Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said senators, like everyone, have the constitutionally-guaranteed right to express their opinions on various issues in the country, including its foreign affairs.
Pimentel, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said this Saturday even as he maintained his position that President Duterte had the prerogative to terminate the treaties entered into by the Philippines, specifically the Visiting Force Agreement (VFA) with the United States.
“Actually sa free speech pa lang na probisyon ng ating Constitution, kahit di ka senador pwede ka nga dapat magkomento sa anumang nangyayari sa bansa (under the free speech provision of our Constitution, even if you are not a senator, you can comment on whatever is happening in the country): COVID-19, national debt, budget, foreign relations. Pwede kasi garantisado nga ang free speech sa Constitution (You may because free speech is guaranteed under the Constitution),” he said in an interview over radio DWIZ.
Pimentel, however, defended Duterte’s recent criticism of Senator Panfilo Lacson, who commented on his demand for payment from the US in exchange for keeping the VFA.
Duterte said Lacson, who chairs the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, should not meddle because he is “not part” of it.
Pimentel, a partymate of Duterte, said the President was only pointing out that the termination of the VFA was within his authority — a position he supports.
“As a lawyer ka nagsasalita, lawyer-president siya nagsasalita, ako agree ako sa statement na ‘yon eh (He was speaking a lawyer, he is a lawyer-president, and I agree with his statement). That when it comes to the termination, not entry and effectivity, ‘when it comes to the termination of the VFA this belongs to my power as president’. Tama ‘yon (He is correct).”
Pimentel was not among the 14 senators who supported a petition before the Supreme Court to settle the dispute on whether or not the concurrence of the Senate is needed in the abrogation of international treaties and agreements.
For him, the Senate’s approval will only be needed before treaties are entered into.
“Kung dalawang fence ‘yan, doon ako sa same side, sa fence ni President Duterte, pareho kami ng opinyon (If we have two sides of the fence, I will be on the same side, the fence of President Duterte because we have the same opinion),” he said.
Just the same, Pimentel said senators, especially since they are also involved in foreign relations, may comment and add to the discussions on the terminations of the VFA.