Senators ask SC to define Senate’s role in treaty abrogation

Robie de Guzman   •   March 9, 2020   •   751

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III and five other senators on Monday, March 9 filed a petition urging the Supreme Court (SC) to rule on whether or not the Senate’s concurrence is necessary in the abrogation of a treaty previously concurred in by the upper chamber.

In a 56-page petition for declaratory relief and mandamus, Sotto and Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Ralph Recto, Franklin Drilon, Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon asked the SC to declare that a treaty previously concurred in by the Senate should require the concurrence of at least two thirds of its members upon its withdrawal.

The lawmakers also requested the SC to order the executive branch to send the withdrawal notation to the Senate for votation.

The petition was filed after the Department of Foreign Affairs on February 11 notified the United States of its intention to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement, which was signed between Manila and Washington in 1999.

The deal outlines the guidelines about the treatment of their troops when visiting the US or the Philippines. It includes provisions on visa and passport policies for US troops and the American government’s right to retain jurisdiction over its personnel, among others.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the final termination of the VFA following the US’ move to cancel the visa of his ally, former National Police chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa. Duterte has also repeatedly criticized the US for its ‘disrespectful’ actions including meddling in the country’s internal affairs.

The military pact will be effectively terminated on August 9 or 180 days from the US’ receipt of the notice of termination.

Named respondents in the petition were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

“As such, the Senate has until August 9, 2020 or the 180th day from the Notice of Withdrawal within which to question the unilateral withdrawal by the President from the VFA,” the petition stated.

“(The) Senate brings the present petition before the Honorable Court to fully and finally settle the issue of the requirement for concurrence by at least two-thirds of all members of the Senate in cases where the Philippines, through the executive department, decides to withdraw from, or terminate a treaty that was duly concurred in by the Senate,” the petition stated.

The senators, however, clarified that they do not intend to undermine the President’s prerogative of implementing the country’s independent foreign policy.

They added that the petition “merely seeks” to subject the notice of withdrawal to the proper deliberative process by the Senate, as required by Section 21, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.

“Specifically, the petition seeks to address the issue of whether the foregoing constitutional provision requiring the concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate also applies to termination of or withdrawing from treaties that have been validly ratified by the President and concurred in by the Senate,” the lawmakers said.

They cited the petition filed by members of the Senate minority bloc in May 2018, urging the high court to review the constitutionality of the executive department’s unilateral revocation of the Rome Statute.

“The recurrence of the issue in such a short period of time highlights the urgency for a definitive ruling on the matter for the demarcation and constitutional limits of the fundamental powers of government,” the senators said.

“The unilateral revocation by the executive of any treaty or international agreement without Senate concurrence violates the principle of checks and balances and separation of powers enshrined in the 1987 Constitution,” they added.

Last week, 12 senators voted in favor of adopting Resolution No. 337 which seeks to ask the SC to rule on the issue. Seven senators abstained from the petition.

Next Bar exams will be held in November 2021, Supreme Court says

Robie de Guzman   •   September 8, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The next Bar examinations will be scheduled in November 2021, the Supreme Court announced Tuesday.

In a bulletin posted on its Twitter account, Bar Examinations chairperson, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said the examination periods and venues for the next licensure test for aspiring lawyers will be announced in a separate bulletin.

It can be recalled that the high court postponed this year’s Bar exams “due to increasing number of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the prevailing quarantine protocols all over nation, and the continuing uncertainty.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the SC traditionally holds the Bar examinations in November of every year and announces the results either in April or May the following year.

Senate recommends forming committee to look into PhilHealth funds

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 4, 2020

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon is recommending the formation of a committee that will look into the funds of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth).

The Senator laments that even the Department of Finance cannot determine PhilHealth’s state in as fas as its budget is concerned due to the agency’s weak information system.

Drilon wants an Ad hoc committee composed of financial experts from the Social Security System (SSS), the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and other insurance corporations that will verify PhilHealth’s financial status.

This is to determine how much subsidy the agency can provide for next year.

One of PhilHealth’s officials previously revealed that the agency’s reserve funds will not be enough if the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues. The official also revealed the agency will only last until 2022 which was questioned by several lawmakers.

“How much really does it need in order to continue its operation? Is P71 billion the correct amount? Is it more? Is it less? This [the committee] will also give us the opportunity to review how much should be due to our health system in general,” Drilon said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III supports this recommendation. Sotto agrees that there is a need to review PhilHealth’s financial situation.

“We suggested yesterday that there should be an urgent and extensive review and inspection of the corporation’s financial life,” he said. -AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

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Transfer of detainees to local jails or BuCor suspended until Sept. 30 – SC

Robie de Guzman   •   September 2, 2020

The Supreme Court’s Office of the Court Administrator announced that it has extended the suspension of issuance of commitment order for the transfer of newly-arrested individuals to local jail units or of convicted persons to the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

In a new circular posted on SC’s social media account, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said the two circulars suspending the commitment orders for the transfer of persons deprived of liberty (PDL) to different jail facilities are extended until September 30.

Marquez said the extension is in consideration of the different levels of community quarantine still being enforced in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SC earlier said the suspension of the issuance of commitment orders for newly-arrested or convicted inmates will last until August 31 to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and to minimize the movement of inmates.

In the first circular, the SC said newly-arrested persons should remain in the custody of local police units unless local Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) jail units are already able to admit newly-arrested persons.

The second circular, meanwhile, states that all convicted PDLs who should have been transferred to the BuCor should remain in the facilities of the BJMP.

Detained persons awaiting or facing trials are placed under the custody of the BJMP while those convicted are under the BuCor.

Both the BuCor and the BJMP have recorded cases of COVID-19 in their facilities with reported fatalities.

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