Lacson reminds Duterte: Senators have say in international pacts

Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday, February 16, reminded President Rodrigo Duterte that even non-lawyers like him know that senators have a say in international agreements entered into by the Philippines.

Lacson said this after Duterte criticized him for speaking out on the latter’s latest rants against the United States in relation to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) – which the President claimed to be a policy solely “vested in the president and not with the senators or the vice president.’”

“I may not be a lawyer like him. Last time I read the Constitution, a senator has something to do with international agreements,” Lacson said in a statement, in reference to Duterte's tirade that the senator did not know better since he was not a lawyer like him.

He added: “The President should refresh his memory by reading Article VII Section 21 of the 1987 Constitution. It says: Article VII SECTION 21. 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.”

Then President Joseph Estrada ratified the VFA on October 5, 1998. On May 27, 1999, the Philippine Senate voted 18-5 to concur with the ratification, resulting in the effectivity of the VFA. (EXPLAINER: Visiting Forces Agreement)

The senator noted that in March 2020, the Senate filed before the Supreme Court a petition for declaratory relief and mandamus, asking the High Court to compel the President Duterte to seek its concurrence in terminating the VFA.

Vice President Leni Robredo was also on the receiving end of Duterte’s tirade on Monday, February 13, again belittling her for commenting on his manner of speaking about his ultimatum to the US – that Washington should “pay” if it wants the VFA to continue.

Lacson reminded the President that the Constitution guarantees free speech.

“Even an ordinary citizen of this country who feels embarrassed by his harsh, undiplomatic remarks concerning an existing  bilateral agreement is guaranteed under the same Constitution to express his views. Not anyone, even he as President, can curtail that basic right,” he said.

Robredo 'clear about her responsibility' as elected official

Robredo's spokesperson Barry Gutierrez said in an interview on DZRH on Tuesday, that it is "saddening" that Duterte resorts to insults instead of addressing issues squarely whenever the Vice President comments on his pronouncements. 

"Tuwing magsasalita sa ano mang isyu, lagi na lang nagiging ganyan ang sagot sa atin. Imbis na sagutin doon sa level noong kung ano ba talaga iyong pinag-uusapan, eh paninira at pangungutya ang ating inaabot," Gutierrez said in response to questions.

(Whenever she speaks up about any issue, it always ends up like this. Instead of answering the issue, he resorts to defamation and insults.)

He added that Robredo has always been "very clear about her responsibility" as an elected official.

"Kung tingin niya mayroong bagay na dapat punahin, pupunahin niya iyon. Sa kabilang banda naman, kung tingin niya mayroong bagay na dapat purihin, gagawin niya iyon dahil iyan naman ang kanyang pananaw e.... Ilang beses na niyang sinabi na hindi importante iyong popular ang sabihin, ang importante tama ang sinasabi mo," Gutierrez said.

(If she thinks something should be criticized, she would criticize it. On the other hand, if she thinks something is praiseworthy, she would do it because that's her view.... She has said several times that what's important is that you say something that is right, and not something that's popular.)

On Duterte's insistence that Robredo is not fit to be president, Gutierrez said the Vice President has already proven her leadership skills, especially when her office stepped up to help in the pandemic response when the government was lagging in this effort.

"So klarong-klaro na kung kahandaan lang ang pinag-uusapan, napatunayan na ni VP Leni iyan (So it's very clear that in terms of readiness, VP Leni has already proven that she is)," said Gutierrez.

When asked, Gutierrez said Robredo has not yet made up her mind on seeking the presidency in 2022 but she will make a decision "at the right time." 

Responding to Lacson on Wednesday, February 17, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque stressed that Duterte has read the Constitution and, as a lawyer, passed the Bar examination where constitutional law was among the subject areas.

Roque also reiterated that Duterte is the "chief architect of our foreign policy" which is not in the Constitution but is supported by jurisprudence. – with reports from Mara Cepeda/Rappler