Senators to file SC petition to assert right in VFA abrogation next week: Lacson

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2020 02:51 PM

US Marines arrive in an amphibious assault vehicle during the amphibious landing exercises of the US-Philippines war games promoting bilateral ties at a military camp in Zambales province, April 11, 2019. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/File

MANILA - Senators are expected to appear at the Supreme Court next week to file a petition that will assert the Senate's right in the abrogation of the Philippines' Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Thursday.

"Next week ifa-file yun (It will be filed next week). I will join the Senate President in the filing of petition as co-petitioner," Lacson said in a press conference.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said he was finalizing the petition's wording before taking the documents to the high court.

Under the Constitution, the Senate's approval is needed before a treaty can be enacted into law. But the highest law of the land is "silent" on whether the Senate's nod is also required before an accord can be canceled.

In 2018, the Senate filed a similar petition before the high court, asserting the chamber's right to reject President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to unilaterally withdraw the Philippines from the International Criminal Court.

The Supreme Court has yet to issue a ruling on the petition.

CABINET MEMBERS VS VFA ABROGATION

Before deciding to file the VFA petition, the Senate sought advice from some Cabinet members and several experts who "unanimously" agreed that the Philippines is "not prepared" to pull out from one of its pacts with the world's strongest military power, Lacson said.

"Yung mga nakausap namin, unanimous naman sila na meron silang apprehensions. Minsan nae-express nila [in Cabinet meetings] pero hindi ganun kadiin," he said, without naming particular department heads.

(The people we've talked to are unanimous on having apprehensions. Sometimes, they are able to express it in Cabinet meetings, but not really assert it.)

"At least, pag kami-kami lang, di sila (Cabinet members) nag-hesitate magsabi na mali ang decision to abrogate because we have not prepared for it," he said.

(At least, when it's just among us, these Cabinet members do not hesitate in saying that the decision to abrogate is wrong because we have not prepared for it.)

Since 1998, the same year the VFA was signed, the Philippines received $1.3 billion worth of assistance from the US, Lacson said, adding that under Duterte's administration alone, Washington gave Manila some $900 million through different programs.

The Philippines has been receiving "52 percent of the entire military assistance and financing of the US in the entire Asia-Pacific region," thanks to Manila's Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with Washington, Lacson said.

The MDT, signed in 1951, guarantees that either the US or the Philippines will come to the aid of the other in the event of an attack. The VFA, meanwhile, governs the conduct of US troops while in the Philippines.

"'Pag-inalis mo ang VFA, parang hinubaran mo ang MDT," Lacson said.

(If you remove the VFA, it's like stripping off the MDT.)

"Ang nangyari riyan, sabi nga ng mga from the US, yan ang legal protection nila. Kasi what if sa joint exercises, may nadisgrasya? Walang legal cover, walang legal protection, which the VFA is providing," he said.

(Views from the US say that that served as their legal protection. What if some of personnel meet an accident during joint exercises? There will be no legal cover, no legal protection, which the VFA is providing.)

"So once the VFA is formally terminated, ang MDT will just be as good as a paper treaty. Hindi nila i-implement yan," he said.

(So, once the VFA is formally terminated, the MDT will just be as good as a paper treaty and cannot be implemented.)

Earlier this month, Duterte unilaterally withdrew from the VFA after the US canceled his ally Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa's visa, and after some US senators criticized his administration over the detention of opposition Sen. Leila de Lima.

The Department of Foreign Affairs sent a notice of VFA termination to its US counterpart last Feb. 11.

US President Donald Trump had said he was "fine" with canceling the VFA, noting that Duterte's decision will help the world's largest economy to "save a lot of money."