By William Casis

Senate President Vicente Sotto III vowed to protect Senate independence even at the risk of losing political alliances.

A day after leading his colleagues in challenging the unilateral abrogation of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Sotto reiterated his commitment to always put a premium on public welfare and the interests of the Senate over his personal concerns.

The Senate on March 9 formally asked the Supreme Court to draw the constitutional boundaries on the roles of the Senate and the executive branch in the cancellation of international agreements and treaties, taking off from the recent termination of the VFA which Malacañang did without getting the approval of the Senate.

Sotto said the legal move was meant to “assert the sense of the power of the Senate that we know and we think that we have.”

He insisted that senators must be consulted on vital matters like the termination of international agreements and treaties just as it’s concurrence is required before the same are ratified.

“This role is particularly important to ensure that the power to forge partnerships with our neighbors and allies remains impartial. The Senate must do its part in protecting the checks and balances in our government,” Sotto said.

The Senate President set aside concerns that he could lose his alliance with Malacañang because of the Senate action.

“Personal interests should never outweigh public welfare. I will always choose to fight for the independence of the Senate. That is the legacy that I would like to leave this institution when my term comes to an end,” Sotto said. 

In a 56-page petition for declaratory relief and mandamus, Sotto, along with Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon asked the SC to declare that a treaty previously concurred in by the Senate should require the concurrence of at least two thirds of the members Senate upon its withdrawal.

Named respondents in the petition were Executive Sec.  Salvador Medialdea and Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr.

The senators requested the SC to order the executive branch to send the withdrawal notation to the Senate for votation.

The petition was filed after the DFA on February 11 sent a Notice of Withdrawal of the VFA to the U.S. Embassy. According to Article IX of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the withdrawal shall take effect within 180 days from the receipt of the Notice of Withdrawal.

“As such, the Senate has until August 9 or the 180th day from the Notice of Withdrawal within which to question the unilateral withdrawal by the President from the VFA,” the petition stated.

President Rodrigo Duterte pulled out of the accord after Washington canceled the visa of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa.

“(The) Senate brings the present petition before the Honorable Court to fully and finally settle the issue of the requirement for concurrence by at least two-thirds of all members of the Senate in cases where the Philippines, through the executive department, decides to withdraw from, or terminate a treaty that was duly concurred in by the Senate,” the petition stated.

The senators, however, clarified that they do not intend to undermine the President’s prerogative of implementing the country’s independent foreign policy. The petition merely seeks to subject the notice of withdrawal to the proper deliberative process by the Senate, as required by Section 21, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.

“Specifically, the petition seeks to address the issue of whether the foregoing constitutional provision requiring the concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate also applies to termination of or withdrawing from treaties that have been validly ratified by the President and concurred in by the Senate,” the senators said.

They cited the petition filed by members of the Senate minority bloc in May 2018, asking the SC to review the constitutionality of the executive department’s unilateral revocation of the Rome Statute.

“The recurrence of the issue in such a short period of time highlights the urgency for a definitive ruling on the matter for the demarcation and constitutional limits of the fundamental powers of government,” the senators said.

“The unilateral revocation by the executive of any treaty or international agreement without Senate concurrence violates the principle of checks and balances and separation of powers enshrined in the 1987 Constitution,” they added.

Last week, 12 senators voted to adopt Resolution No. 337 asking the SC to rule on whether or not the concurrence of the Senate is necessary in the abrogation of a treaty or international agreement.

Seven senators abstained from the petition. They were Senators Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Imee Marcos, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Bong Revilla, Francis “Tol” Tolentino, Cynthia Villar and Dela Rosa.