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A LEDAC meeting on foreign policy

Some of senators have urged President Duterte to call a meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to discuss certain key national issues, notably the President’s threat to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

The LEDAC was introduced by then President Fidel V. Ramos and enacted into law by Congress in 1992 to help in the formulation of important government policies and programs and speed up the approval of laws needed to carry them out.

Led by the president, the LEDAC included the vice president, the Senate president, the House speaker, seven members of the cabinet, three members of the Senate and three of the House, and a representative each of local government units, the private sector, and the youth sector.

The LEDAC was used in varying degrees by succeeding administrations. The new Duterte administration would find it useful in effecting the many changes the President has announced he would like to carry out, including a change to a federal form of government via constitutional amendment.

This week, some senators proposed that the President call the LEDAC to a meeting on President Duterte’s threat to terminate the VFA after a US agency, the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MMC), decided to withhold the next tranche of anti-poverty aid due to concerns over alleged human rights violations in the Philippine anti-drugs campaign.

This is not the first time President Duterte has made the threat. During his recent state visit to China, he spoke on the need to withdraw the Philippines from its overdependence on the US and pursue a more independent foreign policy.

He was ready to join China and Russia in an alliance against the world, he said.

So far no other official has been as outspoken on this issue, but no one has said a negative word either. The US itself appears to have decided that it will just carry on with its established close ties with the Philippines, as provided for in various agreements, including the VFA.

It may be time, in the view of Senators Gregorio Honasan II, Panfilo Lacson, and Antonio Trillanes IV, to invite other national leaders to discuss possible foreign policy changes, including a pivot to China. That discussion could take place in the LEDAC which would also include some leaders of the private sector.

The President is the chief architect of Philippine foreign policy, working through the Department of Foreign Affairs.

He may well lead the country into a more independent foreign policy as he is now doing. But it will help if other leaders of the country, especially members of the Senate, the nation’s treaty-ratifying body, will also be heard on significant changes of policy, such as termination of a treaty with the US.