Senators ask SC to clarify Senate’s role in treaty termination

Katrina Domingo and Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 09 2020 01:55 PM | Updated as of Mar 09 2020 03:02 PM

Senators ask SC to clarify Senate’s role in treaty termination 1
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 (UPDATED) - Philippine senators on Monday asked the country's high court to clarify the Senate's role in the cancellation of treaties, after President Rodrigo Duterte withdrew the Philippines from its Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States.

The law requires Senate approval before the president can enter treaties with other countries, but the Constitution does not specify if the same applies to the cancellation of accords, Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters.

Sotto filed the petition at the Supreme Court appealing for declaratory relief and mandamus against the offices of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. over the VFA abrogation.

A declaratory relief is a statement by a court regarding the supremacy of national law, while mandamus compels a person to perform a public duty.

The Senate President appeared personally at the SC compound in Manila City, together with Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson.

"We will ask whether an Agreement very difficult to enter into can be revoked by a simple letter. Parang pag-aasawa o pagpasok sa anumang kontrata, pwede ba ang simpleng, 'Ayaw ko na. Game over?'"(It's like marriage or signing a contract. Can it be as simple as, 'I don't want it anymore. Game over'?), Sotto told reporters earlier Monday.

"In cases like these, the Supreme Court is the Oracle we consult."

A copy of the petition shows the Senate's plea for the court to declare that a "withdrawal from or termination of a treaty or international agreement" previously concurred in by the legislative body must also require the "concurrence of two-thirds" of all senators.

It also asked for the issuance of an order, directing Medialdea and Locsin to "refer the Notice of Withdrawal to the Senate... for its concurrence, pursuant to Section 21, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution." The notice was received by the US Embassy in Manila last Feb. 11, and effectivity is expected 180 days later.

Last week, 12 senators voted in favor of seeking the court’s guidance on the issue, while 7 others abstained from voting supposedly to “avoid offending” Duterte.

The petition was filed weeks after some lawmakers questioned Duterte’s unilateral decision to abrogate the 1998 agreement, which governs the conduct of American troops stationed in the Philippines.

Duterte pulled out of the accord after Washington canceled the visa of his ally, Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, who headed the government’s war on drugs when he served as national police chief.

Some U.S. officials have expressed concern over the apparent disregard for human rights in the Philippines' anti-narcotics campaign under the Duterte administration.