When discussing international agreements, it can be easy to get lost in the technicalities and terminology. One question that often arises is whether a particular agreement is classified as a treaty or an executive agreement. In the case of the VFA, or Visiting Forces Agreement, the answer is not quite straightforward.
The VFA is an agreement between the United States and the Philippines that governs the status of US military personnel who are temporarily stationed in the Philippines for various reasons, such as joint training exercises and disaster relief operations. The agreement was signed in 1998 and has been the subject of controversy and debate in both countries in recent years.
To determine whether the VFA is a treaty or an executive agreement, it is helpful to understand the difference between the two. The US Constitution gives the president the power to make treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate. A treaty is a formal agreement between two or more sovereign nations that is binding under international law. Once a treaty is ratified by the Senate, it becomes part of US law and carries the same weight as a statute.
An executive agreement, on the other hand, is an agreement between the US government and a foreign government that does not require Senate approval. Executive agreements are based on the president’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs and are considered legally binding, although they do not carry the same weight as a treaty.
So, is the VFA a treaty or an executive agreement? The answer is somewhat complex. When the VFA was first negotiated, the US government considered it to be an executive agreement. However, the Philippine Constitution requires that treaties be ratified by the Philippine Senate, and the VFA was submitted to the Senate for approval.
The Philippine Senate voted to ratify the VFA in 1999, which would seem to indicate that it is a treaty. However, the US government has not submitted the VFA to the Senate for ratification, and has continued to treat it as an executive agreement. This has raised questions about the legal status of the VFA and whether it is truly binding under international law.
In any case, the classification of the VFA as a treaty or an executive agreement is largely a matter of semantics. The agreement remains in force and governs the presence of US military personnel in the Philippines, regardless of its legal status. The debate over the VFA is likely to continue, but for now, it remains a vital component of the US-Philippine relationship.