Duterte holds ground on VFA end

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    PRESIDENT Duterte on Monday night said no one can change his mind to reconsider his decision to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.

    “They cannot compel me. I refuse to be compelled. I have terminated it. Tapos ang problema ko. Wala na akong problema diyan (My problem is over. I no longer have a problem with this). Insofar as I am concerned, we are beginning to count the 180 days for them to pack up and go,” the President said in a late-night press conference in Malacañang.

    Duterte reiterated he has no plans to go to the United States and will also not entertain any discussions about the VFA with American officials.

    The President gave the remarks after senators led by Senate President Vicente Sotto III filed a petition for declaratory relief and mandamus before the Supreme Court and asked the court to compel respondents Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to course the notice of withdrawal of the VFA to the Senate.

    Yesterday, Sotto vowed to always protect the independence of the Senate even at the risk of losing his alliance with Malacañang over the chamber’s decision to bring the issue before the SC.

    “Personal interests should never outweigh public welfare. I will always choose to fight for the independence of the Senate. That is the legacy that I would like to leave this institution when my term comes to an end,” said Sotto, who will step down as senator in the year 2022.

    Sotto said the legal move was meant to “assert the sense of the power of the Senate that we know and we think that we have.”

    He insisted that senators must be consulted on vital matters like the termination of international agreements and treaties just as its concurrence is required before the same are ratified.

    “This role is particularly important to ensure that the power to forge partnerships with our neighbors and allies remains impartial. The Senate must do its part in protecting the checks and balances in our government,” Sotto said.

    Former SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the petition filed by senators could have been dismissed by the court outright if it did not include the plea of mandamus.

    Carpio, who retired from the SC last year, said the Senate’s petition for declaratory relief should have been filed before the regional trial court and not the high court because “a petition for declaratory relief can only be filed in the lower courts, in the regional trial courts.”

    “The SC has no jurisdiction over declaratory relief because the SC does not give advisory opinion. It only decides on actual controversies. But there is already an actual controversy after the President has sent the notice of withdrawal so I don’t think declaratory relief is proper but they included mandamus which could save the petition,” Carpio told CNN Philippines in an interview.

    Carpio said mandamus means the court can compel the executive department to course the withdrawal (from the VFA) to the Senate. “Which means the Senate should concur or disapprove,” he added.

    Carpio suspected some senators sought declaratory relief from the SC because they wanted to be “soft” on the President.

    “I understand they wanted to be soft on the President. They did not want to use the term grave abuse of discretion because if they filed a petition for certiorari and mandamus, you have to allege that the President committed grave abuse of discretion,” he said.

    A declaratory relief means petitioners want the SC to clarify issues or questions about a specific law while a mandamus plea seeks to compel the respondents to act or do something. – With Raymond Africa and Ashzel Hachero