Filing of treaty abrogation plea set Monday

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    THE Senate has rescheduled for Monday the filing of its clarificatory petition with the Supreme Court seeking legal enlightenment on whether or not the president has the sole authority to abrogate international treaties.

    The office of Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the petition, which was expected to be filed on Thursday, is still being finalized.

    The Senate on Monday adopted Resolution No. 337 asking the SC to define the Senate’s role in the termination of international treaties and agreements.

    Twelve senators voted in favor of the resolution, no one voted against, while seven abstained.

    The senators who voted in favor of SRN 337 want the high court to determine if the Senate should have a say in the annulment of treaties, similar to the role that it plays in the ratification of the same.

    The Senate’s move came after President Duterte ordered the transmission of the notice of termination of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, which was received by the US Embassy in Manila.

    The presidential decision was seen as retaliation to the cancellation of the visa of Sen. Ronald dela Rosa and the supposed continuous interfering of the US in the country’s affairs.

    Sotto said the petition to be filed will not center on the termination of the VFA.

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that a “good number” of Cabinet secretaries have reservations on the termination of the VFA because the country will lose much-needed aid given by the US to the military given the aggressive stance of China in the West Philippine Sea.

    Lacson had earlier said that a US visa is a conditional authorization granted to a foreigner that may be canceled without explanation or justification while the VFA is a bilateral agreement that went through some careful and diplomatic discussion.

    Sen. Francis Pangilinan said China will now have the advantage in its claims in the entire WPS and further embolden it in militarizing disputed territories in the area.

    “China will have the upper-hand in the region, yes, which means they are provided with an even wider opening to become even more aggressive in pursuing their illegal claim to our detriment. This threatens and further undermines our sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea and our own country’s national security,” Pangilinan said.

    Pangilinan said it is a reality that the Philippines cannot defend its sovereign waters from foreign aggression considering the lack of capacity of the armed forces.

    “The fact is our exclusive economic zone consisting of an area even larger than our territorial land now being claimed by China is too large for us to defend by ourselves and we will need allies in its defense and plain and simple China cannot be an ally in this effort,” he added.

    Meanwhile, despite the August 9 end of the VFA, United States and Philippine military officials will proceed with their meeting next week to discuss exercises and other activities they may pursue even outside of the VFA.

    A senior military official said the two sides are expected to present recommendations during the three-day meeting of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board standing committee from Wednesday to Friday in Camp Aguinaldo.

    “Basically, they (two sides) will be recommending activities for 2021. With the fate of the VFA, what are we going to do? Let’s just agree to disagree on how we are going to move forward,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

    Military exercises and activities between the two countries are traditionally discussed a year before their execution. There are over 300 engagements between the two countries scheduled this year, including the Balikatan exercise in May.

    The result of the discussion in the standing committee meeting will be finalized during an executive committee meeting in Manila in July before these are approved by the co-chairmen of the MDB-SEB (AFP chief Gen. Felimon Santos and US Pacific Command chief Adm. Philip Davidson) in August in Hawaii.

    “The point of the matter is we just continue discussing, anyway they are just discussions.

    We are going to discuss what are the exercises and activities that may be affected by the termination of the VFA. Anyway, we still have the Mutual Defense Treaty,” the source said.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs notified US of the Philippine government’s decision to terminate the VFA on February 10. The termination will be effective 180 days after. The VFA provides legal cover to visiting US forces.

    Without the VFA, American troops will have to apply for visa if they want to stay in the country beyond 21 days. Also, the Americans will also have to pay customs duties without the VFA.

    Officials have said the two countries can still hold small-scale exercises, sans the VFA though Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana declared that “once the termination (of the VFA) is final, we will cease to have exercises with them.”

    The source said among those that may be affected by the termination of the VFA are counter-terrorism and humanitarian assistance and disaster response training under the Security Engagement Agreement.

    “These counter-terrorism exercises, transnational, and humanitarian and disaster are done under the Security Engagement (agreement) which is anchored on the VFA. Without the VFA, these exercises will be affected,” he said.