When a gentleman’s agreement is a crime

By Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M

Let us be clear about this. Our President has no authority whatsoever to enter a “gentleman’s agreement”, or whatever name it is called, with any world leader or with whomever else in the planet.

A President who does such a thing is not performing an official function, but is actually committing a crime. Civil society, especially media, should treat him or her as a criminal, full stop. We owe it to the public to report such a heinous act for what it truly is.

Now, let us try to be technical about this issue and refer to two Supreme Court decisions for guidance. First, the case of Pangilinan vs. Cayetano, where the Supreme Court set the ground rules on entering and withdrawing from treaties and international agreements. Obviously, the country cannot be bound to any obligation just based on the mere say-so of the President.

Crucially, the Court opined here that, “The president, as primary architect of our foreign policy and as head of state, is allowed by the Constitution to make preliminary determinations on what, at any given moment, might urgently be required in order that our foreign policy may manifest our national interest.”

Keep in mind, this opinion merely confirms the authority and responsibility of the President to formulate foreign policy that promotes the national interest. It does not sanction an unlawful act of the President, even if the same is done under the guise of foreign policy or international relations.

Second, the case of Saguisag vs. Ochoa, where the Supreme Court thoroughly discussed the history and constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America. Pertinently, it also ruled that, “The role of the President in foreign affairs is qualified by the Constitution in that the Chief Executive must give paramount importance to the sovereignty of the nation, the integrity of its territory, its interest, and the right of the sovereign Filipino people to self-determination.”

There should never be any doubt that the President is constrained by the 1987 Constitution. Executive power, though arguably imperial in depth and scope, can never justify an immoral, unethical, or illegal act. We can be enamored by the “strongman” qualities of an incumbent in Malacañang, but no one, not even the Chief Executive, can run roughshod over our constitution.

So, what should be a key takeaway for us here?

It should be clear to us now that our President must possess a high level of statesmanship. He or she must reflect the aforementioned constitutional directives in words and deeds. Unlike the previous president, who unashamedly brought our country to an inferior position in the world stage.

It is quite evident as well that the “kanto boy” routine is never really an indicator of authenticity or patriotism. It is just a cruel ruse employed by traditional politicians, who when elected, will quickly stab the electorate in the back. So, voters should no longer use this schtick as a standard of decisive leadership.

Indeed, when evaluating presidential aspirants, civil society should make sure the electorate sees those with a strong background in international law and foreign policy and those who possess the wherewithal to represent us in the global stage. And candidates who show no capacity in this field should immediately be disqualified.

We want our president to show the world our best qualities as a people. And we want the person at the helm of government capable of balancing our national interests and the realities of our times. We certainly do not want to see our president selling us out to more powerful nations. Especially to the very country which regards the Philippines as an enemy.

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