"A nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and its standing in the international community are denigrated when the Chief Executive, acting without benefit of good counsel, acts wantonly and deliberately fails to act to protect the nation’s territorial and other interests."
The recent notification by the Philippine government of its desire to terminate the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement) with the US has again brought to the fore a concept that is a major element of the separation of governmental powers under the presidential system of government. I am referring to the concept that diplomacy is the preserve of the Executive Department and that the President of the Philippines is the sole determinant of this country’s foreign policy.
Never have I accepted that concept. Neither did the framers of the Constitutions of 1935, 1973 and 1987, who required that a proposed treaty obtain the concurrence of two-thirds of the members of the Senate. Obviously, they believed that the making of a treaty—one of the principal products of diplomacy—was a function that could not be entrusted solely to the Executive Department, of which the President of the Philippines is the head. The saying that two or more heads are better than one, is more true in a matter as consequential and as sensitive as entering into a treaty.
The conduct of a nation’s diplomacy by its Chief Executive can happen under the best of circumstances—the Chief Executive is statesmanlike, enjoys a high level of public trust, is known for expertise in international relations, etc.—but bad results ensue when the contrary is the case. Clearly, a nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and its standing in the international community are denigrated when the Chief Executive, acting without benefit of good counsel, acts wantonly and deliberately fails to act to protect the nation’s territorial and other interests. Then the evil that the Constitution’s authors sought to prevent with the Senate-concurrence provision becomes a reality.
The contrast between the three-coequal-branches form of government and the parliamentary system of government becomes relevant in this regard. In the parliamentary form of government, the issue of Executive Department/Presidential preeminence in external relations does not arise because the Executive Department and the legislature are joined in one body, to wit, Parliament. The Chief Executive is an MP (member of Parliament), and so is the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. All the foreign-policy moves of the incumbent administration, including treaties, are presented to, and discussed by, Parliament, from their initiation; they are joint Executive-legislative exercises from the very start.
In the US, from which the Philippine Constitution derived its provisions on intra-government relations, lawmakers have been pushing back against the notion that the Executive Department—more specifically, the President—can conduct foreign policy without the advice and consent of Congress. The most recent expression of this resistance was the new law prohibiting President Donald Trump from taking further offensive actions against Iran without prior consultation with and approval by Congress. In effect, the US legislators told Donald Trump: “Mr. President, the conduct of our country’s foreign policy is not your responsibility solely; it is a responsibility that you share with us, the elected representatives of the American people.”
The Senate petition regarding the notice of abrogation of the VFA is the Philippine Congress’ counterpart of the US legislature’s push-back against the Trump administration’s claim of Executive Department monopoly of diplomatic policymaking authority. In effect, Senators Sotto, Drilon and their colleagues are telling Rodrigo Duterte: “Mr. President, the conduct of foreign relations is a joint responsibility of your administration and the Senate.”