If nothing prevents President Duterte from revoking the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States on account of the cancellation of  Sen. Roland “Bato” de la Rosa’s US visa and other unspecified “grievances,” there may not be enough reason left for our country, our government, and our President to keep any of the world’s respect.  We would have made ourselves an international pariah state, and it would be well nigh impossible even for China and Russia to take us seriously.

Many people associate Bato, as former Philippine National Police chief, with many killings in the drug war;  to them his “election” to the Senate is nothing short of a serious mistake. But even if he were universally hailed as the paragon of  virtue or excellence, the temporary denial of his “right to travel” to the US, for reasons known only to that government, does not in the least justify the proposed ill-tempered response. Neither our government nor our people should die or kill for anybody’s travel document.

We learned of Bato’s loss of visa from his own announcement, not from the US embassy or the State Department. If this was in response to the US Senate resolution calling for the application of the Global Magnitsky Act on those responsible for the prolonged detention of Sen. Leila de Lima and for extrajudicial killings in the drug war, we have to ask whether the State Department action was limited to Bato de la Rosa alone, and whether in his case,  it is limited to the cancellation of his visa alone. The law empowers the US government to freeze bank accounts and other assets of target individuals in the US.

In his latest statement, the President reassured those who may have doubted his earlier statement on the agreement. “I was not joking ,” he said.   “The day I said it, it’s the day that I decided to terminate it.” It wasn’t a whim either, he declared, no matter how whimsical his decision appeared. At the same time he banned all Cabinet members and other officials from traveling to the US, except that he had to exempt Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., and his own daughter Sara Duterte Carpio, the mayor of Davao, who are both in Washington, D.C.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs should handle the VFA from here on,  but he did not give Locsin a direct or express order to serve the US embassy in Manila or State in Washington official notice terminating the agreement. The VFA may be terminated by either party after six months’ notice.

Responding to DU30’s tantrum, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, has proposed an overall review of the security treaties with the US, including the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the VFA. He was apparently still in a state of shock and disbelief like his other colleagues,  and did not know precisely what the Senate can do and what it cannot.

The most economical reaction would have been to caution DU30 not to over-react, considering the serious national interest at stake. A simple formulation which we learned in kindergarten would have sufficed: look before you leap.  If Pimentel could not manage such friendly advice, he could have initiated a non-binding Senate resolution expressing dismay over the way a serious foreign policy and external defense-related matter was being addressed. But Pimentel is completely ill-advised if he believes the Senate has the authority or the competence to review treaties for the Executive Department.

This is something the Executive can do by itself.

Indeed, Senate concurrence is needed when the President ratifies a treaty, but the Senate  need not be consulted if and when the President terminates it. Thus when DU30 decided to walk away from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 2018 after certain parties filed a communication with prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s office charging him with the drug killings in the Philippines, he did not have to seek the Senate’s consent. And no senator proposed to review our ICC commitment.

In 2017, Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon filed a Senate resolution proposing that a treaty ratified by the President with Senate concurrence cannot be undone without the joint participation of the two powers that brought it into effect. This should have been written into our Constitution, but it was not. It failed to pass the Senate, and subsequent resolutions calling for concurrence by two-thirds of the Senate before a treaty is terminated have had no binding effect on the President.

It is not very clear what Pimentel hopes to achieve, or what he can realistically achieve, with his proposed review.  He probably does not himself know. But it should be clear enough that the VFA is but an implementing arm of the MDT, and that one cannot cut off that arm unless one wanted to disable the MDT. And one cannot want to disable the MDT without wanting to undermine the security architecture that has until now held together the geopolitical equilibrium and the peace and prosperity in the Western Pacific.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo has tried to assure the public that the termination of VFA will not affect EDCA or the MDT. He clearly does not know what he is talking about. At the very least it sends the most dangerous signals for DU30 and the country.