Sep 222014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA3116 2005-07-07 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 03 MANILA 003116



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


¶B. MANILA 2442
¶C. MANILA 2332
¶D. MANILA 1529

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

¶1. (C) Summary: The campaign for the August 8 elections in
the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) began on June
¶28. Despite earlier promises, Malacanang has endorsed a
candidate for governor: Zaldy Ampatuan, a mayor and scion of
a well-known political clan. Ampatuan is now favored to win
in what many predict could be a violent race filled with
fraud. Two Muslim insurgent groups have criticized the
holding of the election and urged the public not to
participate. The Commission of Elections (COMELEC) is
scrambling to prepare for the elections. Mission, working
with other embassies, is planning to field observer teams to
the region before the election and on election day. Given
COMELEC’s poor track record and the ongoing political
tensions in Manila, it would be positive if the ARMM
elections could serve as a model, but, at this point, signs
do not point in that direction. End Summary.

Campaign Begins

¶2. (SBU) On August 8, the five Muslim-dominated provinces
that make up the ARMM will elect a governor, vice governor,
and representatives to the 24-member Regional Legislative
Assembly. These are the first ARMM elections since November
2001 (the GRP originally scheduled the elections for November
2004, but then postponed them). The field of candidates for
the gubernatorial contest has finally solidified with
Malacanang’s endorsement of Zaldy Ampatuan — the Mayor of
Sharif Aguak, the capital of Maguindanao Province. Ampatuan
has agreed to contest the election as the candidate of Lakas,
a key party in President Arroyo’s coalition. Due in part to
the endorsement, as well as his family’s well-known name and
clan links in the region, Ampatuan is the early favorite in
the election.

¶3. (SBU) Malacanang’s decision to endorse Ampatuan was a
surprise — for months, the Palace had said it had no plans
to endorse anyone. In response to the news, current ARMM
Governor Parouk Hussin quit Lakas (though he remains in the
race for governor as an independent candidate). Congressman
Abdulgani “Gerry” Salapudin withdrew from the race after
Ampatuan received Lakas’ endorsement. In addition to
Ampatuan and Hussin, other well-known gubernatorial
candidates include (there are three other minor candidates):

— Ibrahim “Toto” Paglas, a business entrepreneur and Mayor
of Datu Paglas, who is running with the Liberal Party.
Paglas is the most serious challenger to Ampatuan; and,

— Guimid Matalam, a former congressman from Maguindanao
Province running with the opposition Partido Masang Pilipino
(PMP) Party.

¶4. (C) Many Mission contacts have expressed serious concern
that the elections will be marred by fraud and violence. The
Ampatuan family has a reputation as a political warlord clan
that has employed violence in the past (ref B). Toto Paglas,
the main rival to Zaldy Ampatuan, told poloff in late June,
“We must watch the Ampatuans. They have lots of private
armies and have terrorized every ARMM election.” The
potential for violence has fueled demands for heightened
security on election day. On July 5, the Department of
National Defense (DND) held a meeting with the ARMM
candidates and local military commanders in Manila. Armed
Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Efren
Abu announced that the AFP plans to enforce strictly a ban on
the possession of firearms on election day and to set up
check points to guard against violence. DND also reinforced
the message that the AFP was completely neutral, and that all
commanders in the region should avoid any and all actions
that might suggest favoring one candidate over another.

Insurgent Groups on Outside Looking in

¶5. (SBU) Two Muslim insurgent groups have criticized the
holding of the election and urged the public not to
participate. Press reports indicate disillusionment and
disappointment in Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) ranks
due to the absence of a gubernatorial candidate from the
group. Some MNLF leaders are calling for their followers to
boycott the polls. At a June 22-23 meeting, some delegates
at the “Bangsamoro Command Conference of the MNLF” declared
their intention to boycott the August 8 polls. However,
former MNLF chairman and former ARMM governor Nur Misuari
recently told the media (from jail where he is incarcerated
by the GRP) that he considers such a boycott antithetical to
the spirit of the 1996 peace agreement that the MNLF reached
with the GRP. For the MILF’s part, the group has said it
considers the ARMM to be a “sham,” and has ordered its
members to boycott the election.

COMELEC in a Scramble

¶6. (C) COMELEC is scrambling to prepare for the elections.
It recently had to abandon plans to use automated voting
machines and vote counting will be done manually. On July 6,
COMELEC Commissioner Florentino Tuason said he realized that
there was significant pressure on his organization and the
GRP, stating; “The forthcoming ARMM elections, I believe, is
some sort of a litmus test not only for COMELEC, but for the
entire leadership.” Tuason’s fellow Commissioner Mehol
Sadain, a Muslim and ethnic Tausug who is in charge of
COMELEC’s operations in Basilan Province, told poloff June 30
that COMELEC had low morale resulting, in part, from the
controversy surrounding the recently-released audiotape of a
discussion between President Arroyo and a COMELEC official in
2004 (ref A). COMELEC, however, had refocused its efforts
and assigned one commissioner per province in the ARMM in
order to “ensure the election gets done right.” Despite
having received a reduced election budget of 199 million
pesos (USD 3,553,000) from Congress (COMELEC requested
approximately 350 million pesos), Sadain said support staff
and materials in COMELEC provincial offices and voting
centers would be in place by August 8. He admitted that
under-funding for COMELEC operations would probably delay
some results. Sadain downplayed media reports of disputes
between COMELEC and GRP security forces, claiming that he
understood that COMELEC would deputize roughly 1000 AFP and
500 police personnel per province to help ensure security and
an orderly election.

Mission Efforts

¶7. (SBU) Security conditions permitting, Mission is planning
to send 14 officers and 10 FSNs to the ARMM to observe the
elections. Officers will make five trips in the weeks before
the election to meet with GRP, COMELEC, civil society, and
other groups. The Charge also plans to visit the region in
early August. On election day, teams of two officers and one
FSN will visit five areas to observe polling stations and
ballot counting. RSO will send a representative to each city
in advance of the observers to coordinate security
arrangements. Mission is coordinating its efforts with the
embassies of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand,
among others. Mission will host a joint training session
with other embassies on July 21. The training will cover
poll watching procedures, security, and media interaction.

¶8. (U) The USG is also providing technical assistance to the
election effort. USAID recently awarded an extension of an
earlier grant to the International Foundation for Election
Systems (IFES) to allow it to continue its targeted ARMM
election assistance and electoral reform program through the
end of 2005. IFES has supported COMELEC’s efforts to improve
ballot design and to update voter lists in the ARMM. IFES
also is providing technical and financial assistance to the
Consortium on Election Reform (CER) which has been working
with 65 local NGOs in the ARMM to conduct voter education
campaigns in the run-up to the election. Some of these NGOs
will field their own monitoring teams on election day.


¶9. (C) Given COMELEC’s poor track record, and the ongoing
political tensions in Manila, it would be positive if the
ARMM elections could serve as a model, but, at this point,
signs do not point in that direction. As noted, it appears
that there could well be significant violence and fraud in
the elections. Malacanang’s decision to endorse Zaldy
Ampatuan has been very controversial, rubbing many in
Mindanao the wrong way. The Ampatuan clan’s involvement
could well lead to magnified problems in light of manifold
accusations that it has employed violence and engaged in
election cheating in the past. Working with other embassies
and NGOs, Mission believes that the observation efforts
should help underscore the point that the international
community is watching, and supports free and fair elections.
Many contacts in the ARMM have told us how much they support
the U.S. plan to send observers to help keep tabs on
electoral preparations and the voting process itself.

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