MANILA - Neophyte Senator Francis Tolentino, who has been vouching his expertise in international law, delivered on Monday his first Senate privilege speech which centered on President Rodrigo Duterte's agreement with China.
In his speech, Tolentino said “verbal agreements” between presidents are honored under international law.
"States must honor the commitments it takes upon itself under the international agreements and treaties regardless of the form used for its execution which may be written, oral, or even implied. There is no restriction on either the form or substance of international agreements," he said.
He also said such agreements are entered into especially when there are security issues that must be resolved “quickly or quietly to avoid serious conflicts”.
Tolentino insisted that Duterte "was well within his powers" when he entered an "oral agreement" with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016.
“As the chief architect of the nation’s foreign policy, the president can enter into executive agreements with other nations for the execution and implementation of the laws crafted by congress as well as treaties entered into by the state. These executive agreements do not require senate concurrence,” he said.
Tolentino's speech was also in line with his filing of Senate Bill 209 or the "Good Samaritan at Sea Bill," which seeks to provide additional safety measures for Filipino fishermen.
The arguments raised by Tolentino in his speech, however, did not sit well with Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
Drilon, during the interpellation, questioned Tolentino about the details of the supposed verbal agreement entered into by Duterte, to which Tolentino said he based his proposition on mere “anecdotal” media reports.
“If we do not know exactly the parameters of the oral agreement, how can we say that is valid under international law, that it is valid under the Constitution, so we do not know the parameters of this agreement,” Drilon pointed out.
"That is why we did not pick it up because we do not know what exactly to ratify or what exactly to revoke.. it is incumbent upon the gentleman of Cavite... to first tell us what exactly was the President entered upon,” he added.
Drilon later asked Tolentino to ask the Office of the President for details “so we can have something to debate upon”.
“Is it not logical that we place on the record officially what is the agreement and the parameters of the agreement that we had in 2016? Are we now doubting the existence of this agreement?” Drilon asked.
“I do not have in my possession the contents of the agreement,” Tolentino replied.
Drilon then asked the Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, to summon Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., to a hearing.
“If the committee will be fully constituted and we will receive a referral, then we will hear this,” Pimentel said.
Returning Senator Pia Cayetano also joined the discussion and pointed out the need for heightened cooperation among the nations of interest.
"The reason why we recognize it is precisely because of our interest,” Cayetano said.
Senator Richard Gordon, likewise, quizzed Tolentino about the points that he raised in his speech.
Temporary tension between Gordon and Tolentino arose when the latter answered the former’s question with a reminder that he came late.
Gordon then told Tolentino that he was busy all day, up to the point of signing documents that would extend assistance to the earthquake victims of Batanes.