Panelo lectures Lacson on Treaty-making 101

Published February 17, 2021, 7:26 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

Senator Panfilo Lacson just got schooled by Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo about the role of the Senate in treaty-making.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo

Panelo argued that Lacson made an error when he invoked a constitutional provision to justify a “flawed narrative” that the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) supposedly needed the concurrence of the Senate.   The President’s counsel claimed that Lacson’s mistaken belief was no longer surprising since he was not a lawyer.

Lacson recently advised the President to read the Constitution that cited the Senate’s authority in treaty or international agreements. The senator mentioned Article VII, Section 21 of the Constitution that states “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.”

But Panelo found “amusing” the temerity of Lacson, a “non-lawyer,” to advise Duterte, a lawyer, about a provision in the Constitution. He tried to “educate” Lacson that such constitutional provision was not applicable to existing agreements like the VFA, the pact governing the conduct of American troops visiting the country.

“In treading in unfamiliar terrain, Senator Lacson necessarily and mistakenly believe that he has a role in the country’s present policy on the VFA,” Panelo said in a statement Wednesday, Feb. 17.

“Unsurprisingly and expectedly, not being schooled in law, Senator Lacson erroneously cited Article VII, Section 21 of the 1987 Constitution to justify his flawed narrative…While he is free to express his thoughts on any matter, we wish to educate him that his citation is not applicable to the present discussions on the VFA, which is currently in force,” he said.

He said a plain reading of the constitutional provision will lead non-lawyers to the understanding that “senators have a role in prospective international agreements, not in existing ones.” “No wonder Senator Lacson found refuge on such provision,” he said.

Panelo explained that the ongoing talks on the VFA fall under the country’s foreign relations, “which the President, as clearly expressed by the Constitution is the chief architect of.”

He said the President is not only the Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief but also the head of state who “can end diplomatic ties with any country at will when national interest so requires.”

The only official participation of the Senate in international agreements, Panelo pointed out, is when the President desires to enter into one and decides to submit it to the chamber for concurrence.

Panelo also urged the lawmakers to let the President deal with the country’s foreign affairs.

“It would be wise and prudent for its members to allow the President to handle the foreign relations of our country and support him. Adverse and offensive remarks will derail the President’s strategic stance in promoting our interest and sovereignty,” he said.

In a televised speech last Monday, the President asserted that the Constitution provides the country’s foreign policy is “vested in the President alone” and “not with the senators or the vice president.” 

Duterte was trying to justify his demand to the United States to “pay” if it wanted to retain the VFA in the country. He was annoyed at allegations made by Vice President Leni Robredo and Lacson that his action was a form of extortion.

The military pact, signed by Manila and Washington in 1998 and ratified by the Senate a year later, contained the guidelines on the conduct of American soldiers visiting the country. Duterte earlier threatened to scrap the VFA but postponed the abrogation for another six months as the country was facing the pandemic.

Several senators have asked the Supreme Court to affirm the chamber’s role in treaty termination after questioning Duterte’s unilateral move to scrap the VFA. The petition remains pending before the High Court.