Senators eyeing to question VFA termination before SC

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 16) — Senators are considering questioning the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) before the Supreme Court.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III told CNN Philippines Sunday that this is among the options they are considering in response to the Duterte administration’s move to end the Philippines’ military pact with the US, despite being advised against it by some of his Cabinet members.

Sotto said, however, that they are still “formulating [their] stance” and will decide this week.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said in a statement earlier in the day that Sotto and other senators will be crossing party lines to question the VFA’s termination without the Senate’s nod before the Supreme Court.

The argument which they are eyeing to raise before the high court is similar to the one made by opposition senators before the Supreme Court in questioning the Duterte administration’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“It is our firm belief that if treaties and international agreements the President entered into cannot be valid without the approval of the Senate, the termination of, or withdrawal from, the same should only be effective with the concurrence of the Senate,” Drilon said in a statement.

Drilon said Sotto is already preparing a petition and has asked him to co-author it. The minority leader said he accepted the Senate President’s invitation.

The Constitution requires that the Senate concur in treaties for these to be ratified. However, it does not say if the Senate’s nod is also needed when the administration decides to exit from a treaty.

The opposition senators’ petition assailing the Duterte administration’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute is still pending before the Supreme Court.

Drilon said that if the Supreme Court sides with their argument that the Senate’s concurrence is also required when the administration decides to leave a treaty, then the Duterte administration’s termination of the VFA would also be considered invalid.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. in early February to send notice to the US that it wants to end the VFA, despite his Cabinet members advising against it.

READ: Locsin: PH could lose up to ₱10 billion in aid if VFA ends

The US has received the Philippines’ notice and US President Donald Trump has shrugged off the country’s termination of the pact, which defense experts have warned will be detrimental to the Philippines.

EXPLAINER: The Visiting Forces Agreement

Duterte has said he is terminating the VFA because of moves in the US Senate to ban Philippine officials involved in the detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima from entering the US and to sanction those involved in extrajudicial killings in the country.

The final straw was when the US canceled Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa's tourist visa. The Philippine senator, known to have close ties with Duterte, acknowledged that the revocation of his visa may have something to do with alleged extrajudicial killings under his watch as chief of the Philippine National Police from 2016 to 2018.