Dispatch from Crame No. 717: Sen. Leila M. de Lima: Duterte’s cancellation of VFA is a grievous error


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Duterte’s termination of the VFA is epically wrong. It is a gigantic geo-political blunder, and a grievous misstep that may further unsettle the functioning of our very own government — one that is supposedly built on constitutionalism and the principle of checks and balances.

VFA is an important cog in a whole system of defense and security arrangements with the US that includes the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) from which the Philippines has benefitted for many years, particularly in the matters of joint training and exercises of our soldiers, the modernization program of the AFP, and the ready assistance to our countrymen during calamities. We also have a working partnership with the US in countering terrorism and cyber attacks, and in checking the inflow of trafficked persons and illegal drugs to the country. This set-up with the US, of which the VFA is an integral part, has likewise allowed us preferential treatment in foreign military financing and procurement of defense equipment from the US.

While indeed it may be timely now to review certain provisions of the VFA — or even the MDT and EDCA – its sudden termination without benefit of evaluation by the legislative branch and the defense and foreign affairs departments smacks of deliberate intent to set aside any generally beneficial agreement with the US or any other foreign Western power, especially if we are to seriously consider the aggressiveness of China in grabbing our territories in the West Philippine Sea and in threatening the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

I join former SFA Albert Del Rosario in his warning of a domino effect of the VFA abrogation on other security pacts with the US (and probably with other governments as well) that “would only serve to actualize our pivot to China against the strong and vehement objections of our people.” It really looks like the endgame for Duterte in all of these is to align the Philippines more closely with China and Russia, away from the US and our other old allies.

Worse, the unilateral – nay, dictatorial – move of Duterte to abrogate the VFA is a stinging slap to the institution of the Senate, which has the shared treaty-making power under the Constitution. In Senate Resolution No. 289 in the 17th Congress, which was authored by Sen. Frank Drilon and signed by a significant no. of the senators, including myself, we emphasized that “the principle of checks and balances, historical precedent and practice accepted as law in most jurisdictions require that a termination, withdrawal, abrogation or renunciation of a treaty or international agreement can only be done with the same authority that gave it effect – executive ratification with Senate concurrence.”

I am praying for the spirit of independence and the sense of statesmanship to prevail among my colleagues at the 18th Congress as they are being called to assert the institutional role and prerogatives of the Senate in this current crisis, and in the face of an overreaching autocrat. I hope they affirm the language and spirit of the Drilon resolution.

I hope also that this time around, should a proper case be filed with it, the Supreme Court, will act and act urgently, on the same core issue that was raised previously in the minority Senators’ petition questioning the constitutionality of Duterte’s unilateral withdrawal from the Rome Statute. SC cannot afford to remain passive when confronted with such issues of transcendental importance to our system of government and the running of our major institutions of power.

Hindi pwedeng pabayaan lang ang isang Pangulo — lalo pa ang ganitong klaseng panggulo — to decide all by himself on vital matters like this that impinge on our national life and our standing in the international community.

Sana ang pambansang interes at ang kapakanang panlahat — na siyang kabalintunaang ginagamit na rason ni Duterte (ayon kay Panelo) sa pagsantabi sa VFA – ang siyang tunay na manaig sa isyung ito at sa lahat ng usaping sangkot ang sambayanang Pilipino. ###

(Access the handwritten version of Dispatch from Crame No. 717, here: https://issuu.com/senatorleilam.delima/docs/dispatch_717)

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