Senate questions VFA termination before SC today
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon will lead the team of lawyers that will argue the case before the high tribunal, which has yet to act on a similar petition filed by opposition lawmakers nearly two years ago when President Duterte ordered the country’s pullout from the Rome Statute, which put the country under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
STAR/File
Senate questions VFA termination before SC today
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - March 9, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators are expected to file today a petition asking the Supreme Court (SC) to make a definitive ruling on whether or not the concurrence of the Senate is needed before the president can terminate a treaty or an international agreement that the chamber ratified.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon will lead the team of lawyers that will argue the case before the high tribunal, which has yet to act on a similar petition filed by opposition lawmakers nearly two years ago when President Duterte ordered the country’s pullout from the Rome Statute, which put the country under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

“I’ve been helping in drafting the petition. I’ll act as the lawyer of the Senate,” Drilon told dzBB yesterday.

He stressed that the petition was not specific to the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States that President Duterte ordered terminated last Feb. 11, but more of a question on the authority of the Senate under the Constitution in the abrogation of ratified agreements.

To be attached to the petition is Senate Resolution 337 that the chamber adopted last week. The resolution was filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the committee on national defense and security, and Drilon.

The resolution asked the SC to issue a ruling whether or not the concurrence of the chamber should be required before a treaty it previously ratified is abrogated.

“Considering the urgency of the determination of the purely legal question of whether or not the concurrence of the Senate is necessary in the abrogation of a treaty previously concurred in by the Senate, now is the most opportune time for this august body to obtain from the Honorable Supreme Court its declaration on this legal question,” the resolution said.

The document stated that the “ambiguity on the concurrence of the Senate in the abrogation of treaty involves an issue of transcendental importance that impacts on the constitutional checks and balances.”

“It presents a constitutional issue that seriously affects the country’s legal system as well as the country’s relations with the international community,” it said.

The resolution was not meant to challenge Duterte, but simply to assert the authority of the Senate.

The Senate in recent years has adopted over 20 resolutions concurring with various treaties and international agreements that all included a provision stating the chamber’s concurrence is needed if they are to be terminated, to which there was no protest at all from Malacañang, according to Drilon.

The senator said the Senate’s concurrence is needed in the event of any termination as the crucial issues discussed in the chamber in its approval will also be the same issues that should be tackled in any abrogation.

He had earlier warned that nothing will prevent Duterte from ordering a withdrawal from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which sets the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and other treaties if Malacañang insists that Senate concurrence is not needed.

“(The Senate) concurred into the ratification of the UNCLOS by virtue of Resolution No. 121. The UNCLOS is the very basis of our entitlements to a 200-nautical mile EEZ in the West Philippine Sea. Our baseline and other laws reflect this and other water marks. What if the executive department unilaterally decides to terminate the UNCLOS, will the Senate be left out from the conversation, too?” Drilon said.

“What about our commitments under the UN, like climate change, protection for women and children, World Trade Organization commitments? We note that these treaties have already been ‘deeply internalized’ in our laws, reflected in our customs and tariff laws, family laws, environmental regulation, etc.,” he added.

The senator also cited various agreements on the avoidance of double taxation, social security and prisoner exchange treaties that if unilaterally revoked would be detrimental to ordinary Filipinos.

“The Congress, being the primary policymaking branch of the government, must have a say in the termination, because it involves policy issues,” he said.

SUPREME COURT VFA
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