VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Pimentel's claim that Duterte may unilaterally cancel VFA needs context

Read this fact check in Filipino

Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III’s claim that President Rodrigo Duterte may cancel the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) “with or without” reason needs to consider the case pending before the Supreme Court (SC).

STATEMENT

In a Jan. 24 press release, Pimentel, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, reacted to Duterte’s threat of terminating the VFA with the United States (U.S.) government after learning that the U.S. visa of his former police and corrections chief Sen. Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa was cancelled.

Pimentel’s statement read:

"Re VFA, that agreement should always be subject to review. The President may cancel it with or without a reason. He can even say that times have changed and it is no longer needed by the country."

Source: Senate of the Philippines, Senator Koko Pimentel on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, Jan. 24, 2020

FACT

The question of whether the president can unilaterally terminate a treaty or an agreement with other countries has not yet been decided by the Supreme Court.

There are at least two petitions filed at the high court in 2018 contesting whether Duterte, indeed, has the sole authority to withdraw from a treaty without the concurrence of the Senate.

The two petitions were filed separately by a group of opposition senators, including senators Leila de Lima and Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan, and the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court (PCICC). This came after the Duterte government initiated its withdrawal from the ICC. (See The Philippines and the International Criminal Court)

The country's exit from the ICC took effect on March 17, 2019, even without the decision of the SC.

Under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the concurrence of the Senate is needed in order to ratify a treaty:

“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.”

Source: Official Gazette, 1987 Constitution, Section 21, Article VII

The VFA is a 1999 agreement between the Philippines and the U.S. outlining the terms and conditions on the entry and visit of U.S. military personnel in the country. Article IX states that the VFA will “remain in force” until the “expiration of 180 days from the date” either the Philippines or the U.S. issues a written notice expressing its intent to terminate the agreement.

Duterte first threatened to scrap the VFA in December 2016 after the US-backed Millenium Challenge Corporation did not renew its US$433-million grant to the Philippines due to “concerns around rule of law and civil liberties” under his administration. He repeated this threat on Jan. 23 after learning that Dela Rosa’s US visa was cancelled.

On Jan. 24, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. announced in a tweet that he and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana were starting the termination process for VFA by contacting the Senate first.


Sources

Senate of the Philippines, Senator Koko Pimentel on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, Jan. 24, 2020

RTVMalacanang, Ceremonial Distribution of Benefits to Former Rebels (Speech) 1/23/2020, Jan. 23, 2020

Office of Senator Leila De Lima, G.R. No. 238875: Senator Francis "Kiko" N. Pangilinan, et al. v. Alan Peter Cayetano, et al.

Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Petition to the Supreme Court against the withdrawal of the Philippines from the ICC,

Official Gazette, 1987 Constitution

Official Gazette, Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines regarding the treatment of Republic of the Philippines Personnel visiting the United States of America, Oct. 9, 1998

Official Gazette, Q&A on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement

United Nations, Philippines’ Notice Withdrawal from the ICC, March 17, 2018

Radio Television Malacanang, Arrival from Cambodia and Singapore State Visits (Speech), Feb. 21, 2017

Millenium Challenge Corporation grant deferred

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. official Twitter account, @dndphl Del Lorenzana & I—as Vice and Chair of USVFA..., Jan. 24, 2020


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

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