‘PDEA leaks’ probe not behind Zubiri ouster – Chiz

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
�PDEA leaks� probe not behind Zubiri ouster � Chiz
Senate President Francis “Chiz” Escudero on May 20, 2024.
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Francis Escudero has categorically denied that the investigation on the so-called Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) leaks, linking President Marcos to illegal drug use, triggered the ouster of Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri as head of the chamber.

Escudero, however, refused to reveal the reason why 15 senators signed a resolution calling for a change in Senate leadership.

He said even Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, initially thought he was to blame for the change in Senate leadership.

“That’s why Sen. Dela Rosa became emotional, because he said he was the reason why Sen. Zubiri was removed. Well, in that case, then we should have just removed Senator Dela Rosa (from his committee), instead. I told Dela Rosa maybe we should have just removed you, not the Senate president? But that (PDEA leaks probe) was not the reason,” Escudero yesterday told dzBB.

To prove that the PDEA leaks probe was not a factor in Zubiri’s unseating, Escudero said Dela Rosa is free to continue the investigation of his committee. At present, Dela Rosa has presided over four hearings in the Senate, all motu proprio.

The Senate President said he has advised Dela Rosa to file a resolution to formally call for an investigation to address questions of some quarters.

“It is an option during the recess to file a resolution, which will be referred to his committee so that his hearing will not be questioned and there will be clarity on the sides,” Escudero noted.

Initially, some quarters suspected that the ouster of Zubiri from the Senate helm was due to the Senate’s failure to support the House of Representatives-initiated people’s initiative, and Dela Rosa’s refusal to conclude the PDEA leaks’ probe which dragged the name of the Chief Executive to illegal drug use.

A few days ago, another factor seen in the removal of Zubiri from the Senate presidency was his refusal to allow Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. to attend the plenary session virtually as his Achilles tendon surgery wound had reopened.

Revilla said Zubiri initially decided not to allow him to participate in the Senate deliberations virtually. However, the Senate itself eventually decided to allow him to join the sessions remotely.

‘Solid 7’ seen to back LEDAC priorities

Escudero said he does not believe that the so-called Solid 7 – Zubiri, Senators Loren Legarda, Joel Villanueva, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, JV Ejercito and Sherwin Gatchalian – would serve as a stumbling block to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) since they were the same senators who supported such measures from the very beginning.

“They were the ones promoting it then and I don’t see any reason why (they would do otherwise) because the leadership in the Senate just changed. If we have something to debate, it is the new proposals,” Escudero added.

Meanwhile, Escudero is set to meet with Speaker Martin Romualdez while the 19th Congress is on sine die adjournment to discuss priority bills of the legislative branch.

“I would like to meet with him (Romualdez) during recess to discuss the priority of the chamber as an institution and the priority of each member, may they be national or local. Maybe we can help,” Escudero said on dzBB.

He said he also intends to discuss with the Speaker “How to fix the relationship between the House of Representatives and the Senate.”

The relationship between the Senate and the House of Representatives was seen affected by the effort to push for a people’s initiative, a move to amend the 1987 Constitution.

The proposal was pushing for Congress to vote as one, diminishing the power of 24 senators over 350 members of the House.

Escudero said he and Romualdez had already talked over the phone and the Speaker congratulated him.

“We talked on the phone last Thursday. He (Romualdez) greeted me through Secretary Francisco P. Tiu Laurel, who called me and coincidentally they were together,” he noted.

Zubiri touts ratification of key measures

Three important priority measures that were ratified by the 19th Congress would stem corruption, prevent smuggling of agricultural goods and protect the rights of Filipino seafarers, Zubiri said on Sunday.

He lauded the ratification, saying he is “confident that these soon-to-be enacted measures will address some of the most pressing concerns of our people. It is important that we listen to the voice of the people and identify the things that should be changed in running our government.

“The ratification of these measures is living proof that the Senate is doing its mandate in serving the Filipino people. The laws we endeavor to pass are consistent with the government’s efforts to improve the lives of Filipino families and help our economy grow,” Zubiri said.

“I’m proud that we were able to shepherd these bills into fruition despite the outside partisan political noises that only serve the interests of a few,” he said.

Before the Senate and the House of Representatives adjourned last week, they were able to ratify the following measures: Senate Bill 2593 or the New Government Procurement Act (NGPA), SB 2221 or the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, and SB 2432 or the Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act.

“Allow me to thank my fellow senators who made sure that these measures are closely scrutinized so that they will serve their intended purpose,” Zubiri said.

The NGPA, Zubiri said, will replace Republic Act 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Act once President Marcos signs the measure into law.

He said the NGPA, principally authored and sponsored by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, will introduce major reforms in the government procurement process, specifically in ensuring transparency and efficiency in the bidding process and awarding of government contracts.

The former Senate chief said the measure was one of the priority bills of the President identified in the LEDAC.

“We started defending this measure several months ago. I have committed to the President that we will prioritize this, and we were able to deliver on that promise,” Zubiri said.

Also ratified was the Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers, which is envisioned to safeguard the welfare of local and international Filipino seafarers and improve their working conditions.

Zubiri said the measure will likewise ensure that the training and education of Filipino seafarers are compliant with the Maritime Labor Convention of 2006 and the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.

The Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act, meanwhile, repeals Republic Act 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act.

Zubiri said the measure, principally authored by Ejercito, will impose harsher penalties on individuals behind the smuggling, hoarding and cartels manipulating the supplies and prices of agricultural products.

“I’m optimistic that this measure will not only protect our local farmers from greedy opportunists but will also help us attain food security in the years to come,” he said.

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