‘Unacceptable’ to tell Senate to ‘keep mouth shut’ on int’l pacts, says Gordon
MANILA, Philippines — Senator Richard Gordon said it was “unacceptable” to tell the Senate to “keep its mouth shut” on issues concerning international pacts, adding that the chamber has the right to speak on the matter.
Gordon made the remark after President Rodrigo Duterte who, in a taped speech aired Monday, chided Senator Panfilo Lacson and said the lawmaker has “nothing to do with” the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.
In a privilege speech delivered on Tuesday’s session, Gordon said he “respects the title of the presidency” but stressed the Senate’s role in international agreements.
“It’s not my intention to criticize the President here but what I do find really unacceptable is that the Senate must keep its mouth shut on the matter,” Gordon said.
“I want to protect the Senate just in case other people might mistake it to mean that we are being muzzled in the Senate,” he added.
He pointed out that the 1987 Constitution requires concurrence by at least two-thirds of the 24-member Senate before any international agreement that the Philippines signs become binding.
“The Senate is the forum of the people. We are allowed our opinion just as President Duterte is allowed his opinion and that’s what makes living in a democracy very beautiful,” Gordon went on.
“The president can say something and we can disagree and we don’t have to go to war with each other. I think the dialogue enriches the positions of our country if we’re all able to listen to each other instead of shouting at one another,” he added.
While he acknowledged that the President’s “strategies” in engaging with other countries like the US or China should not be interfered with, Gordon said that the Senate is a co-equal branch of government and “can react” to statements concerning foreign policy.
“This forum of the people that represents 110 million Filipinos must speak on matters of national security; we certainly have the right to speak and talk about it,” he added.
The President’s remarks against Lacson came after the senator took to Twitter over the weekend, addressing the US government that “not all” Filipinos were extortionists who demand payment for the continuation of VFA, an apparent reaction to a remark made by Duterte earlier that the US should pay if it wanted the PH-US VFA to continue.
Lacson has since deleted the tweet, saying the President probably only wanted a “fair shake of the agreement,” but that Duterte could have said it in a “more diplomatic way.”
Meanwhile, Gordon said the President could have let his foreign and national defense secretaries negotiate with the US on the VFA rather than making a demand for payment in public.
“I believe diplomacy should be undertaken quietly then. I think quiet diplomacy is far more effective,” the senator said.
“I think he should say that silently and it should allow his able ministers, particularly [Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana] and [Foreign Affairs] Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin, to do the negotiations for him rather than making these statements,” he added.
In making clear that he is not criticizing the President, Gordon said a chief executive should be allowed to undertake “strategies” on foreign policy.
Still, the senator reiterated that the upper chamber of Congress “must have its say to ratify [a treaty] or to disagree.”
“That is guaranteed under the Constitution,” he said.
There is a pending petition before the Supreme Court filed by senators in March last year to affirm the chamber’s power requiring its concurrence in the termination of treaties.
The senators filed the petition following the Philippines’ withdrawal from its VFA with the United States in February last year.
However, the process of the VFA termination has been held off twice, first in June 2020 and a second time in November 2020.
The foreign affairs department has said that the Philippines and the US will iron out their differences over the VFA this month.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.