Sep 222014
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2009-04-29 08:59
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #0924/01 1190859
O 290859Z APR 09 ZUI ZDK 4427 1191015
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 MANILA 000924



E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/30/2019


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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: With a general election slated for May 2010,
self-declared candidates across the country have begun
vigorously campaigning for almost 18,000 local, provincial,
regional, and national positions at stake, including
successors to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Vice
President Noli De Castro. Some 50 million voters )- the
most ever — will be eligible to cast votes in what election
officials hope will be the country’s first nationwide,
electronically automated ballot. Shifting demographics,
including millions of new young voters and the return of
unemployed overseas workers, could sway election outcomes.
While allegations abound that President Arroyo is seeking to
extend her time in office, nine notable politicians and five
less viable candidates have declared their intention to run
for President; they are already jockeying for name
recognition and campaign financing. One top candidate,
Senator Manuel Villar, told the Ambassador April 20 that a
vast campaign war chest was needed to win the Presidency and
his enormous wealth positioned him well for the contest.
Issues like constitutional reform and debate over the
U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement will figure
prominently as nationalist campaign rhetoric heats up, but
early signs indicate substantive policy issues will once
again give way to the mud-slinging realities of Manila’s
popularity-driven and scandal-laden politics.

¶2. (C) In this first of two cables, we examine the political
factors that will impact the May 2010 elections and provide a
brief glance at the top contenders for President. A second
cable will examine the second-tier contenders for President.


¶3. (C) Self-declared candidates across the country have begun
vigorously campaigning for many of the approximately 18,000
local, provincial, regional, and national positions that will
be at stake in what election officials hope will be the
nation’s first-ever automated presidential elections. The
most watched contests will be those for President, Vice
President, half of the 24 Senate seats, and all 250 seats in
the House of Representatives. Also at stake are 80
provincial governor and 80 vice governor posts, thousands of
municipal mayor and vice mayor posts, provincial board member
seats, and municipal councilor seats. Because of the planned
introduction of new automated voting systems in this
election, candidates will officially file their candidacies
with the Commission on Elections on November 30, nearly four
months earlier than in previous years, prolonging the
campaign period — and opportunities for vote-buying. Family
dynasties, which can be politically, economically, and
culturally well established in specific regions, will once
again dominate races across the country, as incumbents cede
their seats to, or trade jobs with, their spouses and
children. As in years past, it will prove difficult for
outsiders to challenge the dominance of these powerful


¶4. (C) Despite a persistent belief among political actors
that President Arroyo harbors secret ambitions to amend the
constitution to extend her stay in office, either as
president or as prime minister under a parliamentary system
of government, 14 candidates for president are already hard
at work trying to elevate their public profiles, raise
campaign funds, and compete for the attention of the
established political parties, a practical necessity for
candidates unable to finance their own campaigns. The list
of truly viable candidates is expected to narrow down to five
as political realignments develop. Latest poll surveys
predict a tight race between incumbent Vice President Noli De
Castro and several opposition candidates. The winner may
ultimately be decided by less than one million votes.
Despite her unpopularity, President Arroyo’s support will
still carry weight, since she is titular head of the unified
Lakas/KAMPI party, which controls the House of
Representatives and exerts strong influence over local
government officials. While campaign funds, party machinery,
and popularity make a President, this particular election —
set against the backdrop of a global financial crisis — may

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require candidates to demonstrate a more solid background in
economics, which only a few candidates can offer.


¶5. (C) Approximately 50 million voters -) the most ever )-
will be eligible to cast their votes. Five million
first-time young voters could sway the results if candidates
and civil society can mobilize them to show up at the polls,
which the allure of electronic voting machines could
encourage. Observers will closely monitor Fall semester
voter registration trends at universities to see if a
super-sized youth vote will materialize. Another
demographic, unemployed overseas workers who have returned to
the Philippines, could find a common, middle-class voice on
issues such as the global financial crisis and economic
reform, organized by candidates or civil society. Having
experienced life in more developed countries, without the
right to vote in prior Philippine elections, and possibly
impatient at the lack of economic opportunities at home, this
segment of the population could sway election results.


