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Six Duterte allies in Senate abstain from voting on Resolution No. 312

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Six senators allied with President Duterte have distanced themselves from the Senate’s appeal against the hasty abrogation of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

Senator Francis Tolentino, Senator Christipher Bong Go and Senator Imee Marcos (MANILA BULLETIN)

Senator Francis Tolentino, Senator Christipher Bong Go and Senator Imee Marcos (MANILA BULLETIN)

During the Upper Chamber’s session on Tuesday, Senators Pia Cayetano, Christopher Go, Imee Marcos, Ramon Revilla Jr., Francis Tolentino, and Cynthia Villar registered their abstention on Resolution No. 312, which was adopted Monday night to call on President Duterte to reconsider his plan to withdraw the VFA pending the Senate’s review of the implications of such move.

They joined Sen. Ronald dela Rosa who abstained from voting on the measure Monday. The cancellation of his US visa prompted Duterte’s threat to terminate the VFA.

Citing “separation of powers,” they said the President has all the authority to decide whether or not to terminate the 1998 military pact with the US.

“Does the President have the power to abrogate a treaty under the 1987 Constitution? I say yes, considering the President’s role as the chief architect of our nation’s foreign policy. This includes the decision to terminate the existing Visiting Forces Agreement, a political process with regional and international consequences,” Tolentino said in his lengthy explanation that cited several jurisprudences and the 1987 Constitution.

Go, who is Duterte’s long-time aide, said he “personally believes that as Chief Executive and Chief Architect of our foreign policy, it is within his power and prerogative to cause the review and termination of treaties and agreements, taking into consideration the best interests of our sovereign democracy.”

“The President has already expressed his view on the matter, and it is my position that we should respect the President’s decision,” he added.

Marcos’ manifestation, meanwhile, caused a brief stir in the Senate plenary when she moved to reconsider the adoption of the resolution “because the passage of this resolution was without our knowledge that the vote was in fact taken.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, in response to the neophyte senator, said, “That is not the fault of the leadership of the Senate, you were not in the hall. If you were in the hall, you should have objected.”

Marcos explained that although she was present, she “was not aware” that the chamber was already adopting the resolution, then proceeded to question the quorum of the February 10 session.

“That is not true, because once the roll call has been called and there is no roll call thereafter, that is a continuing implication that there is a quorum,” Sotto said, adding that someone should have questioned the quorum then. Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri backed him.

“Next time, stay in the hall,” lectured the Senate chief.

The Senate had to suspend its session for a few minutes to explain to Marcos the chamber’s procedures.

She later withdrew her motion and expressed her abstention, saying that President Duterte “clearly has a free hand in the formulation of foreign policy.”

Cayetano, like Marcos, said she supports a resolution “that does not include specifically advising or urging the President.” Villar and Revilla simply manifested their abstention.

Sotto, who was one of the authors of Resolution No. 312, maintained that the measure does not intend to impose on the President the Senate’s sentiment.

“The Presidency and the Senate have their roles in foreign affairs. We represent the same nation but we can differ in perspectives. And the perspective of the majority of the members of the Senate is that we should maintain cordial relations with friends and allies,” he told the chamber.

Despite the abstention of the six senators, 14 other senators voted to adopt the resolution.

The Philippines has officially sent the notice of termination of the VFA to the US Embassy in Manila on Tuesday.

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