The hefty price of Bato
Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa surely carries a hefty price. No Philippine celebrity or ordinary person has been used as reason for a presidential complaint against the United States over the cancellation of a US visa.
Last week, President Duterte, in his usual petulant style, lashed at the US government for the cancellation of the US visa of Bato, one of his poster boys in the Senate. He threatened the unilateral abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that the Philippine government has signed with the United States in 1998 during the presidency of Joseph “Erap” Estrada. The VFA came into force in the country upon its ratification by the Philippine Senate on May 27, 1999.Several questions have been raised on whether the president of the Philippines can unilaterally decide to abrogate the VFA since it was enforced after its ratification in the Senate. One view holds that no sitting president can make this decision alone; it has also to be concurred by the body that ratified it in the first place. But others maintain that it is the prerogative of the sitting president to nullify or abrogate any international treaty signed by previous presidents.
For many of Mr. Duterte’s supporters, his decision to abrogate the VFA via executive fiat is laudable as it is one of the onerous treaties that the Philippines as a weak former colony has signed with its former colonial master. I agree. It should not have been signed in the first place because many of its provisions are more favorable to the United States than to the Philippines. For one, it allows the United States to maintain custody of its armed personnel even if found guilty of crimes committed in the Philippines, except if the crimes are of “particular interest to the Philippines.” The VFA also allows unrestricted movement of American vessels and aircraft in the Philippines.
Two cases come to mind: the rape of a woman in Subic by a US Marine in 2006; and the killing of transgender woman Jennifer Laude on Oct. 11, 2014. An Olongapo court found Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton of the US Marines guilty of killing Laude by asphyxiation.
There were also two cases filed in the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the VFA. Both cases were dismissed, with the justices in the Supreme Court sitting en banc. Both decisions also upheld the constitutionality of the VFA.
Mr. Duterte has been quite critical of the American government, especially during the time of former president Barack Obama, who he has referred to in racist terms. More recently, he has become even more acerbic in his vociferous protest against the US government’s meddling into his deadly war on drugs.
But why abrogate a treaty with a powerful country based on the cancellation of only one person’s visa? Surely there are many more people who have been denied entry to the United States, and whose visas have also been canceled. And why is it of utmost importance for Bato to have a valid US visa? Is traveling to the United States just to watch boxing events of Manny Pacquiao part of his duties as a senator?
Senator Bato will surely go down in history as the reason why a sitting Philippine president abrogated an international treaty. Even if he does not author a significant bill in the Senate throughout his term, Bato is guaranteed a place in the annals of Philippine politics—his master in Malacañang made sure of this.
Bato is worth the lives of more than 100 million Filipinos, 27 percent of which cannot even travel outside the place they were born in due to grinding poverty.
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