Sep 222014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA3477 2005-07-29 07:31 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 003477



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/29/2015


¶B. MANILA 2442
¶C. MANILA 2332

Classified By: Political Officer Timothy Cipullo for
Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: The election campaign in the Autonomous
Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is heating up. The
governor’s race appears to have come down to a showdown
between Zaldy Ampatuan and Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas, two
well-known regional figures. Ampatuan, who is running as the
candidate of Lakas, President Arroyo’s party, is favored to
win. Several organizations have expressed concern about
fraud and have called for the elections to be postponed.
Mission’s observation effort is moving forward. The Charge
is planning to visit Marawi, a key regional city, on August
3, while five Mission teams are slated to be in the region on
August 8, election day. Mission continues to emphasize how
important it is that the elections be free and fair. End

ARMM Race Heats Up

¶2. (SBU) Candidates are ratcheting up their campaigns in the
closing days before the ARMM elections scheduled to take
place on August 8. At stake are the offices of ARMM
governor, vice governor, and all 24 seats in the ARMM
Regional Legislative Assembly. The gubernatorial race is now
down to two serious contenders, following the announcement on
July 26 by opposition candidate Guimid Matalam that he was
joining President Arroyo’s Lakas-CMD Party and dropping out
of the race. Matalam went on to endorse Lakas’ favored
candidate, Zaldy Ampatuan. With Matalam’s withdrawal, the
campaign becomes a showdown between Ampatuan, the mayor of
Shariff Aguak, and Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas, a well-known
businessman. Several other candidates are running as
independents, though observers believe none of them has the
backing to make a serious run at the governorship.

¶3. (C) In a July 28 meeting, Lito Banayo, a political
assistant to Opposition Senator Panfilo Lacson, told Acting
Pol/C that the Opposition was very upset at Matalam’s
decision “to defect.” The race now has no candidate directly
linked with the Opposition, he claimed, “which was
unfortunate for Philippine democracy.” He accused the
government of “buying off” Matalam.

Calls for Postponement Grow

¶4. (SBU) Several organizations have expressed concern about
fraud and have called for the elections to be postponed. On
July 28, for example, the National Movement for Free
Elections (NAMFREL), an election watchdog group, urged
Congress and the GRP’s Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to
postpone the elections, citing concerns over fraud and the
need to ensure “that the necessary safeguards for the conduct
of clean elections are in place.” NAMFREL officials recently
met with members of the ARMM Business Council, which has also
called for a postponement of the election due to concerns
over allegations of “vote padding” in the region. Calls for
postponement of the ARMM elections have been growing since a
group of ARMM politicians, led by current Governor Parouk
Hussin, filed a petition urging the Supreme Court to issue a
Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that would delay the
holding of the elections. The petition, which was filed in
early July, claimed that the elections were not being carried
out in accordance with the Constitution. (Note: Contacts at
the Supreme Court informed poloff that the Court plans to
issue a ruling on the request for the TRO soon. End Note.)

¶5. (SBU) COMELEC chairman Benjamin Abalos, however, has
continued to publicly maintain that his organization will be
able to hold credible elections and he has insisted that the
elections will proceed on schedule. Other Mission contacts
have also asserted that it is now too late to postpone the
elections and have predicted that they will take place as
scheduled on August 8.

Mission Observation Effort

¶6. (SBU) Mission’s election observation effort is moving
forward. Mission has already sent pre-election teams to
Marawi, Basilan, and Sultan Kudarat municipality (outside
Cotabato City) to gauge local opinion and preparations for
the August 8 polls. Charge will visit Marawi City, a
particularly important Muslim-dominated area, on August 3 to
speak with local voters and government officials. He will
also meet with Brigadier General Benjamin Dolorfino, the
Philippine military officer responsible for security in the
region for the period of the elections. During the polling
and follow-on counting of the hand-written ballots on August
8th and 9th, Mission plans to dispatch five teams to the
following four sites: Basilan, Marawi, Cotabato City (two
teams), and Sultan Kudarat. The International Federation for
Election Systems (IFES), working through USAID, will also
field election observers focused on the island provinces of
Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi Tawi. We are also coordinating our
observation efforts with those of the embassies of Australia,
Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the UK. Mission continues to
work very closely with local police regarding security for
the observation effort.

¶7. (C) So far, conversations with a wide spectrum of voters
during pre-election visits has revealed a general mood of
pessimism about the potential for vote buying and violence.
Many ARMM residents also expressed apathy, asserting that
Ampatuan’s reputed close links with Malacanang made the
election results a foregone conclusion. (Note:
Historically, candidates that were linked with the
President’s party have won the governorship by a landslide in
every ARMM election, amid widespread charges of vote rigging.
End Note.) Another factor contributing to voter apathy is
the perception that neither Ampatuan nor Paglas (who are
ethnic Maguindinaoans) will adequately represent the
interests of other ethnic groups in the ARMM. Nonetheless,
based on the observer visits, election officials continue to
make preparations at voting precincts and counting centers.
The local military commander in Basilan, Brigadier General
Reymundo Ferrer, told PA officer that he expects election day
to be “quiet.”


¶8. (C) There had been significant hope that the ARMM
elections could serve as a model for the Philippines given
its poor track record in past elections, including those in
May 2004. As noted, however, worries over fraud and violence
have led to reduced expectations. Nonetheless, Mission, at
every opportunity, continues to emphasize how important it is
that the elections be free and fair. Meanwhile, our
on-the-ground observation efforts are helping underscore the
point that the international community is closely watching
the situation. These efforts, hopefully, will help create a
more favorable environment come August 8.

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