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Go: No senator plans to replace Sotto

By Mario Casayuran 

A political ally of President Duterte in the 24-member Senate said yesterday no one has explicitly signified any intention to replace Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III.

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go (MALACAÑANG PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go (MALACAÑANG PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

“The Senate is a collegial body.  It is not composed of only one person.  As far as I know, majority of the sitting senators still trusts the leadership of Senate President Tito Sotto III,’’ Senator Christopher Lawrence ‘’Bong’’ Go said.

There are rumors of a possible Senate leadership change after Sotto, Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon and Senator Panfilo M. Lacson questioned the unilateral abrogation of the 21-year-old RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) by President Duterte.

Sotto and Drilon are set to file a petition this week before the Supreme Court questioning the termination of the VFA.

Lacson, in a chance interview, said he supports the petition to clarify the question of whether or not the abrogation requires the concurrence of the Senate, the country’s treaty-ratifying body.

Last week, the Senate adopted Resolution 312 asking the President to reconsider his plan to terminate VFA while the Upper Chamber conducts a “thorough” review of the military accord. It was authored by Sotto, Drilon and Lacson.

Seven senators abstained in the voting on Senate Resolution 312. They are Go, Imee R. Marcos, Ronald ‘’Bato’’ dela Rosa, Francis Tolentino, Pia Cayetano, Cynthia A. Villar and Ramon ‘’Bong’’ Revilla Jr.

Last January 23, the President gave the US government 30 days to rectify the visa cancellation of his political ally Senator dela Rosa or he would abrogate the two-decades-old military accord.

Last February 11, the Philippine government formally notified the United States government of its intention to terminate the VFA.

‘’This decision (to abrogate the VFA) is in line with President Rodrigo Duterte’s independent foreign policy, a move which—as I have repeatedly expressed in my previous statements—I fully support,’’ Go said.

Go said he understands and respects the views of his fellow senators with regard to the position of the President to terminate the VFA.

‘’We are a separate branch of government and it is the right of each senator to express his or her views. After all, we are a working democracy,’’ he explained.

‘’I, however, believe that the termination of the VFA is a chance for us to write a new and better chapter in Philippine–United States relations. We should now be able to renew our friendship, reaffirm our ties and resume cooperation as true co-equals,’’ he stressed.

‘’As to the leadership of the Senate, there is a smooth working relationship between the executive branch and the Senate headed by Senate President Tito Sotto III. Despite some differences in opinion, the Senate as a whole has been very supportive of the legislative agenda of President Duterte,’’ he added.

Drilon said he and Sotto would join other senators in filing a petition that will question the decision of the President to terminate the VFA without the concurrence of the Senate.

“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,” he said the other day.

Lacson said, ‘’It is best that this is clarified so that we will know our way forward if there is a treaty that we will ratify. More or less we will foresee our role if this will be abrogated unilaterally by our country through executive branch, [or] through our President.’’

Drilon said since the Constitution was silent on the termination of treaties and international agreement, it is only the Supreme Court that can rule with finality on the issue.

“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, which termination has far-reaching consequences, in the hands of one man,” he added.

“It is our firm belief that if treaties and international agreements the President entered into cannot be valid without the approval of the Senate, the termination of, or withdrawal from, the same should only be effective with the concurrence of the Senate,” Drilon said.

‘’Once ratified and concurred in by the Senate, a treaty or an international agreement becomes part of the law of the land. Hence, a treaty may not be undone without that shared power that put it into effect,” he added.

Drilon also reiterated his call for Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, to report out Senate Resolution 305, a measure that seeks to assert the role of the Senate in the termination or withdrawal of a treaty.

In 2018, Drilon and other senators filed a petition urging the Supreme Court to declare the Philippines’ withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC) “invalid or ineffective.”

Drilon said once the High Court ruled in favor of the ICC petition, the termination would be deemed invalid and the membership of the Philippines in the ICC would be restored.

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