'Not in session hall?' 6 senators allied with Duterte withdraw vote in VFA review reso

Senator Sotto asks Senator Marcos: 'Then why did you not object? Senator Dela Rosa abstained. If you were in the session hall, then you should have abstained.'

In an awkward move, pro-administration senators "took back" their vote on Tuesday, February 11, on the already approved Senate Resolution 312, urging Malacañang to review the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States before terminating it.

Why take it back? The Senate had just approved a resolution locking horns with the President's policy, when they were not in the session hall.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, a Duterte partymate in ruling party PDP-Laban, sponsored the resolution on Monday night, February 10.

Majority of the senators voted in favor of the measure, except for Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa who abstained. Dela Rosa considered his US visa cancelation the "last straw" that urged the President to end the VFA.

"Had I been inside the session hall yesterday, I would have joined Senator Dela Rosa in voting for abstention," Senator Francis Tolentino said on Tuesday, February 11, as he opened his privilege speech supporting the President for terminating the VFA.

Since a resolution was being approved, voting is not done nominally, where votes of senators are being counted one by one. Only the abstention was counted for the approval of the resolution.

Under parliamentary rules, once the chamber has reached a quorum during the attendance roll call, the resolution can be carried until the end of the session, unless somebody objects. Therefore, senators who were not inside the session hall were deemed in favor of the measure.

Apart from Tolentino, Senators Pia Cayetano, Cynthia Villar, Christopher "Bong" Go, and Bong Revilla abstained on Tuesday as well.

Meanwhile, Senator Imee Marcos said that she would like to decline from voting on the resolution too. (READ: Senate divided as Philippines sends VFA notice of termination to U.S.)

"May I therefore, having been recorded as voting in the affirmative, reconsider that vote under our rules where it is allowed in the next two session days," Marcos said.

"I did not, in any point, vote and that is the actual status and the passage of this resolution was without our knowledge that a vote was, in fact, taken," Marcos added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III responded: "That is not the fault of the leadership of the Senate. You were not in the hall."

The only difference with the other senators is that Marcos was in the session hall when the voting commenced.

Sotto then said: "Then why did you not object? Senator Dela Rosa abstained. If you were in the session hall, then you should have abstained."

"Next time, stay in the hall," Sotto reminded Marcos, who still insisted she was at the plenary.

The Senate President initially wanted to recast the votes Tuesday, if the other senators approved. The Senate had to suspend session for 10 minutes. When it resumed, the senators' manifestation to change votes was accepted.

But Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said that the resolution was still deemed adopted, with majority senators approving it. Only 7 senators in total, all Duterte allies, had abstained.

Before the Senate session started on Tuesday, the Philippines had officially notified the US embassy of its intent to terminate the VFA.

The pro-administration senators maintained that the President has the power to unilaterally end treaties, despite veteran senators raising the need for Senate concurrence. (FULL TEXT: Locsin on impact assessment of VFA termination)

The VFA, which took effect in 1999, outlined guidelines for the conduct of American troops visiting the Philippines and is the foundation for military exercises between the Philippines and the US, some of which the Duterte administration has already stopped.

Duterte first threatened the abrogation of the VFA in 2016, when the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US aid-giving body, did not renew its grant to the Philippines over human rights concerns on the Philippines' war on drugs. – Rappler.com

Inside Track is Rappler's intelligencer on people, events, places and everything of public interest. It's a take-off from Newsbreak's Inside Track section. Contributions are most welcome. Just send bits of information to investigative@rappler.com.

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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