President Rodrigo Duterte presides over the 46th Cabinet Meeting at the Malacañang Palace on Monday, March 2. | Malacañang photo by Rey Baniquet

PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States may face some legal challenges as several senators this week voted on a resolution asking the Supreme Court to determine the Senate’s role in treaty abrogations.

In a 12-0-8 vote, the Senate on Monday, March 2 adopted a resolution that would seek the high court’s ruling on whether there needs to be Senate concurrence in treaty termination.

“I respectfully adhere 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,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in an interview with Rappler. 

This vote comes after the Senate last month previously debated whether the president had the power to unilaterally revoke international agreements.

Sotto is slated to file of a petition before the Supreme Court within the week. 

Senators who sided with the Senate President include Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Joel Villanueva, Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay, Richard Gordon and Manuel “Lito” Lapid. 

Senators Christopher “Bong” Go, Ronald dela Rosa, Aquilino Pimentel III, Imee Marcos, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr, Francis Tolentino and Cynthia Villar abstained, while Senators Manny Pacquiao and Pia Cayetano were unable to vote. 

“They did not want to offend the president… That is the reason why they abstained because if you feel that a resolution is wrong, then you vote against,” Sotto said.

‘Independent policy’

Malacañang reiterated Duterte’s desire to have an independent foreign policy on Monday, stressing that the Philippines is prepared to face the consequences that may arise out of the termination of any executive agreement or international treaty.

“The position of the president is to have an independent foreign policy. And that means if any treaty or agreement is abrogated, then necessarily certain consequences will follow,” said presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo in a press briefing. 

“The president has already said that he has studied that. So we are prepared for whatever consequences that may arise out of the abrogation or termination of any executive agreement or treaty,” he added.

This comes after six United States senators reportedly want the U.S. Trade Representative office to consider revoking Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) on the Philippines’ exports to the U.S., according to Business Mirror. 

Currently, the U.S. is the Philippines’ biggest export market, third-largest trading partner, and fourth-largest import source.

According to the American senators, the U.S should refrain from entering into future trade negotiations with Manila until the country’s “human rights records has vastly improved.” 

Panelo also said that Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez is free to hold discussion with his U.S. counterparts about another possible military deal between the two countries. 

“I don’t think you can stop the Ambassador [Romualdez] from entertaining initiatives coming from his counterpart,” he said, adding that it is part of “diplomacy.”

However, he stressed that the discussions are only “exploratory talks” since Romualdez was not given the authority by Duterte to negotiate with U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, to craft a new military agreement between the two countries.

“Whatever. Baka (Perhaps) they want to talk. Hayaan mo na silang mag-usap (just let them talk),” Panelo said.

Following Duterte’s order, Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin, Jr. sent the U.S. a notice to terminate the two-decade old VFA. The treaty is said to be terminated 180-days after the notice. 

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