, January 24, 2006, (BULLETIN) Charter change, 2007 elections on the agenda Ramos, top officials expected to attend.

President Arroyo convenes today the Council of State where she hopes to iron out differing views among Congress and other political leaders on the move to rewrite the 1987 Constitution, including the proposed scrapping of the May 2007 elections.

The President will preside over the meeting of the Council of State at around 10 a.m. today, expectedly to be attended by about 75 participants, led by former President Fidel Ramos, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, some Congress leaders and Cabinet officials.

Also expected to attend the meeting are Vice President Noli de Castro, House Majority Leaders Rep. Prospero Nograles, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Senate President Pro Tempore Juan Flavier and the presidents of local government executives’ associations.

Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Ralph Recto, Richard Gordon, and Edgardo Angara, president of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, the country’s biggest opposition party today, have likewise confirmed their attendance in the meeting.

However, former President Corazon Aquino, Senate President Franklin Drilon, and the minority leaders of Congress – Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Rep. Francis Escudero – have already declined the invitation to attend the meeting.

According to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Mrs. Arroyo is expected to discuss with political leaders the issue of amending the Constitution, including the controversial proposal to scrap the holding of the May 2007 national and local elections.

"They may discuss the issue about Charter change because they would like to know the sentiments of various sectors in order to get from them what the public feels," he said in an earlier radio interview.

Other issues to be discussed may cover the implementation of the 12-percent Expanded Value-Added Tax next month, the continued increase in the world’s oil prices and its impact to the prices of basic commodities and services.

"All of these (issues) may be tackled in a freewheeling discussion of the selected personalities in the Council of State," Ermita added.

The convening of the Council of State, as proposed by Ramos, intends to take up the current initiatives on Charter change, the government’s economic and fiscal reform programs and the implementation of the much-needed electoral reforms.

Presidential Political Adviser Secretary Gabriel Claudio, also chief of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, said it is possible that the council would take up the recent attempts at destabilizing the Arroyo administration.

The Council of State, first created in 1987 by former President Corazon Aquino, was envisioned to provide the incumbent president "with reliable information and competent advice on pressing issues and problems of national interest."

Mrs. Arroyo revived it two years ago to serve as a "consultative body (that is) bound by a common respect for the Constitution and the rule of law" where proposals and consensus for meaningful reforms in the government can be forged among national leaders.

Council of State just a decorative body, says senator


Feisty Sen. Joker Arroyo said yesterday today’s scheduled Council of State meeting convened by President Arroyo that would not be attended by Senate leaders is no big deal since it is nothing more than a decorative body that has no real power or clout.

"Why all the fuzz over who will attend and who will not attend the Council of State as it were a big production? Attendance is desired but not required, so it is no big deal," Arroyo, the Executive Secretary of then President Corazon Aquino in the late 80s, said.

While Senate President Franklin M. Drilon and Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. said they would not attend the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan said he would attend it and would listen to what Malacañang has to say.

"Only after listening to Malacañang can I determine if it will result in something positive for the nation," Pangilinan said.

Pimentel said President Arroyo should not expect the opposition to positively respond to her overtures for cooperation and unity for as long as she impedes the efforts of Congress to resolve the controversies hounding her administration.

He said he is constrained by principle not to participate in such activity while the President continues to prevent Cabinet members and other officials of the Executive branch from appearing before congressional inquiries that aim to ferret out the wrongdoing of public officials through Executive Order 464.

Pimentel then sent a letter to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita explaining his rejection of the invitation to attend the Council by jokingly telling Ermita that he is invoking EO 464 for not attending meeting.

Sen. Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, chairman of the Senate Trade and Economic Affairs Committees, said the meeting would give the administration and other political leaders the opportunity to eke out a strategic plan and steer the country to progress despite their political differences.

The meeting should hopefully result in a "clear policy agenda on what they intend to do in the next few years to further boost economic growth and improve people’s living conditions," Roxas stressed.

Executive Order 305 of President Aquino that created the Council of State defines it as a "consultative body" and EO 168 of President Arroyo which reconstituted and revitalized it describes it as "the highest advisory body" and expanded its membership to include former Presidents.

Former Presidents Aquino and Joseph Estrada have indicated their intention not to attend the meeting.

"Since it is either consultative or advisory, then whatever decision it makes is non-binding on the President who can either accept, modify or reject it outright," Senator Arroyo said.

"The long and short of it is that the Council of State is all for show and the actors are careful not to be used by one by the other. It works when the political divide can unite on certain issues, but not when the political forces are hopelessly divided," he added.

Arroyo said the Council of State which is intended for unity has ironically become an excuse for disunity.

"Only the simple and spiritual Manny Pacquiao, not our leaders, can unite the country at this moment. Perhaps he can be appointed by the President as a member of the Council," he said.

"In fact, LEDAC (Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council), which has more or less the same membership except for the former Presidents, is more meaningful because the Executive and the Legislative discuss and agree on the legislative calendar to be adopted, but again, it is seldom followed," he added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Juan Flavier said he has yet to receive an invitation for him to attend the meeting.

Senators, opposition urged to heed Rosales’ call for Cha-cha

House members yesterday expressed gratitude over the support given by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales for Charter change and urged senators and the rest of the opposition to heed his call for Cha-cha as a solution to the country’s social and political problems.

Lakas-CMD Reps. Exequiel Javier (Antique), vice chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, and Salacnib Baterina (Ilocos Sur), vice chairman of the Committee on Justice, said with his expressed support for Cha-cha, Rosales should use his moral suasion to convince senators to join the Cha-cha efforts of congressmen and local executives.

Javier said he was gratified that a church leader like Rosales has seen the merits of Cha-cha. "The ranks of Cha-cha supporters are growing and we can only attribute this to the benefits we can derive from improving our Constitution. If Bishop Rosales sees the merits of Cha-cha, we don’t see any reason why our other legislators cannot."

Javier urged Rosales to help congressmen in persuading senators to accept Cha-cha so efforts to amend the Constitution can be completed in the 13th Congress. "I firmly believe Bishop Rosales’ views will be key in making our senators eventually abandon their opposition to Cha-cha."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved