Sep 172014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/03/06MANILA1342.html#

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MANILA1342 2006-03-23 09:26 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
VZCZCXRO8951
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1342/01 0820926
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 230926Z MAR 06
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0139
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001342

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP, EAP/MTS, EAP/MLS, INR/EAP, INR/B, EB
PLS PASS AID:CDOWNEY
PLS PASS NSC FOR HMORROW

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/23/2016
TAGS: PGOV KCOR ECON PINR PINS RP
SUBJECT: FORMER PRESIDENT ESTRADA HEATEDLY DENIES CHARGES IN CORRUPTION TRIAL

REF: A. MANILA 0830

¶B. MANILA 0141

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

¶1. (C) Summary: Former president Joseph Estrada testified
for the first time in his almost five-year old trial on
serious corruption charges on March 22. As expected, Estrada
vehemently denied all charges. The government has sent
conflicting signals as to whether it wants to continue to try
to reach out to Estrada in sporadic talks that have so far
proven fruitless. Estrada is clearly using the trial to play
to his base among poorer Filipinos and embarrass the GRP’s
case, which has been severely hampered by delays brought
about by endless defense motions. End Summary.

———————–
Estrada Takes the Stand
———————–

¶2. (U) On March 22, former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada
testified for the first time as the defense’s 79th and final
witness in a corruption case that has dragged on for almost
five years, thus far. Estrada was charged with plunder and
other crimes in April 2001, after being forced out of
Malacanang during the “EDSA 2 People Power” movement in favor
of then-vice president and current President Arroyo in
January 2001. (Note: Plunder is a non-bailable offense that
carries a maximum penalty of death. End Note.) During the
day-long proceedings at the “Sandiganbayan” (Anti-Graft
Court) in Quezon City in metro Manila, Estrada vehemently
denied allegations that he and members of his family accepted
millions of dollars in kickbacks from tobacco excise taxes.
He also challenged the credibility of the prosecution’s star
witness, former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson.
Estrada, who remains under house arrest in a Manila suburb,
asserted that the charges against him were “trumped up” for
political reasons and that he was “framed.” He also insisted
that he had been illegally toppled by “mob rule” in 2001.

¶3. (U) Several hundred Estrada supporters, some carrying
signs reading “Free Erap,” attempted to march to the
courthouse from a nearby church. About 1,000 police who had
been deployed for the event prevented the group from reaching
the Sandiganbayan and by mid-day the demonstrators had
largely dispersed. No arrests or injuries were reported.

¶4. (U) The case has been dogged by long delays, usually due
to countless defense procedural motions. With Estrada taking
the stand as the final witness, however, it appears that the
end may be in sight. Estrada is scheduled to resume his
testimony on March 29 and to continue testifying once a week
for as long as required. In upcoming testimony Estrada is
expected to address charges that he received massive payoffs
from “jueteng” (illegal gambling operations). The
prosecution — which wrapped up its case in April 2003 —
will conclude by cross-examining Estrada, after which there
will be closing arguments. The case will then be submitted
to the three-judge panel for a final ruling.

———————–
Conflicting GRP Signals
———————–

¶5. (SBU) Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor, who had
been the GRP’s main link to the Estrada camp, announced on
March 21 that Malacanang had suspended “reconciliation”
efforts with Estrada because of alleged involvement by
Estrada relatives and supporters in destabilization efforts
against the government in February. (Note: In response to
alleged plotting, President Arroyo imposed a State of
National Emergency from February 24 – March 3 — see ref B.
End Note.) The next day Defensor announced that he was
turning over the task of reconciliation to newly-appointed
Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary
Ronaldo “Ronnie” Puno. Defensor stated that he had grown
weary of the lack of “good faith” in the talks, adding that
Puno was well-equipped to take over.

¶6. (C) Estrada, for his part, does not appear to be eager to
resume talks with the Arroyo Administration any time soon.
Spokesman Didagen Dilangalen said in a March 21 interview
that Estrada would only talk about reconciliation with the

MANILA 00001342 002 OF 002

government after the end of the ongoing trial. In a March 16
meeting with Acting Pol/C, Malacanang Chief Political Adviser
Gabby Claudio commented that he placed “little faith” in the
reconciliation effort. He added, however, that President
Arroyo was “committed to continue trying to work with Estrada
because that is what many Filipinos want.”

——-
Comment
——-

¶7. (C) Estrada is clearly using the trial to play to his
base among poorer Filipinos. He succeeded in doing that in
his first appearance on the docket, though it is doubtful
that the broader Filipino public was very impressed.
Estrada, due to his own shady dealings and poor work habits
as president, long ago lost any luster he once had. That
said, the GRP is not in an easy spot; the prosecution’s case
has been severely hampered by delays brought about by endless
defense motions and many Filipinos have clearly grown weary
or bored with the whole matter. Aware of this, the
government will continue to keep the door of “reconciliation”
slightly ajar as an option so as to avoid appearing
vindictive, a serious cultural taboo in the Philippines.

Visit Embassy Manila’s Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/manila/index. cfm

You can also access this site through the State Department’s
Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/

Kenney

   

 

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