No LEDAC; Marcos Jr. meets separately with senators, congressmen

Delon Porcalla, Marc Jayson Cayabyab - The Philippine Star
No LEDAC; Marcos Jr. meets separately with senators, congressmen
President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. leads the awarding of incentives to the medalists of the 4th Asian Para Games at the Heroes Hall in Malacañang Palace on January 24, 2024.
PPA pool photos by Noel Pabalate

MANILA, Philippines — Amid feuding over the people’s initiative to amend the Constitution, President Marcos met separately yesterday with congressmen and senators instead of convening the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).

Sources at the House of Representatives said the senators had requested the convening of LEDAC, wherein the legislative agenda of the national government is tackled, but it was called off for still unknown reasons.

“We both know that LEDAC meetings involve the senators and congressmen. But we don’t really know what suddenly happened. What we only heard and learned eventually, is that the President met them separately – and we still also don’t know on whose instance,” a source said.

All 24 senators have opposed, by way of a strongly worded manifesto, an ongoing people’s initiative that the House is supporting, ostensibly to amend restrictive economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution.

Executive session, not LEDAC

Instead of convening LEDAC, Marcos met separately with senators and congressmen in an executive session, according to Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva.

“LEDAC was postponed. Instead, we had an executive session with the President,” Villanueva told Senate reporters.

Marcos first met with the senators – composed of Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, Villanueva, the President’s sister Imee Marcos, JV Ejercito, Sonny Angara, Grace Poe, Pia Cayetano, Sherwin Gatchalian and Mark Villar – before meeting with the House contingent.

The President seemed to have stepped in amid an impending constitutional crisis that the senators had feared would happen, due to some lawmakers’ support for the signature drive that seeks to silence the Senate in the charter change vote.

Asked about the executive session, the President’s sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, was tightlipped due to the confidential nature of the meeting, but blamed the House lawmakers’ support for the people’s initiative as the cause of the conflict in Congress.

“The Senate will not be the stumbling block in the passage of laws, and in amending the Constitution, if it is for the country’s benefit. But this people’s initiative is the one that is hampering us from doing our work,” Senator Marcos said in Filipino.

The LEDAC is composed of lawmakers from both houses of Congress and the administration’s economic team, working together to serve as a consultative and advisory body to the President.

Another SC petition

Former House speaker Pantaleon Alvarez served notice that he would also file a petition before the Supreme Court that would seek to nullify signatures gathered for purposes of a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution.

“I will surely file a case on that people’s initiative. As a lawyer, I’m in the process of gathering and collating all the evidence necessary for the petition so that I can comply with all the requisites needed for a petition,” he told a TV network’s online news.

“If I have to file the SC petition, I will. And I have attachments for that, just like the signatures they (Charter change proponents) are gathering,” he explained further, adding he would gladly take in senators who want to join the suit.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, president of the opposition Liberal Party, described as “mere scraps” the millions of signatures gathered by Charter change proponents, accusing them of disinformation and signature buying that carry with it criminal liability.

“The timeline for people’s initiative is set by the Comelec, not by the proponents. There is no compliant legislation to implement the people’s initiative as required by the Constitution. No formal prerequisite petition has been filed with the Comelec,” he said.

“The people’s initiative was rejected by the Supreme Court because it proposed a full-scale revision of the Constitution from presidential to parliamentary system, while people’s initiative is just limited to amendments,” Lagman argued.

However, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda expressed a different opinion, saying that Filipinos, and not senators, should have the option to choose what mode they want to undertake in proposing economic amendments to the Constitution.

“We should not be afraid of the popular will. The House is not, and the Senate, as a bastion of democracy, should not be,” he said. “Frankly, to address the heart of the matter, so what if a foreigner buys land? As long as he buys it at a fair price and invests to make it productive.”

“Are we protecting our farmers or keeping them poor? Over 42 percent of agricultural households are poor, versus 11 percent for non-agricultural households. That means our non-agricultural households alone are already at the same poverty rate as rich countries like Germany and Canada,” he said.

House urged: Stop this foolishness

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III has called on his counterparts in the House of Representatives to “stop the foolishness” of the people’s initiative, which he says only serves the interests of politicians behind it.

In a press conference at the Senate yesterday, Pimentel called out Speaker Romualdez for giving the imprimatur for district and party-list lawmakers to mobilize their staff on the ground to gather the signatures in their bid to amend the 1987 Constitution.

“The feedback that we are getting is very uniform and consistent. Who is acting as supervisors on the ground? Congressmen, members of the House of Representatives. Who are the ones monitoring and boasting that they have the votes? Congressmen!” Pimentel said.

“Stop this foolishness,” Pimentel said, as he reiterated his position that the economic provisions in the Constitution can be eased through legislation, and that the people’s initiative push only benefited the House because of the procedural amendment of making constituent assembly a joint vote.

Pimentel vowed to help or be the petitioner in questioning before the Supreme Court the Comelec’s counting and verifying of signatures gathered by people’s initiative proponents, amid allegations that bribery with cash and social assistance was involved.

He said he will put the Comelec to task during the upcoming Senate probe about its use of Republic Act 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum law to justify its action of accepting the signatures.

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