PH-US deal needs Senate OK–Senator Santiago
MANILA, Philippines—An executive agreement covering the proposed increased rotational presence of American troops in the country will also need the Senate’s approval to be valid under Philippine laws, international law expert and constitutionalist Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Friday.
Santiago, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, made the remark in reaction to news reports that the Department of Foreign Affairs will recommend to President Aquino an executive agreement to accommodate the supposed US request for increased presence in the country because the Constitution requires a treaty to be ratified by the Senate.
This developed as Senate President Franklin Drilon asked the departments on national defense and on foreign affairs to brief the Senate on the results of the initial talks between the Philippines and the United States on the proposed expansion of the US military presence in the country.
Drilon called on both departments “to observe strict compliance with the Constitution and ensure that the proposal is not a move to make the US military’s presence in the country permanent.”
Santiago blamed old foe former President Fidel Ramos for issuing in 1997 the executive order that she said effectively gave away the President’s power to enter into executive agreements and required Senate concurrence even for such deals.
“’Yan ang problema n’yo kasi di ako in-elect nung 1992 [That’s your problem because you didn’t elect me in 1992],” Santiago told a convention of physicians at a Mandaluyong City hotel.
Santiago said Ramos’ Executive Order No. 459 that provided guidelines in the negotiation of international agreements and its ratifications defined an international agreement as “a contract or understanding, regardless of nomenclature, entered into by the Philippines and another government in written form governed by international law, whether embodied in single instrument or two or more related instruments.”
This definition, Santiago said, placed executive agreements in the category of international agreements. She said that under the Constitution, international agreements, like treaties, require the concurrence of 16 out of 24 senators to be ratified.
“[Ramos] was given the power to enter into an executive agreement that no longer needed the concurrence of the Senate, but to show that he knew the law, he came up with these guidelines that in effect removed from him the power to enter into an executive agreement and transferred it to the Senate for its concurrence,” Santiago said.
“Now this is the result. Even if they call it an executive agreement … the Senate concurrence is indispensable,” Santiago added.
Drilon, however, said ratification by the Senate would no longer be necessary if the agreement would be consistent with the PH-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) as claimed by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.
Drilon said that while he assured Del Rosario that the Senate would be cooperative on the proposed expansion of US presence, he vowed to scrutinize every detail of the framework agreement to ensure it would not infringe on the Constitution.
“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,” Drilon said.
Drilon said the ongoing negotiation with the US side should be transparent.
Drilon said the US troops’ presence in the country was based on the VFA which the Senate ratified during the Estrada administration. “Given that, their presence must be governed by the terms of the VFA,” he said.
“There was not part in the VFA that allows permanent basing. The framework agreement should be in accordance with the restrictions set forth under the VFA,” he added.
Responding to reporters’ questions in Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said it was premature to talk about the final form of the agreement. With TJ Burgonio