Law experts assert Senate role in treaty withdrawal after ‘illegal’ scrapping of VFA

MANILA, Philippine — At least two law experts insisted on the role of the Senate in treaty withdrawal with one saying that the unilateral termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) by the President was “illegal” and a “rude affront” to the authority of the upper chamber.

During Thursday’s hearing of the Senate foreign relations committee that tackled whether or not Senate concurrence is needed in abrogating treaties, Dean Melencio Sta Maria Jr. of the Institute of Law of Far Eastern University-Makati said the executive and legislative branches of government have a “shared competency” on treaty-making.

The committee was tackling Senate Resolution No. 305 urging the Senate to assert its role in terminating treaties.

“Abuse of right. The right may be clear but that right can be abused. And I think that’s the very essence of the shared competency of the legislature and the executive department in matters on treaty-making and treaty withdrawal,” Sta. Maria told senators.

“The important question also is this: Was the unilateral termination by the executive department of the VFA illegal and a rude affront to the authority and majesty of this august body, the Senate? I submit, it is,” he further said.

He stressed that cancelling the two-decades-old military accord with the Philippines’ long-time ally “requires not a myopic knee jerk decision” but a response which results from “circumspect analysis intrinsically of its content and extrinsically of the awards or non-benefit from the same.”

Sta. Maria cited benefits of the VFA in terms of strengthening the country’s military and security.

“There is nothing to prevent the Philippines of renegotiating the agreement…the VFA alongside the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US have provided the Philippines an assurance of US military assistance in case of outside aggression and of natural calamities,” he said.

‘Alliances are not bad’ 

Sta. Maria also pointed out that Asia Pacific countries have also benefited from their military relations with the western power.

“Overall there is nothing earthshakingly evil in the VFA detrimental to our national interest,” he said.

He sighted as examples countries like South Korea, Japan and Vietnam that have good military relation with the US.

“These countries’ economies are further prospering, their security improving…Having the VFA is simply being smart,” he added.

Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, member of the 1987 Constitutional Commission, said there could be “disturbing” and “absurd” consequences should the President have unilateral authority to revoke a treaty.

“If we maintain the proposition that the President has unilateral power to bring out the revocation of treaties, then the consequences—that he can unilaterally withdraw the Philippines from the United nations or even from an integrated Asean—a consequence which would not only be disturbing but also absurd,” he said.

While he noted that the Constitution is silent on the power of Senate in treaty abrogation, he said that the termination of a treaty was a congressional function for the first decades of American history.

“We are, after all, heir to the American Constitution and the provenance of treaty provisions of the Philippine Constitution is clearly American, the American Constitution is likewise silent,” Aquino said.

“Its silence is not because it intended to confer power on the President alone because for the first few years and in fact for the first decades—if not centuries of American history—cancellation of treaties was a Congressional function rather than a presidential function,” he pointed out.

“The first treaties to be declared null and void were declared null by Congress alone,” he added.

On the other hand, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was firm in underscoring the President’s power to revoke treaties “the singular voice and authority of the country in foreign relations.”

“The President of the Philippines, being the head of state, is regarded as the sole organ and authority in external relations and is the country’s sole representative with foreign nations,” DFA Assistant Secretary Igor Bailen told senators.

The Senate is set to file a petition before the Supreme Court next week asking it to define the authority of upper chamber in treaty termination.

This after Manila formally sent notice to Washington of its intent to withdraw from the VFA on Feb. 11. The notice of termination will become effective after 180 days since the receipt of the US.

It was on Jan. 28 when President Rodrigo Duterte threated to scrap the military accord with the US over the visa cancellation of his political ally and Senate Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa

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