9:44am

Military exercises with the US wthin the 180 days from the notice of termination will continue as planned, radio dzMM reports, quoting Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

February 13, 2020 - 8:36am

Activist women's group Gabriela calls for the cancellation of Balikatan joint military exercises planned for 2020 in light of the notice of the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement that the Philippines sent the US on Monday.

"Duterte cannot claim he is serious with the VFA's termination but allow business as usual with the Balikatan exercises," Gabriela, which has long protested against the VFA as well as the continuing presence of American troops in the Philippines, says in a release.

There are more than 300 military exercises and exchanges scheduled between the Philippine and American militaries this year.

February 12, 2020 - 4:34pm

For Malacañang, the decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is "a move in the right direction that should have been done a long time ago."

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said US Defense Secretary Mark Esper's remarks that the withdrawal of the Philippines from the VFA was "a move in the wrong direction" is expected as the defense pact favors Washington.

According to Panelo, relying on another country for defenses against enemies of the would eventually "weaken" and "stagnate" the Philippines' defense capabilities.

"Our studied action is consistent and pursuant to our chartering an independent foreign policy, with our foreign relations anchored solely on national interest and the general welfare of our people," Panelo said in a statement.

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