Oct 262014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/12/09MANILA2503.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA2503
2009-12-07 10:46
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 002503

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/07/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM PINS KDEM KJUS RP
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR CAUTIONS TOP OFFICIALS ON MARTIAL LAW

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

SUMMARY
——-

¶1. (C) Presidential Executive Secretary Ermita and Foreign
Secretary Romulo separately assured the Ambassador December
6-7 that the government had only imposed martial law in
portions of Maguindanao province in order to be able to
prosecute members of the highly influential Ampatuan clan who
were responsible for the November 23 massacre in Maguindanao.
Without martial law, the Ampatuans’ influence over local
courts threatened to render judicial mechanisms ineffective,
suspects could flee, and the government might face armed
resistance from Ampatuan supporters. Both officials said the
government might be able to rescind martial law in advance of
the 60-day limit specified by the constitution, and, while
martial law remained in effect, the government would only use
martial law powers against the Ampatuans and their
supporters, not to restrict the liberties of the general
public or of the press. The Ambassador emphasized USG
concern for human rights, our desire for a rapid and
transparent investigation of the massacre, and welcomed the
prospect of a fast recision of martial law. End Summary.

MARTIAL LAW ESSENTIAL FOR JUSTICE
———————————

¶2. (C) The Ambassador spoke with presidential Executive
Secretary Eduardo Ermita December 6 about the imposition of
martial law in areas of Maguindanao province (septel).
Ermita, who is President Arroyo’s closest advisor and policy
implementer, explained that it was necessary to impose
martial law in order to conduct effective searches and arrest
the suspects in the November 23 Maguindanao massacre. The
Ampatuan family, whose leading members now are under arrest,
had become too powerful and had the capability to resist
arrest. The local courts were refusing to issue search or
arrest warrants; judges feared their lives were in danger if
they opposed the Ampatuans. The situation was deteriorating;
it appeared as though leading suspects in the massacre might
flee, and supporters of the Ampatuans could take up arms
against the national authorities.

¶3. (C) Ermita explained the national government had raided
additional houses belonging to the Ampatuans, and would
continue to do so. The military authorities in Maguindanao
had established checkpoints, but they were not restricting
the movements of either ordinary civilians or of journalists.
Martial law measures strictly and exclusively targeted those
involved in the Maguindanao massacre. Ermita noted there had
been widespread skepticism about President Arroyo’s
willingness to move against the Ampatuans; he assured the
Ambassador that Arroyo would continue to aggressively pursue
the investigation, wherever it might lead, and arrests would
continue. (Providing a slightly different perspective,
Philippine Armed Forces spokesman LTC Romeo Brawner told the
Ambassador December 4 that Arroyo and her advisors had a
heated discussion over whether to declare martial law.
According to Brawner’s account, Arroyo was highly reluctant,
while others argued it was a necessary step.)

NO INCIDENTS SO FAR
——————-

¶4. (C) Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer, as the senior
military officer in the region of Eastern Mindanao, was in
charge of military operations associated with the state of
martial law in Maguindanao, Ermita said. Ermita
characterized Ferrer as thoughtful and knowledgeable about
local conditions. The Ambassador agreed with this assessment
and said she felt encouraged, based on her previous contacts
with Ferrer, that he was unlikely to provoke violence.
Ermita noted he knew of no incidents in the first day of
martial law, although a few people had complained of
inconvenience associated with checkpoints in the province.

¶5. (C) Ermita clarified that the declaration of martial law
did not entail appointing a top civilian executive. In
accordance with constitutional provisions, current civilian
officials would step up to take on the responsibilities of
any officeholders detained in connection with the ongoing
investigation. Ermita noted the investigation would likely
implicate many current officeholders.

¶6. (C) The government was in the process of preparing its
notifications to the Supreme Court and to Congress, Ermita

MANILA 00002503 002 OF 003

explained. While the constitution permitted martial law for
up to 60 days, the administration would be delighted to lift
martial law sooner, if conditions were to permit. The
administration’s ability to do this would depend on progress
in the massacre investigation.

SERIOUS STEP WITH HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS
—————————————

¶7. (C) The Ambassador said she was very aware of the
importance of investigating the massacre and the difficulty
involved in confronting the Ampatuans. Clearly, though,
imposing martial law was a serious step that worried many
Filipinos, as they recalled human rights violations in the
aftermath of former President Marcos’ 1972 declaration of
martial law. Ermita assured the Ambassador he, too, was
aware of human rights concerns, and the government would make
every effort to ensure martial law measures would affect only
those involved in the massacre. He reiterated that the
government’s efforts aimed strictly to allow a serious
investigation and the necessary arrests to proceed. He said
that the strength of the Ampatuans’ private army and the
extent of the family’s influence over the local government —
including the judicial system — made martial law a
precondition for an effective investigation. The government
had anticipated criticism but was willing to make a tough
choice in order to demonstrate that this sort of massacre was
not acceptable, to make arrests, and to prevent reprisals.

¶8. (C) Ermita requested that the Ambassador publicly support
the government’s decision to impose martial law. The
Ambassador replied noncommittally, saying she fully agreed
that the scale and nature of the atrocity committed on
November 23 called for a serious and thorough investigation.
The Ambassador said she knew the complexity of the situation
in Central Mindanao, and it was important that martial law in
no way impinge on freedom of the press. Respect for human
rights was critical, and that the sooner the government’s
objective could be achieved and the martial lifted, the
better.

FOREIGN SECRETARY
—————–

¶9. (C) The Ambassador met as well with Foreign Secretary
Alberto Romulo on December 7 to discuss the martial law
decree. Romulo, who was tapped by Arroyo to explain the
martial law decision to the international community, told the
Ambassador he believed there had been no choice other than
imposing martial law. The cabinet, he noted, had been
appalled by both the massacre and the extent of the
Ampatuans’ arsenal. Given Ampatuan influence over the courts
in Maguindanao, there was no other way to ensure legal
processes would run their proper course. Romulo said Acting
Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera was moving quickly and
forcefully to bring the perpetrators to justice, and Romulo
hoped that conditions would permit a quick recision of
martial law.

¶10. (C) Romulo stressed that the current measures could not
properly be compared to the Marcos-era imposition of martial
law. The government was watching the situation carefully and
would use its powers not to restrict liberties but to bring
killers to justice; the government welcomed the presence of
the media and the Philippine Commission on Human Rights in
Maguindanao. Romulo predicted that the Congress — which
would convene late in the afternoon on December 8 in a joint
session focused on the declaration of martial law — would
approve the administration’s approach.

¶11. (C) The Ambassador told Romulo that, while the USG
understood and shared the horror Filipinos felt about the
massacre, we also understood the anxiety that martial law
evoked. The Ambassador noted USG concern for respect of
human rights and welcomed Romulo’s assessment that the
government would likely be able to lift martial law well in
advance of the 60-day limit.

COMMENT
——-

¶12. (C) Critics of President Arroyo’s December 5 decree have
suggested that there were other measures short of martial law
to achieve the same ends. Still, Ermita and Romulo are two
of our most credible government interlocutors, so we take at
face value their core points, which provide the simplest and
most credible explanation for the Cabinet’s actions: the

MANILA 00002503 003 OF 003

government believed that the Ampatuans, who acted with
impunity on their own turf, had enormous influence over the
local courts and a frighteningly well-armed militia; the
Cabinet clearly saw martial law, despite its highly negative
connotations, as the best way to ensure accountability for
the November 23 massacre. Nonetheless, we will continue to
watch the situation carefully and encourage both respect for
human rights and a recision of martial law as soon as
practicable.
KENNEY

   

 

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