Monday, January 27, 2020

Senate can’t review, petition VFA abrogation: lawmakers

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 27, 2020): Senate can’t review, petition VFA abrogation: lawmakers (By Jose Cielito Reganit)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday said the Senate cannot review or even petition President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to scrap the government’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

In an interview, Sotto said the Senate can only discuss the planned VFA abrogation either, in a caucus or a hearing, with the purpose of coming up with a unified statement.

“Perhaps ang kailangan ay pag-usapan lang (we only need to talk about it), I am not proposing anything other than to talk about it,” he said.

“Ang importante, mapag-usapan para yung mga perspective or opinion ng mga iba't ibang senador ay mapag-usapan namin tungkol dito (What is important is we hear the perspectives and opinions of the other senators during the discussion),” Sotto added.

He stressed though that any “unified” statement that will come out would have no bearing on the President’s decision.

“It will just be a statement. It will just be a sense of the Senate,” Sotto said.

Sotto also refused to give comment on Duterte’s move to scrap the VFA because he wanted to “retain” the independence of the three co-equal branches of government.

”As Senate President, I would rather not indulge into saying what is right or what is wrong,” he said. “Bottom line, the buck stops with him, he is the President, that is his decision.”

He said it would also be better for the US to review Duterte’s perspective on his decision.

Sotto said Duterte’s abrupt decision to terminate the VFA could not just be blamed on the cancellation of Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s US visa.

“Maaaring isa sa mga catalyst lang yun pero hindi yun ang trigger, maraming trigger (it could just be one of the catalysts, but it was not the only trigger, there were many triggers),” he said, noting of the various accusations hurled by US senators against the Duterte administration.

“Siguro maganda rin na alamin muna ng United States, ano ba talaga ang mga nasa likod ng issue na ito, di ba? Baka sakaling doon pa lang, magkaroon ng dialogue, para mapabuti ang usapan (Wouldn't it be better if the US find out what really are the reasons behind the issue? Hopefully, from there we can already start a dialogue, and pave the way for better negotiation) thereafter,” Sotto said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson echoed Sotto’s sentiments, saying the purpose of the planned review on the VFA’s abrogation should be clarified first, lest the Senate could be seen as “unnecessarily encroaching on the authority of the Executive.”

In a separate interview, the veteran lawmaker pointed out that the role of the Senate is to “ratify, concur or reject” a bilateral agreement, and nothing more.

“That is why I said that we may have to be clarified kasi baka ma-misinterpret ng executive branch kung ano ang purpose namin (because the Executive might misinterpret our purpose). Bakit kami magre-review ng provisions ng isang (Why will we review the provisions of a) treaty that the president has already decided?” he said.

“Wala kami talagang magagawa e (We cannot really do anything),” Lacson added.

Like Sotto, Lacson said he will not also give any advice on Duterte’s move to terminate the VFA.

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