Senate adopts resolution questioning Duterte power to solely end treaties

MANILA, Philippines – Voting 12-0-8, the Senate on Monday, March 2, crossed party lines and adopted Senate Resolution No. 337, seeking to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the need for Senate concurrence in treaty termination.

This would be the basis for the filing of a petition, possibly on Thursday, March 5, of a petition before the High Court, led by no less than Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

President Rodrigo Duterte will be "impleaded as a formal party" in the petition, according to opposition Senator Franklin Drilon, because it was Duterte who ordered the termination of the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) without Senate concurrence. 

The constitutional question was triggered by the Philippine government's notice of termination of the VFA, which the Senate earlier said should just be reviewed first.

Sotto, the sponsor of the resolution and a Duterte ally, said that the move is not an affront to the President but rather "purely a question of law."

"I respectfully ahere to the rule that, yes, the President of the Philippines is the sole representative of the country in foreign affairs. I do not intend to go against the tide. I just want clarity. We want clarity. And I hope that once and for all, the honorable Supreme Court shed light on this purely question of law," Sotto said. 

In his speech, the Senate President cited the acte contraire view wherein constitutions that require parliamentary approval for treaties subject to ratification likewise, by implication, need the approval of the parliamentary when ending such agreements.

"This question being raised by this representation involves an issue of transcendental importance that impacts on the country's constitutional checks and balances. It presents a constitutional issue that seriously affects the country’s legal system as well as the country’s relations in the international community," Sotto said.

Administration senators opposed the measure, as they insisted that the President is the "chief architect of foreign policy."

Along with Sotto, 11 other senators voted in favor of the resolution:

Meanwhile, 7 senators who are fierce allies of the President abstained. They are: 

Senators Manny Pacquiao and Pia Cayetano, who both arrived right after the voting was held, were not allowed to cast their vote. Even with the additional numbers, the resolution would still be passed with Pacquiao saying that he would have voted in the affirmative had he arrived on time.

Senate vs Executive?

Sotto said that the petition is seeking for a declaratory relief and a petition for mandamus, which is set to be filed before the Supreme Court on Thursday "at the earliest" because of its "urgency and absolute necessity."

Marcos asked whether the petition would name Duterte as respondent, or Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea as his "alter ego."

"I understand that it would be the Executive Secretary as it's habit, but being the alter ego of the President, it effectively also drags the President into the case," Marcos said.

Drilon explained that Duterte will have to be included as a respondent. "We cannot implead any other person because it is the President who initiated the termination. And in all cases as it presently stands, the President can terminate any other cases as he has done with the Rome Statute, as he has done in the VFA."

Lacson said that voting in favor of the resolution is to "vote for the institution."

"I just would like to disabuse the mind of my former comrade-in-arms in the PNP," Lacson said, referring to Dela Rosa. "I voted not against the President. I voted for the institution where I belong called the Senate of the Philippines."

In the 17th Congress, 14 senators co-authored a resolution declaring that the chamber has a say in treaty termination. –

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.