¶6. (C) The Philippine House of Representatives has allocated
eight billion pesos (USD 167 million) for the Commission on
Elections (COMELEC) to procure and set up a fully automated,
optical scanning voting system for use nationwide. Observers
suggest this will be an extremely difficult task with only 12
months left to manufacture, test, and roll out the equipment.
U.S. and foreign firms are required to submit bids for the
procurement contract with COMELEC by May 4. The new system
is expected to reduce the impact of corruption at the
vote-counting stage, although the tamper-proof systems could
also effectively shift the emphasis of corruption to
vote-buying or manipulation of voter rolls. Other challenges
for COMELEC will be providing safe storage of the 84,200
optical scanners, testing and certifying the equipment,
deploying the machines intact to 40,000 polling centers,
including many in remote rural areas or islands, and training
160,000 volunteer elections staff on how to run a polling
center. COMELEC hopes extended voting hours will ease
crowding at some polling centers, but a 64 percent reduction
in the number of precincts for May 2010 could still increase
congestion and the distance that many voters have to travel
to get to the polls.


¶7. (C) The cost of running a presidential campaign in the
Philippines is heavily determined by the cost of television
and radio advertising, which accounts for a significant
portion of campaign costs. Campaign spending law limits
expenditures to approximately 135 million pesos per candidate
but, in the 2007 elections, a majority of viable candidates
exceeded this amount by 25 to 50 percent. Actual campaign
costs can hit USD 60 million or more per candidate, enough to
discourage candidates without access to the deep pockets of
Manila’s business elite. Still, heavy spending does not
guarantee winning. Individual parties may coalesce and back
a common candidate to increase that person’s chances of
winning, and some candidates may opt to become vice
presidential running mates if not drafted as their party’s
standard bearer, reducing the need for large sums.
Philippine political parties are notably weak during the
regular course of political business, but their impact rises
dramatically during campaign season, when their ability to
connect funds to candidates comes into play. Parties will
aim to field pairs of candidates that represent the strongest
combinations of broad public visibility and winning


¶8. (C) Two additional factors could affect campaign financing
for the national races. President Arroyo is reportedly
withholding one billion pesos (USD 20.8 million) in regular
pork barrel funds from House members, allegedly in exchange
for their support in constitutional reforms that could
introduce a parliamentary system in the Philippines, which
could give President Arroyo the opportunity to run for top
office again. In addition, this season’s extended campaign
period, officially beginning on November 30, could increase
expectations among the electorate that candidates will
deliver Christmas gifts or pay for holiday parties -) both

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not-so-subtle vote-buying mechanisms.


¶9. (C) The top nine contenders for the Presidency include
Vice President De Castro, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro,
Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno, former President
Joseph Estrada, and Senators Manuel Villar, Loren Legarda,
Manuel Roxas II, Francis Escudero, and Panfilo Lacson. A
second tier of contenders, including Senator Richard Gordon,
Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando,
Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, the El Shaddai charismatic
Catholic leader Brother Mike Velarde, and Pampanga
Governor-priest Eduardo Panlilio will be covered in septel.


¶10. (C) Concurrently the government’s housing czar, Vice
President De Castro, 59, has consistently topped presidential
poll surveys. Elected in 2001 to a six-year term in the
Senate, De Castro gave up his seat to become President
Arroyo’s successful running mate in the 2004 presidential
elections. He is backed by the media giant ABS-CBN where he
worked as a radio announcer and television news anchor,
making him a household name. De Castro hosts a popular radio
show on Saturdays that targets lower income families.
However, as a diffident public official with unimpressive
leadership skills and credentials, his performance has been
lackluster. His reliance on campaign donors could render him
highly prone to the dictates of vested interests. Still, as
a well-liked, personable incumbent, he could successfully
seek reelection under the administration banner or as running
mate of Senator Manuel Villar. (The two are close friends.)
De Castro is married to ABS-CBN executive Arlene Sinsuat (of
a prominent Muslim clan in Mindanao) who reportedly wields
strong influence over him.


