THE executive department appears to be keeping the Senate out of the negotiations between the Philippine and the United States governments on the proposed expansion of the American military presence in the country.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, raised this suspicion, citing news reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in order to accommodate the US request, will recommend to President Benigno Aquino 3rd an executive agreement instead of a treaty so that the agreement will not require Senate consent.
Under Section 21, Article 7 of the Constitution, “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate.”
This is the reason why the DFA reportedly wants to have the proposed “increase rotational presence” of US troops in the Philippines be made in the form of an executive agreement so that it will not need the ratification of the upper chamber, Santiago said.
She said there is a problem with the plan because Executive Order No. 459, or the “guidelines in the negotiation on international agreements and its ratification,” issued in 1997 defined international agreement as “a contract or understanding, regardless of nomenclature entered into between the Philippines and another government in written form governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or two or more related instruments.”
Santiago pointed out that under the definition, an executive agreement falls under the category of an international agreement which requires the concurrence of two-thirds of the Senate.
“The issue now is whether under this executive order, an executive agreement can be entered into by the President without the concurrence of the Senate,” she said.
But Senate President Franklin Drilon in a statement Friday is convinced that ratification of the Senate is no longer be necessary if the activities in the framework agreement are governed by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Drilon assured that Senate will scrutinize every detail of the framework agreement in order to ensure that it will not infringe on the Constitution.
“The devil is in the details. As a senator, it is my obligation to our people to ensure that any agreement the government will enter into is legal and in accordance with our Constitution. I will examine the outcome of the negotiations to see to it that it will not infringe on the lives of our people and their guaranteed rights,” the Senate president said.
Drilon also asked the DFA and the DND to brief and orient the Senate on outcomes of initial talks between the Philippines and US.