PH Senate may raise VFA abrogation issue before Supreme Court: Sotto

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 11 2020 06:12 PM

MANILA - Philippine senators may ask the country's high court to rule on the constitutionality of the administration's move to scrap the country's Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States without seeking approval from the Senate, the chamber's leader said Tuesday.

Several senators think the Senate "should have been consulted" before notifying the U.S. about the country's withdrawal from the pact as it "was also asked to agree on its ratification," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said.

"I will not be surprised if one of our members would elevate it [to the Supreme Court]," Sotto told reporters.

"Why not? So, we will be able, once and for all, (to) find out whether the provisions that we include in the new resolution we passed is correct," he added, referring to the Senate's decision to categorically require future treaties to seek the Senate's approval before ratification or termination.

The Senate "will have to make the decision" on the matter in a caucus, Sen. Joel Villanueva said in a separate interview.

"I will be in that position [to elevate it to the Supreme Court], but I will leave it to the wisdom of the senior members of this institution," he said.

Sen. Richard Gordon shared Villanueva's position, saying the high court is mandated to rule on deadlocks between government institutions.

"It is not the absolute prerogative of the president to cancel the VFA," Gordon said during the chamber's session.

"The prevailing view is that it is a political question... The Supreme Court has the duty [to settle that]," he said.

Duterte canceled the VFA after the US canceled the visa of his ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, who spearheaded the government's war on drugs during his tenure as chief of the national police.

BONG GO TO ABSTAIN

Duterte's former aide, Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go, said he "respects the views" of his fellow senators, and would abstain should the chamber vote on whether or not to take that course.

"Okay lang kung gusto nila. Pero ako, mag-abstain ako sa botohan kasi I support the President," Go said.

("It's fine if that's what they want. But as for me, I will abstain during the voting because I support the President.")

"Kung ano ang desisyon niya, he has the prerogative, he has the authority to terminate," he said of Duterte.

("Whatever his decision is, he has the prerogative, he has the authority to terminate.")

"In any case, we can enter into a new agreement when we have a new President come July 2022."

Under the VFA, which was signed in 1998 to set out governing rules for the conduct of American troops in the Philippines, the deal can only be rescinded 180 days after a party sends the other a notice for termination.

On Monday, the Senate passed Resolution 312 urging Duterte to reconsider his decision to terminate the VFA, saying the legislative body needs to review it first.

Last year, opposition senators asked the Supreme Court to decide if the Constitution allows the president to unilaterally pull out of international agreements without approval from the Senate. The high court has yet to issue a final ruling.