¶11. (C) Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, 44, announced his
candidacy only recently, more than a year after his
competitors, yet he still generated a favorable response.
His peers in the Cabinet acknowledged he is presidential
material, noting his youthful idealism, intellectual
capability, leadership, sense of national pride, and firm
understanding of challenges facing the country. Teodoro is
one of the best educated presidential aspirants, holding a
Master’s Degree in law from Harvard and placing first in the
1989 Philippine Bar exam. Teodoro is politically acceptable
to the ruling Lakas/KAMPI Party and has the support of the
20,000-strong Philippine Councilors League, but lacks the
popularity of De Castro, a handicap he can overcome if he can
get the support of other parties, including the Nationalist
People’s Coalition (NPC) Party chaired by his uncle, business
magnate Eduardo Cojuangco. A three-term Tarlac
Representative before his appointment to the Arroyo Cabinet,
Teodoro once headed the NPC bloc in Congress but became
independent after he joined the Arroyo Cabinet. Teodoro’s
wife “Nikki” occupies the seat he vacated in Congress. Some
political insiders speculate that Teodoro comes across as too
elite to get the necessary lower-class votes to win.


¶12. (C) Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno has not yet
openly declared an intention to run for the presidency, but
the anti-corruption “Moral Force Movement” initiative he
started April 2009 aims to identify the leadership qualities
that he feels will benefit the country — not surprisingly,
qualities he believes he embodies — without endorsing
specific candidates. COMELEC Chairman Jose Melo and other
influential figures have nonetheless said they would vote for
Puno if he decides to run. Chief Justice Puno’s potential
influence does not end there. He opposes the
U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and recently
voted with a minority of Justices who consider the agreement


¶13. (C) Mindful of the opposition defeat in the last
presidential elections, ousted former President and pardoned
felon Joseph Estrada, 72, has threatened to run if the
opposition once again fails to unite and field a common

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candidate in 2010. His favorable survey ratings, coupled
with positive feedback from his lawyers on the legality of
his candidacy, have bolstered his hopes to retake his seat
via the ballot box. His detractors will be quick to
challenge the move, given the Constitutional prohibition
against reelection and his concurrence with the conditional
pardon granted by President Arroyo, which prohibits him from
seeking any elected office. His campaign will no doubt be
hampered by a significant number of Filipinos who fear a
repeat of the morally bankrupt and inept governance during
the Estrada Presidency. Legal wife Luisa Ejercito (he
supports several mistresses) served in the Senate from 2001
to 2007; son Jinggoy currently occupies the seat she vacated
and reportedly aspires to become Senator Villar’s running
mate. They were elected under the banner of Estrada’s
political party, Partido ng Masang Pilipino (Party of the
Filipino Masses).


¶14. (C) Senator Manuel Villar, 59, is the richest member of
the Senate and, along with his wealthy wife, Las Pinas
Representative Cynthia Villar, can produce a well-funded
presidential campaign. In an April 20 meeting with the
Ambassador, Villar observed that he was the only candidate
with the personal resources to fund his own presidential bid.
Villar, once a fish vendor from an impoverished neighborhood
in Manila, became a self-made billionaire through a strong
entrepreneurial drive, amassing his vast fortune by
diversifying the family business from low-cost housing to
upscale residential projects and mall development. He uses
his rags-to-riches story to connect with the masses. The
former House Speaker and Senate President is facing a Senate
Ethics Committee investigation for conflict of interest and
exerting undue influence in government funding for a road
project near his real estate holdings south of Manila.
However, it appears the issue has thus far not affected his
good ranking in the surveys. Villar heads the Nacionalista
Party, which he revived in 2004 in preparation for his 2010
presidential bid. His ongoing media campaign — disguised as
advocacy advertisements — pledges assistance to overseas
Filipino workers (OFWs) in distress and promotes “hard work
and perseverance” to rise above poverty.


