Sep 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10MANILA333.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10MANILA333
2010-02-19 03:48
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 000333

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/18/2020
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM KJUS EAID ASEC RP
SUBJECT: ELECTION STUMBLING BLOCKS RAISE QUESTIONS

REF: A. MANILA 281 (PREPARATIONS ON TRACK)
¶B. MANILA 135 (MEETING WITH AQUINO)

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires, a.i. Leslie A. Bassett,
reason: 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY
——-

¶1. (C) Election controversies are an established tradition in
the Philippines, and the 2010 national poll looks certain to
feature its fair share. The country is embarking on an
unprecedented effort to automate the vote nationwide, and
Filipinos still face considerable hurdles in implementing
this ambitious goal. Coincidentally, every office in the
Presidential line of succession is up for grabs in this
nationwide vote, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
is also set to retire amid haggling over whether President
Arroyo has the right to appoint his successor. Unless the
eventual presidential victor wins by a significant margin, it
is possible the weeks following the election will see
disputes and competing claims of victory. Nonetheless, as in
the U.S. system, the Philippine President remains in office
for many weeks following the election, providing breathing
room to work on serious issues that may arise. Moreover, the
recent inability of any political party or figure to
duplicate the “people power” mass demonstrations of past
years coincides with increasing professionalization of the
military and police, institutions that currently seem to have
lost their appetite for direct involvement in the political
process. As the presidential race develops and the outlines
of the result become clearer, it will be important for the
U.S. and the international community to signal the need for
close adherence to constitutional and legal practices, and to
dampen the enthusiasm of any disappointed candidate who might
want to take his fight to the streets rather than to the
courts. End Summary.

I WAS ROBBED
————

¶2. (C) A seasoned political observer here has noted that
there are no losers in Philippine elections, only candidates
who claim they had the election stolen from them. A
combination of election manipulation and candidates’ pride
often leads to results being disputed before the Commission
on Elections (COMELEC) and the courts. Indeed COMELEC in
recent months reversed the outcome of three major 2007 races
— for two governorships and a congressional seat — and
Senator Loren Legarda, now running again for Vice President,
only last year reluctantly gave up her battle to be declared
the legitimate Vice President from the 2004 election.

¶3. (C) There are legitimate reasons for candidates to
complain. President Arroyo has been dogged since 2004 by a
widespread belief that she colluded with COMELEC to ensure
she won the 2004 presidential election by a wide margin.
Mindful of the long history of electoral irregularities in
the Philippines, especially the manipulation of the vote
count as results are transmitted to the capital, the country
embarked on an extraordinarily ambitious plan to automate the
2010 election nationwide. While this plan held the promise
of increasing the integrity of elections and reducing
election-day violence, it also has spawned concern about the
logistical, technological, and human factors involved in the
transition.

AUTOMATION CONCERNS
——————-

¶4. (C) The automated election equipment for this election
consists of optical scanners manufactured by the SmartMatic
company, which will scan and interpret a ballot with ovals
shaded by the voters; the machines will tally the votes and
then transmit results to COMELEC servers. Similar machines
worked reasonably well in a regional election in Mindanao in
¶2008. An executive of U.S. firm SysTest (protect),
contracted by COMELEC to test the current systems, recently
told us that the SmartMatic systems appear able to function
as intended (ref A). If these work properly on election day,
they should provide results instantly accessible to the
public via the internet.

¶5. (C) Early field testing showed that, while most SmartMatic
machines worked as intended, some had difficulty scanning
ballots or transmitting results. Experts are working to
address the problems identified to date, but it is impossible

MANILA 00000333 002 OF 003

that every machine will function flawlessly, or that polling
station personnel will smoothly execute fallback plans when
necessary. Meanwhile, COMELEC has much work remaining in
educating voters about the new automated procedures at its
planned 37,000 polling stations. Recent mock polls showed
that voters needed nearly 12 minutes to fill out the complex
machine-readable ballot, which requires special pens and ink,
is 25 inches long, double-sided, and lists well over 250
candidates and parties. Some election experts expressed
concern that voters, especially the elderly, will either err
or choose not to vote out of fear of erring.

