Malacañang on Wednesday said President Duterte can terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States anytime and need not ask permission from the Senate concerning the revocation of the agreement.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made the remarks in response to Senator Panfilo Lacson’s advice to the President to read the Constitution.
Earlier, Lacson said the Senate’s concurrence is needed before Duterte can abrogate the military pact between Manila and Washington.
In defending the President, Roque said “Duterte did not only read the Constitution, he is also a lawyer and passed the bar examination wherein one of the questions or subject areas is the constitutional law.”
While Lacson is right that treaties or international agreements need the concurrence of the Senate, Roque said the VFA is not a treaty, according to a Supreme Court decision.
Roque clarified that VFA’s role is to implement the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) which aims to boost the defense and security cooperation between the Philippines and the US.
“It only implements the treaty and the treaty the VFA is implementing is the Mutual Defense Treaty,” he said.
The VFA is a 1998 military pact that allows US troops who will participate in joint exercises with Filipino soldiers to visit the Philippines sans visa and passport.
The Philippines, upon Duterte’s order, formally terminated the defense deal with the US on Feb. 11 last year but Duterte later put the order on hold.
Roque also said that while there are pending cases before the Supreme Court whether the abrogation of VFA would need the concurrence of the Senate, there is no temporary restraining order against it, so the President can still abrogate the deal.
In December last year, the President threatened to abrogate the VFA if the US could not provide the Philippines with its COVID-19 vaccines.
However, Duterte later said America has to pay if it wants to keep the VFA.
Senator Richard Gordon, meanwhile, said it was unacceptable to tell the Senate to keep its mouth shut on issues concerning international agreements such as the VFA.
He said while he respects the President’s power to set foreign policy, he said the Senate has a role as well in international agreements.
Gordon was reacting to a tped speech in which President Duterte slammed Senator Panfilo Lacson and said lawmakers had “nothing to do with” the country’s VFA with the United States.
He also pointed out that the 1987 Constitution requires concurrence by at least two-thirds of the 24-member Senate before any international agreement that the Philippines signs becomes binding.
The Senate, Gordon said, is the forum of the people.
“We are allowed our opinion just as President Duterte is allowed his opinion and that’s what makes living in a democracy very beautiful,” Gordon said.
“The President can say something and we can disagree and we don’t have to go to war with each other,” he said.
“I think the dialogue enriches the positions of our country if we’re all able to listen to each other instead of shouting at one another,” he added.
The President’s remarks against Lacson came after the senator addressed the US government in a tweet that said not all Filipinos were extortionists who demanded payment for the continuation of VFA.
In related developments:
* Chief presidential legal counsel said Lacson misinterpreted the constitutional provision on treaties and said it did not apply to the VFA. He said this was not surprising, since Lacson was “not…schooled in law. Being a “non-lawyer,” Lacson “necessarily and mistakenly believe[d]" that he has a role in the Philippines’ present policy on VFA, Panelo said.
* Former House speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Wednesday urged the public to trust President Duterte’s handling of the VFA, saying he had the best interest of the country at heart.