Senate to review VFA, other defense pacts

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 29 2020 12:46 PM | Updated as of Jan 29 2020 07:35 PM

A Philippine Air Force UH-1H "Huey" helicopter ferries troops shortly after taking part in the Joint US-Philippine military exercise Balikatan 2019 at Crow Valley, Capas, Tarlac, April 10, 2019. Bullit Marquez, AP

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Senate is set to review the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and other defense pacts starting next week, a lawmaker said Wednesday, days after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to pull out of the accord with the United States.

The review will cover the VFA, the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, and a visiting forces pact with Australia, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chair Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III told reporters.

“It’s a review... Not just to see the monetary, physical benefits but also the intellectual, defense and other benefits we have been getting... We want to see if it is still aligned with national interest,” he said.

Senators also want to know if there have been problems in the implementation of the agreements and how these issues were handled, he said.

“Idi-discuss namin (we will discuss) what paragraphs are vague, are there efforts to clarify the paragraphs? We might introduce amendments to clarify ambiguities, but of course with the consent of the other party,” the senator said.

“Open-ended ito. Hindi ko masabi san kami hihinto (This will be open-ended. I can't say yet what our limits would be)... It will be presented as the Senate’s sentiments,” Pimentel said, noting that the review is not aimed at canceling the deals. 

Duterte last week said he would terminate the VFA after the US canceled the visa of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, a long-time ally who led the controversial drug war during his time as police chief. 

The VFA governs the conduct of US soldiers stationed in the Philippines, while the MDT ensures that Washington and Manila will come to the aid of the other should one of the parties be under attack. 

The EDCA, an executive agreement, meanwhile, allows greater rotational presence of US troops in the Philippines. 

DRILON ASSERTS SENATE ROLE

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon filed a resolution to assert the legislative chamber's role in the termination of treaties, saying the executive must obtain the Senate's concurrence before entering or abrogating accords.

"The power to bind the Philippines by a treaty and international agreement is vested jointly by the Constitution in the President and the Senate," Drilon said, citing provisions from the Constitution.

"A treaty or international agreement ratified by the President and concurred in by the Senate becomes part of the law of the land and may not be undone without the shared power that put it into effect," he said.

Drilon filed a similar resolution in 2017 but it was not adopted. 

Back then 13 senators co-authored Drilon's resolution. Nine of those lawmakers are still incumbent senators: Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Senators Leila De Lima, Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Sonny Angara, and Joel Villanueva.

Sotto seems to have changed his views under the current Congress as he earlier said that the Senate's opinion on the VFA does not have any bearing.

"It never emanates from us. So kung ayaw na nila, wala kaming magagawa (So if they don't want it, we can't do anything)," he told reporters earlier this week.

"Diskarte ng executive 'yan (It's the executive's call). As Senate President, I would rather not indulge whether that is right or wrong," he said.