PRESIDENTIAL SUCCESSION AND THE “FAILURE” SCENARIO
——————————————— —–

¶6. (C) The shift to automated systems has led some Filipinos
to postulate a failure of the 2010 elections, with widespread
malfunctioning of the SmartMatic machines (or electronic
manipulation of the results) precluding a determination of
election victors and necessitating a follow-on election.
More fevered minds have voiced concern that President Arroyo
would take advantage of such a crisis — or even cause it —
in order to remain in office beyond the June 30 end of her
term in office.

¶7. (C) The Constitution specifies that the line of
presidential succession begins with the Vice President,
followed by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House
of Representatives. This year, however, all the
aforementioned posts are up for reelection, and a total
failure of elections might lead to a constitutional crisis.
Thus, some in the Senate have argued that current Senate
President Enrile should resign the Senate presidency in order
that a Senator with a term lasting until 2013 could assume
the position and ensure continuity of governance. (Enrile
has shown no interest in this proposal.)

¶8. (C) Anxiety about a possible constitutional crisis has led
observers to speculate about Supreme Court involvement.
Current Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno faces
mandatory retirement because of his age on May 17, and the
constitution precludes President Arroyo from making
appointments in the final two months of her term. (Some
Filipinos have questioned whether that provision covers
judicial appointees.) The media has hypothesized about the
political ramifications of a vacancy on the court, though
legal observers suggest the Court could still function with
an acting Chief Justice. Some of the debate over President
Arroyo’s right to appoint Puno’s successor as Chief Justice
may be connected to jockeying among Supreme Court Justices
for the top position, rather than principled concern about
election-related ramifications.

PUBLIC, SECURITY FORCES NOT PRIMED FOR ACTION
———————————————

¶9. (C) While some leading candidates may be predisposed to
believe and foster a perception that victory was rightfully
theirs, it is not clear they can bring the public out into
the streets in large enough numbers to change the outcome of
a disputed election. Current Liberal party presidential
candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III recalls well the
success of his mother, Cory Aquino, in drawing upon “people
power” to oust authoritarian President Marcos in 1986. And
Noynoy Aquino has contemplated whether he might resort to
mass demonstrations if he felt the election had been
illegally manipulated (ref B). But the public has not
appeared eager to change the Philippines’ leadership through
street protests, even though prodded repeatedly in recent
years by some influential opponents of Arroyo. We attribute
this in part to the Arroyo administration’s success in
providing an economic “safety valve” in the form of easy
emigration for overseas employment, and also in helping to
keep consumer staples affordable. Of equal importance, the
security forces have made no significant attempt at mutiny
since 2003 (although there have been more recent incidents of
lesser import), and the military and police have not shown a
notable inclination toward supporting any mass movement in
favor of a particular candidate.

COMMENT
——-

¶10. (C) We believe fears of an election failure and a
succession crisis are overblown. As noted above, the
SmartMatic machines appear reasonably reliable. And in the
event of widespread problems on election day, the Philippine

MANILA 00000333 003 OF 003

government and legislature remain in place for approximately
seven weeks — hopefully long enough time to devise and build
consensus around a solution. Much of the tumult over a
possible failed election can be written off to a penchant —
particularly among the media — for political melodrama.
Nevertheless, the Philippines’ history of election fraud and
political violence, as well as the technical hurdles involved
in the automation effort, underscore the need for continued
international efforts to help ensure a credible and
transparent election process. Mission will continue its
broad-ranging efforts with the International Foundation for
Electoral Systems (IFES), The Asia Foundation, and the
American Bar Association to provide COMELEC with technical
assistance for managing automated election processes; to
support election monitoring by NGOs; and to support the
Philippine judiciary in anticipation of election protests.
The Embassy, coordinating with other diplomatic missions,
will conduct its own election observation effort with broad
geographic coverage, to ensure we have credible, first-hand
information about the election process as it takes place.
And we will be prepared, in case of a crisis, to emphasize
publicly the importance of all actors following
constitutional and legal procedures to address whatever
problems arise.
BASSETT

   

 

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