Sep 152014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA2142 2005-05-11 21:01 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 002142



E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/11/2015


¶B. MANILA 1988

Classified By: Deputy Pol/C Joseph Novak for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

¶1. (C) Summary: In a recent press conference, three
left-leaning Catholic bishops accused President Arroyo of not
doing enough to help the poor, and said they would
participate in a “national day of mourning and protest” on
June 12. Separately, in public testimony in the House on May
3, Archbishop Oscar Cruz claimed that many GRP officials were
implicated in corruption related to “jueteng” (illegal
gambling) and provided material that may implicate the
president and her family. In a May 6 meeting with poloffs,
Monsignor Coronel of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the
Philippines (CBCP) emphasized that the three bishops and
Archbishop Cruz did not speak for the Church as a whole. He
insisted that most of the Philippines’ 91 active bishops
supported the president and her policies. The Church remains
a powerful force here, to which Malacanang pays attention,
and further criticism from this quarter could prove
unsettling to a GRP leadership already tense about recurrent
destabilization plots and rumors. As the House Speaker
convenes an all-party conference May 12, soundings on the
solidity of Church support — or lack thereof — behind the
President may have an impact on their plans over the coming
months. End Summary.

Hard-hitting Bishops

¶2. (U) At a recent press conference, Roman Catholic bishops
Deogracias Iniguez, Julio Xavier Labayen, and Antonio Tobias
accused President Arroyo of pursuing economic policies that
promote foreign economic interests at the expense of the
country’s poor. Bishop Labayen warned the Arroyo
administration that “time is running out and no force can
stop the coming deluge as the pent-up emotions of our poor
suffering people (are) about to explode.” The three bishops
issued their statements in conjunction with Kilusang
Makabansang Ekonomiya (KME), a left-leaning non-governmental
organization that promotes economic reforms. At the press
conference, KME representatives also criticized the Arroyo
administration for rising fuel prices, water and power rates,
as well as tax increases aimed at reducing the Philippines’
debt burden. The three bishops threw their support behind
the KME’s call for a “national day of mourning and protest”
on June 12 to galvanize opponents of the administration. A
KME representative subsequently claimed to the press that
five other bishops supported the call for the president to
change her policies, but did not want their names made public.

¶3. (C) In a May 6 meeting with poloff, Bishop Iniguez
reiterated many of the same points. Iniguez, who is also the
press spokesman of the CBCP, noted that he had spoken on his
own behalf and not as a representative of the CBCP. He
remarked, however, that bishops had “a right, even an
obligation to speak out on moral issues.” He added that
bishops had spoken out in opposition to then-president
Estrada and would do so against Arroyo when they thought she
was pursuing the wrong policies. Poloff reiterated that the
U.S. and the international community firmly supported
democracy and stability in the Philippines, and would not
accept any form of extra-constitutional action.

An Archbishop Joins the Fray

¶4. (U) Separately, President Arroyo and her administration
came under fire from a well-known Catholic archbishop for not
cracking down on “jueteng,” a form of illegal gambling
(septel). On May 3, the Archbishop — a long-standing
crusader against jueteng — testified before the House of
Representatives’ Committee on Public Order and Safety, and
presented to the committee documents that he said contained
information on his charges, including material that may
implicate the president and members of her family.
Archbishop Cruz testified that the jueteng problem had become
considerably worse under the Arroyo administration, growing
into a multi-billion peso industry that involved huge
payoffs. Cruz’s appearance before Congress brought him face
to face with Congressman Mikey Arroyo, the president’s son.
In a heated exchange, the younger Arroyo demanded that the
Archbishop provide evidence to substantiate his charges.
Archbishop Cruz responded that — by coming forward — he
hoped that the committee would investigate his claims. He
did not repeat charges that he has made in public before that
the First Gentleman as well Mikey Arroyo and GMA’s
brother-in-law, Congressman Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, were
directly involved in jueteng-related corruption. Archbishop
Cruz reportedly called Mikey Arroyo “a good man” at the
committee hearing.

¶5. (C) In a May 4 meeting with poloff, however, Archbishop
Cruz repeated the claim against the Arroyo trio, asserting
that he had “multiple sources” that linked the first family
to jueteng profits. He also implicated others, including
high-level officials in the Philippine National Police (PNP)
hierarchy, General Hermogenes Ebdane (former PNP chief and
the current Secretary of Public Works), retired police
official Eduardo Martillano, and Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid.
In addition, Archbishop Cruz provided poloff with two
documents on jueteng (which he had provided to the House
committee). The first document listed provinces with monthly
jueteng collection amounts and a list of “operators,”
including several provincial governors and local politicians
(many of these officials were from Pampanga, the home
province of the president). The second document outlined the
Arroyo family’s alleged ties to central Luzon politicians and
others allegedly involved in jueteng, estimates on the
amounts of money collected, and who gets it. The Archbishop
said the information in the documents is based on information
he collected from his network of clergymen in the region and
from other sources.
Church not taking a stand

¶6. (C) In a May 6 meeting with poloffs, Monsignor Hernando
Coronel, the General Secretary of the CBCP, denied that the
three bishops or Archbishop Cruz spoke for the Church as a
whole. He said most of the Philippines’ 91 active bishops
supported the president and her policies. He said the three
bishops were respected members of the hierarchy, but had
always been among those who “leaned left” and considered
themselves “pro-poor.” He said that, in upcoming meetings,
the CBCP would discuss how to deal with the three bishops’
statements, although he admitted that the CBCP had no ability
to discipline its members, apart from advising them more
closely to hew to CBCP policies, which generally take a
nuanced approach to politics. Msgr. Coronel said it was
possible that Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines Antonio
Franco might take the matter of the bishops’ statements up
with the Vatican. Msgr. Coronel added that the statements by
the three bishops might be an effort to influence the
upcoming election for CBCP chief. (Note: Incumbent
president, Archbishop Fernando Capalla, is not running for
re-election after serving one two-year term, which is
scheduled to end in June. end note)


¶7. (C) The Church remains a powerful force in this country,
notably in its opposition to legalizing jueteng as well as to
population control. Many observers predict that other senior
bishops may soon begin to voice public criticisms of the
President, which they believe will further weaken her
political standing. In light of a recent “destabilization”
effort (ref b), such a trend would be of special concern to
the devout President and her advisers. However, the
opposition remains extremely divided, but a push from the
Church to oppose Arroyo could change this dynamic. House
Speaker Jose De Venecia will convene a meeting of the
secretaries general of all political parties on May 12, with

a hope to organize a larger unity gathering soon. Soundings
of the Church’s support for GMA — or lack thereof — will
likely be a matter of serious corridor discussion as they
plot their course over the months ahead.

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