Sep 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/11/08MANILA2583.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA2583
2008-11-20 08:09
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO5401
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #2583/01 3250809
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 200809Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2470
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 002583

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/21/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL RP
SUBJECT: 2010 PRESIDENTIAL RACE BEGINS IN EARNEST

REF: MANILA 2455 (KEY FIGURE IN CAMPAIGN FUND
DIVERSION RETURNS)

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney,
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: In a move to level the playing field before
the 2010 presidential elections and contain the power of one
of its wealthiest members, the Senate on November 17 ousted
incumbent Senate President and presidential hopeful Manuel
Villar and voted to promote Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to its
top leadership position. All five presidential candidates in
the Senate — other than Villar — voted for Enrile’s
promotion, placing the reigns of influence out of Villar’s
reach well in advance of the 2010 national elections. The
84-year old Enrile, an ally of President Arroyo, is known for
masterminding the 1972 imposition of martial law during the
Marcos years, later heading the military coup that led to the
Marcos dictatorship’s downfall, and then supporting coups
against the Aquino government. He is known as one of the
most productive and irascible members of the Senate, though
his election as Senate President does not necessarily portend
a more efficient or pro-active Senate. The body continues to
be hampered by Senators’ mudslinging and general lack of
preparation, as illustrated by uninspired corruption hearings
in the past two weeks. The change in Senate leadership
seemed to surprise Villar, who calmly discussed presidential
politics with the Ambassador days before his ouster. END
SUMMARY.

OPPONENTS OUST SENATE PRESIDENT VILLAR
————————————–

¶2. (C) Senate President Manuel Villar resigned from the top
Senate leadership post November 17, averting an otherwise
unceremonious ouster long plotted by his colleagues and
political rivals in the Senate. Villar, a highly successful
businessman and the richest Senator, harbors presidential
ambitions for the 2010 elections and consistently ranked high
in popularity surveys among 2010 “presidentiables” — the
Philippine term for presidential aspirants. As Senate
President, he had access to the significant resources of his
office, which could effectively serve as a launching pad for
his presidential campaign. To his political rivals who
wanted to level the playing field, he was fair game from the
day he assumed the top Senate leadership post two-and-a-half
years ago.

¶3. (C) In recent weeks, Villar admitted there were attempts
to unseat him, but, lacking broad support in the Senate,
these efforts failed. Minority Senators Panfilo Lacson and
Jamby Madrigal accused him of a conflict of interest in
pushing a road development project that would benefit his
real estate properties. The issue triggered fresh attempts
to unseat him and, this time, Villar could not garner the
support of the majority coalition in the Senate to repel the
attacks. Among those who voted to replace Villar were Loren
Legarda, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel Roxas II, Francis Escudero,
and Richard Gordon — all of whom are thought to be potential
contenders in the 2010 presidential election.

ENRILE RISES TO POWER — AGAIN
——————————

¶4. (C) The new Senate President, Juan Ponce Enrile, is not
new to the reigns of power. He is well-respected by his
peers for his legislative expertise and independence,
although human rights advocates paint a less flattering
portrait of the man, who served as President Marcos’ defense
minister from 1968 to 1970, and, subsequently, in both houses
of Congress. A champion of tax and energy reform measures
and a key member on the Senate’s Finance Committee, Enrile
also served as Chair of the Justice and Human Rights
Committee and was a principal sponsor of the 2007 Human
Security Act, also known as the Anti-Terrorism Law, perceived
by some as a tool for curtailing free expression. While
Defense Minister, he masterminded the 1972 imposition of
martial law. Sensing the winds of change, Enrile later
turned against Marcos and helped mobilize the 1986 People
Power Movement that gave momentum to Cory Aquino. Enrile
later turned against President Aquino, but escaped criminal
charges for involvement in aborted coup attempts. A loyal
ally of President Estrada, he tried unsuccessfully to block
impeachment proceedings against him, and, following Estrada’s
ouster in 2001, he supported destabilization attempts against
President Arroyo. Enrile was arrested for his role in the
May 2001 siege of the Presidential palace by pro-Estrada
forces, but was later released without charges.

MANILA 00002583 002 OF 002

VILLAR TALKS PRIVATELY WITH AMBASSADOR
————————————–

¶5. (C) Villar only sparingly hinted at change in the Senate
leadership during a broad-ranging breakfast conversation with
the Ambassador November 12 that focused largely on the
outcome of the U.S. elections and prospects for a more
civilized election process in the Philippines. From the
outset of the discussion, Villar demonstrated he had closely
followed the U.S. election. A self-made businessman and the
wealthiest person in the Philippine Senate, Villar professed
a fondness for Senator McCain, whom he perceived to be more
pro-business. He was effusive about Senator McCain’s
concession speech, calling him a “terrific, sensible”
politician who during the campaign somehow lost the
personality that normally makes him a compelling figure.
Marveling at the civility displayed by both sides during and
after the election, he remarked on how well the U.S.
two-party system worked and ruefully remembered the days when
the Philippines had a similar system.

¶6. (C) Turning to the 2010 Philippine presidential elections,
Villar said other candidates not in the Senate included Vice
President Noli De Castro, whom he considers to be a good
friend. Regarding former President Estrada’s rumored run at
the presidency, Villar opined that Estrada was legally
prohibited from running, but might do so based on his
misguided belief that it was “the will of the people.”
However, he noted that it would be at least a year before the
field narrowed, as Philippine law prohibits campaigning until
the official election season begins in January 2010.
Ambassador observed that the election to the presidency of a
person who had been found guilty of plunder would send the
wrong message to the Philippine people and the international
community.

LEADERSHIP CHANGE DELAYS SCANDAL INQUIRIES
——————————————

¶7. (C) Two of the most pressing issues in Philippine
politics, as Villar described them to the Ambassador, will
now face delays because of the change in the Senate
leadership. Senate investigations into the case a retired
Philippine National Police official to bring 105,000 euros in
his carry-on luggage through Russian customs in Moscow and
the alleged diversion of more than USD 15 million in
agricultural funds to the 2004 Arroyo campaign by former
Agriculture Undersecretary JocJoc Bolante (reftel) will be
delayed pending agreement among Senators about who will lead
the Senate’s Committee on Accountability of Public Officers
and Investigations. This delay comes after the Senate’s
lackluster performance at a recent Bolante hearing, where
Senators were clearly unprepared for questioning yet dragged
on the proceedings for eight hours.

COMMENT
——-

¶8. (C) We do not anticipate this change impacting our
relationship with the Senate. Senator Enrile still smarts
from being declared ineligible for a U.S. visa many years ago
due to his involvement in coups against President Aquino. He
has declined to reapply since, and generally declines U.S.
invitations. That said, he generally supports the Arroyo
government, and we do not expect problems. We will again
seek to engage with him in his new role.

KENNEY

   

 

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