2 PH senators reassert chamber's power over scrapping of VFA with US

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2020 05:29 PM | Updated as of Feb 06 2020 05:30 PM

MANILA - Two Philippine senators on Thursday reasserted the lawmaking body's right to rule on the executive's decision to abrogate treaties and warned that failing to exercise this "would weaken the Senate."

The power to enter and end treaties was "vested jointly by the Constitution to the President and the Senate," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said amid President Rodrigo Duterte's desire to scrap the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement.

Speaking at a Senate hearing that weighed the benefits of the VFA, Drilon said, "When we ratify a treaty, it becomes part of the law of the land. A treaty may not be undone without the power that put it into effect."

"Failure to assert such role is an abdication of our ability and authority in foreign policy formulation... Failure to do so would weaken the Senate," he said.

Duterte had called for the abrogation of the VFA, which was signed in 1998 to govern the conduct of American troops while in the Philippines, following the cancellation of the US visa of his longtime ally, Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa. The US did not cite any reason for the visa cancellation, which happened after American senators sought to impose sanctions on Philippine officials behind the detention of Duterte's staunch critic, Sen. Leila De Lima.

Drilon said that in the previous Congress, 14 senators signed a resolution asserting the role of the Senate in abrogating treaties. 

Nine of those are part of the current Senate. Aside from him, they are:

- Senate President Vicente Sotto III
- Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto
- Sen. Sonny Angara
- Sen. Leila de Lima
- Sen. Risa Hontiveros
- Sen. Panfilo Lacson
- Sen. Francis Pangilinan
- Sen. Joel Villanueva

Sen. Grace Poe backed Drilon, saying the Senate's duty to review treaties was "not just a privilege" accorded to the chamber.

"It is our Constitutional duty to uphold the principle of separation of powers, especially checks and balances, which gave rise to the need for Senate action on treaties," Poe said.

"Hindi natin ito pribilehiyo lang. Tungkulin nating busisiin ang mga treaty na pinapasok at inaalisan ng Pilipinas," she said.

("This is not just a privilege. It is our responsibility to scrutinize treaties that the Philippines enters into and backs out of.")

 'OPEN QUESTION'

There were several instances when Washington unilaterally terminated its treaties with other countries, but the US Supreme Court refused to rule on the constitutionality of the action, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo Malaya said at the hearing.

Among them was Washington's unilateral termination of its mutual defense treaty with Taipei in 1980, he said.

"US Supreme Court deemed the president's actions as political questions... The US Supreme Court did not review and pass judgments on those acts of US presidents," Malaya said.

Drilon rebutted: "Then at this point, it is an open question, the power of Senate concurrence."

'STRONGER' ACTION

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. told senators that the chamber can use its appropriations power to insist its right to review treaties.

"Assuming that the political question doctrine was raised again, a co-equal branch of government is not powerless," Locsin, a former congressman, said.

"The congress can exert pressure. Perhaps, even stronger than going to court is by simply imparting it in our budgets, by simply teaching us a lesson," he said.

Locsin told senators his department has yet to send a notice to the US signifying the Philippines' intention to cancel the VFA, despite an order by Duterte.

The VFA, which governs the conduct of US troops deployed in the Philippines, mandates Manila and Washington to notify each other about an intention to withdraw from the pact, which will take effect 180 days later.