LIKE a good soldier, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. prepared the official notice to the US government that the Philippines intends to abrogate the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which is now on its 21st year. Locsin did so when he was in Washington DC, the same day that President Duterte directed the Department of Foreign Affairs to prepare the Notice of Termination.
The Senate foreign relations committee headed by Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III held a hearing yesterday on the status of this important executive decision, following President Duterte’s public rejection of the VFA. Replying to a query by Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon, Secretary Locsin said although the Notice of Termination is ready, he has not transmitted it yet to the United States government and he would only do so if there is a personal order from the President himself “and no one else.”
The hearing of the Pimentel committee on the senators’ resolution to review all RP-US treaties is timely, because not only the VFA but also the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) are current topics being discussed in political circles. There is also Senate Resolution 312 authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senator Panfilo Lacson and Drilon, which expresses the sense of the Senate for President Duterte to reconsider his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Drilon underscored his argument that the power to bind the Philippines by treaty or international agreement is vested jointly by the Constitution in the Executive branch and the Senate. He said the Charter “recognized the shared power of the President and the Senate in the sphere of foreign affairs.” Drilon emphasized that “a treaty or international agreement ratified by the President and concurred in by the Senate becomes part of the law of the land and may not be undone without the shared power that put it into effect.”
The opposition leader was emphatic on his objection to President Duterte’s sole decision to scrap the VFA that he even warned that the failure of the Senate to assert its role in the abrogation or retention of any treaty will weaken the institution. The problem here is that political analysts point out that the VFA is not a regular treaty but only an Executive Agreement because it was ratified by the Philippine Senate but the United States never saw or recognized the need to submit it for approval by the US Senate.
Drilon pointed out, “Once ratified and concurred in, it becomes part of the law of the land. I repeat that, when we ratify a treaty, that treaty becomes part of the law of the land.
Therefore, it is our submission that a treaty may not be undone without that shared power that put it into effect.”
The senator recalled that in the 17th Congress, there was Senate Resolution 289 contending that the termination of, or withdrawal from, treaties and international agreements concurred in by the Senate shall be effective only upon the concurrence of the Senate. While it was not ratified, it was supported by 14 senators who are now members of the 18th Congress.
Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Gordon minced no words when he said that the country’s foreign policy must not be dictated by whim or caprice but by the needs of the Armed Forces. He stressed that at the end of the day, what “ultimately matters” is national security and that the VFA exists because “we don’t have a military that can defend us.”
Gordon’s practical logic is that we do not enter into an agreement because we want it, but because we need it. If there is no need, we should not enter into an agreement at all. It is not up to President Duterte to pursue what is best in resolving this foreign policy issue, and we can only hope that his sound judgment is right.