Senate discussed role on VFA abrogation with lawyers, former lawmakers

The Senate seeks to clarify the powers of both the legislative and executive departments on abrogating foreign agreements to the Supreme Court.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with the National Defense, Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation Committee has planned to ask the Supreme Court on the role of the Senate with regards to ending treaties with other states. This was done after the panel hearing held for Senate Resolution No. 305, which specifies that termination of any treaty should only be valid after Senate concurrence.

The issue was raised due to the notice of termination delivered by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to the United States, stating its withdrawal from the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The said withdrawal was done without Senate approval or recommendation.

In the hearing, the Senate invited its former members Sen. Francisco Tatad and Sen. Rodolfo Biazon to give their insights. DFA Special Assistant, Igor Bailen, was also invited to represent the agency’s position on the matter. Lawyers Harry Roque, Mel Sta. Maria, and Ranhilio Aquino were also present to state their legal views.

During the discussion, Bailen stressed that the treaty does not need Senate concurrence as the President is the main architect of foreign policy in the country and was merely exercising the powers vested to him in the Constitution. “The President’s prerogative as the chief architect of the nation’s foreign policy has long been acknowledged sacrosanct as a Constitutional cornerstone,” he said.

This was followed by former Presidential Spokesperson Atty. Harry Roque who stated that the present Constitution limits the Senate’s role on participating in concurring treaties and that the VFA is an executive agreement that need not Senate approval.

However, Atty. Mel Sta. Maria said that the President’s decision to withdraw from the treaty is an affront to the institution and all treaties, either for approval or rejection, must be voted in the Upper House.

Former Senator Tatad, one of the senators present during the treaty’s ratification, said that without any concurrence from the Senate, the treaty is considered to be in effect.

Atty. Ranhilio Aquino, for his part, advised that the Senate should present a resolution to the President regarding its position on the matter. If junked, the Supreme Court, according to the college dean, can outline the roles and duties of both branches whenever this situation arises. “If the Palace disregards the resolution, that is then that an actual controversy exists and then the matter would be ripe for the Supreme Court to decide,” Aquino said.

Sen. Franklin Drilon, the author of the said resolution, said that they will consider the advice but stressed that the stance of the Senate, is that their consent is needed before any such treaty is abrogated. 


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