Duterte can abrogate VFA – Palace

Published February 17, 2021, 1:17 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte can pull out from the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US) anytime.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque stressed this Wednesday in response to the statement of Senator Panfilo Lacson that the Senate’s concurrence is needed before Duterte can abrogate the Philippines’ agreement with the US.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr.(CAMILLE ANTE / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr.

While Roque recognized that there is a pending case in the Supreme Court that challenged President Duterte’s unilateral termination of the VFA with the United States, the High Tribunal has yet to issue a ruling on the petition filed by some senators who sought to assert the Senate’s role in any treaty termination or withdrawal.

“Pero bagama’t wala pa pong desisyon, wala naman pong temporary restraining order na naisyu ang ating Korte Suprema na dahilan para ang Presidente ay pupuwede pong bumitaw sa VFA kahit kailan po (Although there is no decision yet, there is no temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court on the power of the President to pull out from the VFA anytime),” Roque said.

Lacson earlier told Duterte to read the 1987 Constitution to find out that senators have a say in any treaty and international agreement entered into by the government. 

The senator made the statement after Duterte defended the country’s’ foreign policy as “vested in the President alone” and brushed aside the role of senators on the matter. Duterte made the argument in dismissing allegations that his demand for United States payment in exchange for the visiting forces agreement (VFA) with the country was tantamount to extortion.

“Senator Lacson po, hindi lang binasa ng ating Presidente ang ating Saligang Batas, abogado po siya.  Pumasa po siyang bar kung saan isa sa tinanong o subject area para sa examination ay ang constitutional law (Senator Lacson, the President not only read the Constitution, he is also a lawyer. He passed the bar where one of the subject areas in the examination was constitutional law),” Roque said over state television.

“Walang pong kaduda duda na ang chief executive or ang pangulo ang chief architect ng ating foreign policy (There is no doubt that the Chief Executive or the President is the chief architect of our foreign policy),” he said.

Roque admitted that the President’s role in foreign policy was not stated in the Constitution but has been included in many decisions of the Supreme Court.

On the role of senators in treaty-making, Roque recognized that such agreement needs the concurrence of the members of the Senate. 

The Palace official however pointed out that the VFA, which governs the conduct of visiting American troops in the country, was “not a treaty” but an agreement to implement the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951. The Supreme Court has already ruled on the matter in the cases of Bayan vs Zamora as well as Salonga vs Executive Secretary, he added.

“Ito po ay pagpapatupad lamang ng isang tratado at ang tratado na pinapatupad ng VFA ay ang Mutual Defense Treaty (This is just to implement a treaty and the treaty being implemented by VFA is the Mutual Defense Treaty),” Roque said.

The MDT commits the Philippines and the United States to help each other if either of them is under external armed attack in the Pacific. The treaty was signed on August 30, 1951.

Last year, the President ordered the termination of the VFA over alleged inequities in the treaty provisions as well as alleged US meddling in the country’s affairs. The termination of the pact however has recently been postponed for another six months.

The military pact between the Philippines and the United States was ratified by the Senate in 1999 after the closure of the American bases in 1991.