'Capricious, whimsical' cancellation of VFA, 'a serious mistake': law experts tell senators

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 20 2020 09:02 PM

MANILA - The "capricious and whimsical" cancellation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) of the Philippines and the United States without Senate concurrence is a "serious mistake," law experts told senators Thursday, as the chamber sought advice on its right in treaty abrogations.

While the executive has the right to withdraw from treaties, it needs the concurrence of the Senate to ensure that the right is not abused, Far Eastern University Institute of Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria told members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

"The right may be clear, but that right can be abused," Sta. Maria said, citing how lawmakers were allowed to discuss the cancellation of the Military Bases Agreement between Manila and Washington in 1991.

"I think that's the very essence of the shared competency of the legislature and the executive department on the matters of treaty making and treaty withdrawal," he said.

Former Sen. Francisco "Kit" Tatad said withdrawing from the VFA at this time without Senate concurrence "is a serious mistake that cannot be inflicted on the history of our diplomacy."

"The decision to abrogate the VFA is a political act and not subject to a judicial review... [but] since he cannot have a valid treaty without Senate concurrence, he should not be able to abrogate that treaty without Senate concurrence," he said.

Sta. Maria said the reason for the abrogation of the accord should be reviewed to check if it was done in the interest of the Filipino people.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to pull out from the VFA, which was signed in 1998 to govern the conduct of US troops in the country. American forces frequently visit the Philippines for exercises and training.

Duterte's decision stemmed from the cancellation of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa's US visa and the continuing criticisms his administration gets from American lawmakers.

"Was the unilateral termination illegal and a rude affront to the majesty and authority of this august body, the Senate? I submit it is," Sta. Maria said.

"If not for the cancellation of the visa of Sen. Dela Rosa, this issue would probably not have come out," he said.

Former Presidential Spokesperson and now law professor Harry Roque gave a different view, saying Senate concurrence is not needed in the abrogation of treaties.

"When the constitution is silent, it cannot be implied. When the constitution requires concurrence, it will explicitly require concurrence," he said.

Next week, the Senate will formally file a petition asking the Supreme Court to rule on the issue, Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters.

The "petition for declaratory relief" will ask the high court "to define the boundaries in so far as withdrawal of treaties are concerned," Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said in a separate interview.

At least 7 senators earlier declared they will not support the Senate leadership's move to bring the issue to the high court. They include Senators Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, Imee Marcos, Francis Tolentino, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Christopher "Bong" Go, and Bong Revilla.

All 7 lawmakers ran under the administration-backed Hugpong ng Pagbabago, which was led by Duterte's daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.