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Senators to question VFA termination at Supreme Court

MANILA, Philippines – Senators from both sides of the political fence will file a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) questioning Malacañang's termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he will join members of the Senate majority in raising the question of whether concurrence of the upper chamber is needed when ending treaties and international agreements.

"This will be a bipartisan move to assert the Senate's role in foreign policy. While the President is the chief architect of our foreign policy, the Constitution is clear that such a very critical role is shared with Congress, particularly the Senate," Drilon said in a statement on Sunday, February 16.

No less than Senate President Vicente Sotto III is preparing the petition, according to Drilon. The minority leader said Sotto asked him to be a co-author.

Sotto earlier said other majority senators are interested in joining them, including Senator Richard Gordon and Senator Panfilo Lacson, who had been very vocal about the scrapping of the military accord.

The names will be finalized in the coming week, added Sotto on Sunday.

Since the Philippines sent the notice to terminate the VFA to the US embassy, senators have urged the SC to rule on the petition filed by minority senators in 2018 questioning the withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, which would set a precedent in ending international agreements.

"The Supreme Court should rule on this issue once and for all. We cannot continue putting the fate of critical treaties such as the VFA...in the hands of one man," Drilon said, also pointing out that termination has "far-reaching consequences."

In Senate Resolution No. 312 adopted by the chamber, senators reiterated that they should have a say in ending treaties, even as those who are pro-administration among them maintained that President Rodrigo Duterte has the power to unilaterally end a treaty. (READ: 'Not in session hall?' 6 senators allied with Duterte withdraw vote in VFA review reso)

The President had ordered the termination of the military accord after the US canceled the visa of Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, Duterte's first Philippine National Police chief who is known as the architect of his anti-drug campaign.

Duterte also previously expressed his desire to end the military agreement with the US.

The VFA, which took effect in 1999, outlined the guidelines for the conduct of American military troops in the Philippines. It was the foundation of military exercises between the two countries, and the affirmation of the obligations under the 69-year-old Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

The MDT is a commitment to defend each other – in accordance with constitutional processes – in the event of an armed attack by a hostile party.

Top Philippine officials had advised against the termination of the VFA, warning it could compromise security as the country faces pressing threats such as terrorism and China's sweeping claims in the West Philippine Sea. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.

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