Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he was anticipating the next move of Malacañang after six months even as he reiterated that the sentiment of a majority of senators favor the retention and improvement of the VFA.
Senate PRIB/Henzberg Austria
Senators still want VFA review
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 4, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators yesterday welcomed Malacañang’s move to suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States, but still pressed for a review of the military pact.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he was anticipating the next move of Malacañang after six months even as he reiterated that the sentiment of a majority of senators favor the retention and improvement of the VFA.

“But the pending issue in the Supreme Court remains. We still ask the SC whether or not the abrogation (of treaties) must have the concurrence of the Senate, the concurring body,” Sotto said, referring to a petition filed by the
chamber before the high court last March.

In the petition, the Senate noted that under the Constitution, the executive branch must seek the concurrence of the chamber before any treaty or international agreement can take effect. The Constitution, however, is silent on whether or not the executive can unilaterally abrogate such pacts.

The SC has ordered Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to submit their comments to the petition earlier filed by senators requiring two-thirds of their approval to make the VFA abrogation valid.

SC spokesman Brian Hosaka said the 56-page declaratory relief and mandamus petition filed by senators on March 9 was among the issues tackled by the magistrates during their session last Tuesday.

“The Supreme Court in the VFA case ordered the respondents therein to file a comment to the petition,” Hosaka said.

He added the two respondents have 10 days from receiving the notice to submit their comments.

On Feb. 11, the Philippines sent the US a notice of termination of the VFA, an essential agreement to both countries in effectively implementing the Mutual Defense Treaty. The VFA took effect on May 27, 1999.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the “sudden policy change is a welcome development.”

“The unhampered implementation of the VFA will serve the interest of our country, particularly with regard to the preservation of our rights over parts of the West Philippine Sea. The abrupt abrogation of the VFA last February as initiated by the President – which was done amid the increasing aggressiveness and the bullying of China – is disadvantageous to us. What the country truly needs is a stable foreign policy that promotes our interest,” Drilon said in a statement.

He added that the turnaround does not affect the case pending in the SC and that the petition filed is for declaratory relief and mandamus where senators asked the SC to uphold the power of the Senate over treaty termination.

“The fact that the VFA is reinstated will not render our case moot and academic. The case stands,” Drilon said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, also welcomed the development as it could help strengthen the country’s territorial integrity, given the repeated intrusion of Chinese government vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

“First, just so it is clear where I’m coming from: I am not pro- or anti-American, as in actual fact, they took away my US visa a long time ago. Nor am I pro- or anti-Chinese since I have many friends in and out of Beijing,” Lacson said.

“That said, the President’s change of heart is a welcome development as far as defense and economic security of the country is concerned,” he added.

The country needs the VFA especially now that Chinese intrusions into its territory, particularly in the West Philippine Sea, “have become commonplace,” according to the senator.

“The last thing that we should lose is the balance of power that the US, among other allies like Australia and other ASEAN neighbors, can provide to suit our national interest and territorial integrity,” Lacson said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“It is a no-brainer that we can’t stand on our own and protect ourselves from harassment coming from those intrusions,” he added.

While the move was a prerogative of the President, a review of the VFA must still be pursued, according to Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian.

“Admittedly, the VFA in the past is leaning toward the other party which is the US. Times are changing very fast and geopolitics is also changing very fast. It’s time also to review in light of what’s happening in the region. Do we still need this?” Gatchalian said.

In a privilege speech yesterday, Sen. Francis Tolentino hailed the suspension as “an extremely positive development” and showed President Duterte’s flexibility when it comes to the country’s welfare.

Sen. Sonny Angara said the move was “the safer, more cautious and considered decision in this time of (the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic), when it helps to be friends with all nations and given some of the recent developments.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said he was in favor of continuing the pact “maybe for another 50 years or until we are economically strong and militarily capable to defend ourselves.”

Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who chairs the committee on public order and security, also welcomed the suspension, but said he has not yet applied for a new US visa after his old one, which was supposed to expire in 2022, was revoked by the US State Department.

‘Changing circumstances’

The “changing circumstances” of the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic and “heightened superpower tensions” led to Duterte’s decision to suspend termination of the VFA, Locsin said yesterday.

The Philippines’ action, according to Locsin, “alarms no country in Asia and the rest of the world.”

“A man who does not change his mind cannot change anything. And he ran on the slogan: Change is coming. But in the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world in a time of pandemic and heightened superpower tensions, a world leader must be quick in mind and fast on his feet for the safety of our nation and the peace of the world,” he said.

The foreign affairs chief on Tuesday said Duterte instructed him to inform US Ambassador Sung Kim that the President had decided to suspend the pending termination of the VFA, which has several months more to run as stipulated.

“We look forward to continuing our strong military partnership with the United States even as we continue to reach out to our regional allies in building a common defense towards enduring stability and peace and continuing economic progress and prosperity in our part of the world,” Locsin said.

Locsin posted on his official Twitter account on Tuesday night a copy of the diplomatic note sent by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to the US embassy in Manila informing the US government of its decision to suspend the abrogation of VFA.

The embassy said it was notified of the Philippines’ suspension of the VFA termination on Monday.

“The (US) welcomes the Philippine government’s decision to suspend the termination of the (VFA). We look forward to continuing strong defense and security cooperation with our Philippine #FriendsPartnersAllies,” Kim said on Twitter yesterday.

The suspension of VFA abrogation was also a welcome development for former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario.

“It’s a good day... Congratulations to the President, to the DFA and to the (Department of National Defense),” Del Rosario said.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday expressed full support for Duterte’s decision to suspend the abrogation of the VFA.

Lorenzana explained that he was consulted on the matter about a month ago and the primary reason was because of the COVID-19 pandemic that the world is currently facing.

“Plus we need the cooperation from the countries, we need to cooperate with other countries to fight the pandemic and I think the President thought that it’s not timely to end the VFA at this time,” Lorenzana told CNN Philippines’ “The Source.”

Lorenzana said the DND supports and is satisfied with the decision, considering that he was not entirely in favor of terminating the VFA in the first place.

He stressed that he is supporting the President’s latest decision “because of our longstanding relationship with the US,” adding that “to end the decades-long relationship with the US military will be very abrupt and you know we learned a lot from them and they learned enough from us.” Evelyn Macairan, Pia Lee-Brago, Michael Punongbayan, Romina Cabrera

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