Oct 232014


Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA2970 2005-06-28 08:12 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 002970



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/28/2015


¶B. MANILA 2887
¶C. MANILA 2840
¶D. MANILA 2815

Classified By: Political Officer Andrew McClearn for
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: In a brief national address on June 27, a
subdued President Arroyo admitted that a taped telephone
conversation with an election official last year was “a lapse
in judgment” and said “I am sorry.” Asked subsequently for
media comment, Charge underscored that the USG supports
transparency, accountability, and the rule of law. According
to Embassy contacts, former president Aquino and Manila
Archbishop Rosales, as well as by members of her Cabinet,
pushed Arroyo to explain herself to the Filipino public at
last. Reaction to the President’s speech has been mixed at
best. While likely worth doing, the admission may be “too
little, too late” to (re)gain public and political support,
much less to enable her to move forward on her substantive
agenda. End Summary.

Arroyo Apologizes

¶2. (U) In a 4 minute national TV and radio address delivered
the evening of June 27, a subdued President Arroyo admitted
that a telephone conversation with an election official —
whom she did not name — last year was “a lapse in judgment”
and she said “I am sorry.” She did not specifically admit to
being the voice on the now widely circulated audiotape of an
apparent wiretapped conversation, however. In her remarks:

— Arroyo acknowledged that the issues raised by the taped
conversations had “spun out of control” and that the nation
deserved an explanation;
— she cited the slowness of the 2004 election’s national
canvassing process, and confessed to “feeling anxious to
protect my votes,” which led her to discuss the vote count
“with a COMELEC (Commission on Elections) official;”
— she denied any intent to influence the outcome of the
election and reiterated that the May 2004 electoral process
was credible, as established by domestic and international
— she expressed regret at having taken so long to address
the public about the matter and said she took “full
responsibility” for her actions;
— after repeating the short apology in Tagalog using earthy,
populist-tinged language, Arroyo expressed a desire to push
past the tape scandal and “move on with the business of
governing.” She insisted she had a “mandate to govern” and
that she had already carried out “tough but necessary
decisions” in order to readjust the economy and raise new
revenues in order to “reinvest in the people.” Asking for
unity, Arroyo called for the Philippines to enter “the next
phase of the reform agenda,” which would include expanded
social services and increased anti-corruption efforts.

Mission Reaction

¶3. (U) Media sources asked Charge for comment after the
conclusion of the speech. Charge responded: “The U.S.
government supports transparency, accountability, and the
rule of law. As the U.S. has repeatedly said, the search for
truth is always a good thing, as is also abiding by the
Constitution and due process.”

Pressure from Cory and Archbishop?

¶4. (C) According to Embassy contacts, former president
Corazon Aquino and Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales pushed
Arroyo during a June 26 meeting at Malacanang Palace to
explain herself publicly — or resign — and indicated that
they would withdraw their support if she did not do so before
the funeral of Cardinal Jaime Sin on June 28. Aquino issued
a statement immediately following Arroyo’s speech that “Her
admission of judgmental lapses leading to improper conduct on
her part is a truly welcome statement.” Vice President Noli
de Castro lauded the “courage” of the President and called on
Filipinos to put the issue of the tapes behind them.
President Aquino sat with the President and the Vice
President during the three-hour long funeral on June 28, over
which Archbishop Rosales presided.

¶5. (C) Congressman Jesli Lapus, the Chairman of the House
Ways and Means Committee and a key GMA ally in the passage of
her fiscal measures, separately told A/DCM that the Cabinet
had also heightened its pressure on her to go public with an
explanation and apology. He cited Finance Secretary Cesar
Purisima and Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz in particular as
playing key roles in convincing her to address the public.

Reaction: The Pro and the Con

¶6. (C) Reaction to the President’s speech has been decidedly
mixed. Senate President Franklin Drilon applauded the speech
but urged the President to follow up with “concrete actions”
to implement necessary reforms. House Speaker Jose de
Venecia issued a statement from his travels in Europe
claiming that Arroyo “has regained the moral high ground” and
expressing the hope that the President could now return to
the business of governing. Rep. Abraham Mitra told poloff
that Arroyo’s majority in the House remained overwhelming
despite some slippage and predicted that any move to impeach
her would not be successful. Congressman Lapus, however,
privately expressed doubt Arroyo could be able to move
forward with additional needed economic measures. He added
that Cabinet members had reportedly already convinced Arroyo
also to ask her husband Mike to leave the country for an
undetermined timeframe, and to convince her son Mikey and
brother-in-law Iggy to resign from Congress due to reports
linking them to jueteng (illegal gambling) profiteering.

¶7. (C) Opposition members seized on the confession as a sign
of the President’s guilt and continued to insist that she
must resign or face impeachment. Some also called for snap
elections. Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson pressed Arroyo to
quit: “Now that she has authenticated the tape, she must
vacate.” House Minority Leader Francis Escudero said that he
accepted Arroyo’s apology but maintained that “Gloria-Gate”
was far from over. He declared that if “she cannot
distinguish between what is moral and illegal, then she must
resign.” Former president Joseph Estrada, who remains under
house arrest on plunder charges, called her admission “a high
crime and betrayal of the people’s right to suffrage.”
Congressman Teodoro “Teddy” Casino of the leftist Bayan Muna
party told poloff that describing the taped conversations “as
a lapse in judgment was putting it too lightly, since she
admitted she did something wrong.” Casino said the next
logical step was impeachment. One private citizen has
already filed an impeachment petition with the House, but no
member of the House has yet endorsed the petition, as
required by House rules.


¶8. (C) Many believe that Arroyo’s dramatic statement was
“too little, too late” but that it may still stem the tide —
for now — in the absence of new scandals. Even some
opposition figures have predicted that no further major
public demonstrations are likely during the rainy season,
which will last until late fall. Arroyo may have bought some
time, but her course is inherently a risky one. The
opposition predictably shows no signs of relenting in its
drive to evict her from office. Most of her supporters are
likely even more lukewarm than before. Her “will she or
won’t she” approach to the public confession, coupled with a
similar apparent indecision over the extension of the current
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Abu
and appointment of his successor, heighten the perception of
a weak and vacillating politico, failing to demonstrated
desirable leadership skills. She will definitely face a
difficult time to advance her substantive agenda, much less
to (re)gain significant levels of public and political

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