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PILA Case Digest: Lim v. Executive Secretary (2002)

G.R. No. 151445      April 11, 2002
Lim v. Executive Secretary

Lessons Applicable:   Locus Standi,  International Law v. Muncipal Law, Certiorari, Incorporation Clause, Treaties

Laws Applicable: Constitution


    Pursuant to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed in 1999, personnel from the armed forces of the United States of America started arriving in Mindanao to take partin "Balikatan 02-1” on January 2002.  The Balikatan 02-1 exercises involves the simulation of joint military maneuvers pursuant to the Mutual Defense Treaty, a bilateral defense agreement entered into by the Philippines and the United States in 1951.  The exercise is rooted from the international anti-terrorism campaign declared by President George W. Bush in reaction to the 3 commercial aircrafts hijacking that smashed into twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. allegedly by the al-Qaeda headed by the Osama bin Laden that occurred on September 11, 2001.  Arthur D. Lim and Paulino P. Ersando as citizens, lawyers and taxpayers filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition attacking the constitutionality of the joint exercise.  Partylists Sanlakas and Partido Ng Manggagawa as  residents of Zamboanga and Sulu directly affected by the operations filed a petition-in-intervention.

    The Solicitor General commented the prematurity of the action as it is based only on a fear of future violation of the Terms of Reference and impropriety of availing of certiorari to ascertain a question of fact specifically interpretation of the VFA whether it is covers "Balikatan 02-1” and no question of constitutionality is involved.  Moreover, there is lack of locus standi since it does not involve tax spending and there is no proof of direct personal injury.

ISSUE: W/N the petition and the petition-in-intervention should prosper.

HELD: NO.  Petition and the petition-in-intervention are hereby DISMISSED without prejudice to the filing of a new petition sufficient in form and substance in the proper Regional Trial Court - Supreme Court is not a trier of facts

Doctrine of Importance to the Public
Considering however the importance to the public of the case at bar, and in keeping with the Court's duty, under the 1987 Constitution, to determine whether or not the other branches of the government have kept themselves within the limits of the Constitution and the laws that they have not abused the discretion given to them, the Court has brushed aside technicalities of procedure and has taken cognizance of this petition.

Although courts generally avoid having to decide a constitutional question based on the doctrine of separation of powers, which enjoins upon the department of the government a becoming respect for each other's act, this Court nevertheless resolves to take cognizance of the instant petition.
Interpretation of Treaty
The VFA permits United States personnel to engage, on an impermanent basis, in "activities," the exact meaning of which was left undefined. The expression is ambiguous, permitting a wide scope of undertakings subject only to the approval of the Philippine government. The sole encumbrance placed on its definition is couched in the negative, in that United States personnel must "abstain from any activity inconsistent with the spirit of this agreement, and in particular, from any political activity." All other activities, in other words, are fair game.
To aid in this, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties Article 31 SECTION 3 and Article 32 contains provisos governing interpretations of international agreements.  It is clear from the foregoing that the cardinal rule of interpretation must involve an examination of the text, which is presumed to verbalize the parties' intentions. The Convention likewise dictates what may be used as aids to deduce the meaning of terms, which it refers to as the context of the treaty, as well as other elements may be taken into account alongside the aforesaid context.  According to Professor Briggs, writer on the Convention, the distinction between the general rule of interpretation and the supplementary means of interpretation is intended rather to ensure that the supplementary means do not constitute an alternative, autonomous method of interpretation divorced from the general rule.
The meaning of the word  “activities" was deliberately made that way to give both parties a certain leeway in negotiation. Thus, the VFA gives legitimacy to the current Balikatan exercises.  Both the history and intent of the Mutual Defense Treaty and the VFA support the conclusion that combat-related activities -as opposed to combat itself -such as the one subject of the instant petition, are indeed authorized.
The Terms of Reference are explicit enough. Paragraph 8 of section I stipulates that US exercise participants may not engage in combat "except in self-defense."  ." The indirect violation is actually petitioners' worry, that in reality, "Balikatan 02-1" is actually a war principally conducted by the United States government, and that the provision on self-defense serves only as camouflage to conceal the true nature of the exercise. A clear pronouncement on this matter thereby becomes crucial.  In our considered opinion, neither the MDT nor the VFA allow foreign troops to engage in an offensive war on Philippine territory.  Under the salutary proscription stated in Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations.
Both the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Visiting Forces Agreement, as in all other treaties and international agreements to which the Philippines is a party, must be read in the context of the 1987 Constitution especially Sec. 2, 7 and 8 of Article 2: Declaration of Principles and State Policies in this case.  The Constitution also regulates the foreign relations powers of the Chief Executive when it provides that "[n]o treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate."  Even more pointedly Sec. 25 on Transitory Provisions which shows antipathy towards foreign military presence in the country, or of foreign influence in general.  Hence, foreign troops are allowed entry into the Philippines only by way of direct exception.
International Law vs. Fundamental Law and Municipal Laws
Conflict arises then between the fundamental law and our obligations arising from international agreements.
Philip Morris, Inc. v. Court of Appeals: “Withal, the fact that international law has been made part of the law of the land does not by any means imply the primacy of international law over national law in the municipal sphere. Under the doctrine of incorporation as applied in most countries, rules of international law are given a standing equal, not superior, to national legislation.”
From the perspective of public international law, a treaty is favored over municipal law pursuant to the principle of pacta sunt servanda. Hence, "[e]very treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith." Further, a party to a treaty is not allowed to "invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty."
Our Constitution espouses the opposing view as stated in section 5 of Article VIII: “The Supreme Court shall have the following powers: xxx
(2) Review, revise, reverse, modify, or affirm on appeal or certiorari, as the law or the Rules of Court may provide, final judgments and order of lower courts in:
(A) All cases in which the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation is in question.”
Ichong v. Hernandez: “provisions of a treaty are always subject to qualification or amendment by a subsequent law, or that it is subject to the police power of the State”
Gonzales v. Hechanova: “our Constitution authorizes the nullification of a treaty, not only when it conflicts with the fundamental law, but, also, when it runs counter to an act of Congress.”
The foregoing premises leave us no doubt that US forces are prohibited / from engaging in an offensive war on Philippine territory.