¶15. (C) Senator Loren Legarda, 49, has declared she is ready
to lead the country, but has yet to win her party’s
nomination, also sought by Senator Francis Escudero. Running
on the heels of an unpopular female president may bias public
opinion against her, leading some observers to suggest that
she take another shot at the Vice Presidency. (In the 2004
vice presidential race, Legarda ran and lost to De Castro.)
However, Legarda seems keen on gunning for the top post and,
with strong survey results behind her, she has expressed
confidence she can beat De Castro in 2010. Legarda has often
shown a populist slant, voting against the ratification of
the U.S.-Philippines VFA in 1999, and signing a Senate
resolution to abrogate the agreement. Legarda is separated
from wealthy husband Antonio Leviste, who was recently
convicted for the murder of his business partner. Having
gone though a costly senatorial campaign, Legarda is banking
on party resources to augment her campaign kitty. Attractive
and articulate, Legarda is a former television newscaster.


¶16. (C) Senator Francis Escudero’s growing popularity may get
him the party’s nod over Legarda, which he needs to secure
campaign funds. The young and charismatic Escudero, who
gained media mileage for leading failed opposition attempts
to impeach President Arroyo in the House of Representatives,
must wait until October to meet the minimum age requirement
of 40 to qualify for President, and he would be the youngest
Presidential candidate in 2010. Despite his impressive
academic credentials, including a Masters Degree in Law from
Georgetown University, political observers think he is still
too raw for the position and could use more political
maturity, which he could get by seeking the vice presidential
seat instead or completing his Senate term in 2013. Escudero
sees himself as a Filipino version of President Obama and
lack of confidence is not one of his problems. As one
political columnist noted acidly, Escudero could “learn
lessons in humility”; others commentators have suggested that
he focus on serving citizens instead of grandstanding. Prior
to running for the Senate, he served three consecutive terms

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in the House as representative of Sorsogon Province.
Escudero supports revision of the VFA, which he finds
“onerous” in its present form.


¶17. (C) Senator Manuel Roxas II, 51, topped the 2004 Senate
race with over 19 million votes. The former Trade Secretary
and Capiz Representative has wealth and political pedigree,
and belongs to the prominent Roxas-Araneta clan. He is son
of the late Senator Gerardo Roxas and grandson to President
Manuel Roxas, first President of the independent Philippine
Republic. Mother Judy Araneta-Roxas is a well-known
socialite-philanthrophist who wields strong influence over
him. Armed with an economics degree from Wharton School in
Pennsylvania, Roxas also pursued post-graduate studies at
Harvard. Among the “presidentiables,” as presidential
contenders are known in Filipino vernacular, he has the
strongest economic background and would be the most likely to
continue President Arroyo’s economic agenda. However, he
appears to be performing less well than expected in the
surveys and has countered this with advertisements centering
on poverty alleviation. A long-time bachelor, he recently
used an appearance on the Philippine’s most popular daytime
variety show to announce his engagement to popular broadcast
journalist Korina Sanchez, a move widely seen as calculated
to bolster his presidential campaign. Roxas serves as
president of the Liberal Party.


¶18. (C) Senator Panfilo Lacson, 60, ran and lost in the 2004
presidential elections. His candidacy effectively split the
opposition vote and delivered victory to President Arroyo.
Learning from that experience, he claims to be willing to
give up his presidential ambition so that the opposition can
have a single common candidate against the administration in
¶2010. Among the staunchest critics of President Arroyo,
Lacson’s performance in opinion surveys is expected to suffer
as efforts intensify to link him )- as then Estrada’s Police
Chief — to a high-profile 2000 double murder committed while
he headed the Philippine national police. He was also one of
the Philippine government officials who received classified
documents from Filpino-American FBI intelligence agent
Leandro Aragoncillo who was convicted of espionage in the
U.S. in 2007. Lacson belongs to Philippine Military Academy
Class of 1971 and is married to Alice de Perio. He is
popular among the Filipino-Chinese business community, who
generously contributed to his previous election campaigns.




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