Oct 232014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/06/09MANILA1197.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA1197
2009-06-04 10:35
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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DE RUEHML #1197/01 1551035
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 041035Z JUN 09 ZDK 3624 1600443
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4282
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 001197

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/05/2019
TAGS: PGOV RP
SUBJECT: HOUSE PASSES RESOLUTION PUSHING FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION

REF: A. 06 MANILA 4954 (STRIKE TWO FOR CONSTITUTIONAL
CHANGE)
¶B. 06 MANILA 4502 (STRIKE ONE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL
CHANGE)

MANILA 00001197 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: Acting DCM Tom Gibbons, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: In an unexpected move four days before its
summer recess, President Arroyo’s supporters in the House of
Representatives pushed through a resolution calling for
Congress to convene a constituent assembly to propose
amendments to the Constitution. The move triggered strong
objections from the Senate and opposition members, as well as
protests from civil society groups, militant leftist
organizations, and the Catholic Church, who fear that any
attempt to amend the Constitution will empower incumbent
officials — including President Arroyo — to extend their
time in office beyond the expiration of their terms in May
¶2010. The controversial House resolution would enable the
pro-administration House majority to pass amendments without
Senate concurrence. Opponents of the measure vowed to
elevate the issue to the Supreme Court. While top officials
have publicly and privately denied that President Arroyo
seeks a term extension, the public remains sensitive to major
constitutional revisions, even legitimate ones. Asked about
prospects for next May’s elections, the Ambassador said that
the U.S. believed Filipinos would have a successful,
democratic election. The Commission on Elections, for its
part, remains confident that elections in May 2010 will take
place, regardless of how the constitutional assembly issue
unfolds. Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno told
Econcouns June 1 that questions surrounding this and other
constitutional cases could put the Supreme Court, and thus
the Chief Justice himself, at the center of major decisions
next year. END SUMMARY.

HOUSE RESOLUTION DEFINES NEW
RULES FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REVISIONS
———————————-

¶2. (C) As Congress prepared to adjourn this week for a
two-month recess, pro-administration lawmakers in the
Philippine House of Representatives rushed debate and
obtained passage late at night June 2 of House Resolution
1109, which calls for Congress to convene a unicameral
“constituent assembly,” bringing all members of the House and
Senate together in one body to consider amendments to the
Constitution. The resolution proposes a simple but
controversial clarification of the voting procedures for a
constituent assembly described in the 1987 Constitution.
Unlike the 1935 Constitution which explicitly requires a
three-fourths vote of Congress voting separately in a joint
session to approve amendments, the 1987 Constitution requires
a three-fourths vote of all the Members of Congress, without
specifying if the two chambers of Congress vote separately or
together. Acknowledging complaints from the Senate and the
fears of opposition groups and civil society, the signatories
of the resolution “pledged” not to postpone elections or
extend the terms of incumbent elected officials. Camarines
Sur Representative and former KAMPI party president Luis
Villafuerte, who originally proposed the resolution but later
backed out as sponsor, explained that the measure was
intended to trigger a case before the Supreme Court to force
clarification of the Constitution’s ambiguous phrasing.
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora indicated that opponents
of the resolution would indeed bring the issue before the
Supreme Court. Observers expect the long congressional
recess from June 5 to July 26 to give pro-administration and
opposition members of Congress ample time to refine their
strategies for moving forward.

SENATE VOWS TO BLOCK REVISIONS
——————————

¶3. (C) The House action was met with strong objections from
the Senate which, in December 2008, passed a preemptive
resolution to little effect, declaring unconstitutional any
attempt by the House to convene a constituent assmbly
without Senate participation. Senate Presient Juan Ponce
Enrile called House Resolution 119 “a joke” and surmised it
would likely be ignored, arguing that the issue at the heart
of the reslution lay squarely in the domain of Congress
itelf and could not be resolved by the Supreme Court
However, should the House insist on convening iself into a
constituent assembly, Enrile said the House could not on its
own enact laws for a natinwide plebiscite on amendments or
appropriate th necessary budget. Presidential candidate
Senatr Richard Gordon said the Constitution could be amnded
if done correctly at the proper time and for the right

MANILA 00001197 002 OF 003

reasons.

MEASURE’S PROPONENTS UNCERTAIN OF PATH
—————————————

¶4. (C) Even proponents of the resolution are in a quandary on
whether or not the House can actually convene a constituent
assembly without the Senate. For Cebu Representative Pablo
Garcia, the resolution was a “mere invitation” for both
chambers to convene. House Majority Leader Arthur Defensor
maintained that the Senate must also pass a counterpart
resolution for the constituent assembly to be considered
valid. The actual convening of a constituent assembly is the
purview of the House Speaker and co-sponsor of the resolution
Prospero Nograles, whose actions will be closely watched when
Congress resumes sessions in late July.

PUBLIC WARY OF MOTIVES
———————-

¶5. (C) Surveys have consistently shown the public to be
opposed to Constitutional revisions, popularly referred to as
“charter change.” February polls showed 66 percent of
respondents against amending the Constitution if the purpose
is to extend the term of the incumbent President and other
elected officials. Memories of martial law under former
President Ferdinand Marcos increase the public’s wariness to
grant public officials authority to change the 1987
Constitution. Charter change initiatives during the Ramos
and Estrada administrations failed for this reason, and the
current attempt will likely face similar resistance, even if
proposed amendments have legitimate value. Given this public
sentiment, Senator Loren Legarda — another possible
presidential contender — said the House move was “against
the will of the people.” Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a member of the
1986 Constitutional Commission, said people should be
outraged about how lawmakers are “toying with the
Constitution.” Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the
highly influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the
Philippines, decried the “railroading” of the resolution in
the House and hoped the move would not succeed.

PRESS QUERY U.S. OFFICIALS
————————–

¶6. (C) Media sought U.S. reaction on election developments
during the June 1 visit of Defense Secretary Gates, who said
the U.S. “assumed the elections will go forward successfully”
and that “the Philippines will democratically choose its next
leader.” On her June 4 visit to U.S.-funded education
projects in Zamboanga, the Ambassador told an inquisitive
press that the U.S. would not speculate on the outcome of
next year’s elections or any related constitutional issues,
but emphasized the U.S. had confidence that Filipinos would
have a successful, democratic election. While the form of
their democracy is for Filipinos to decide, the Ambassador
added, the U.S. nonetheless hoped that the elections would
conform to the nation’s laws and result in the strengthening
of Philippine democracy.

SENIOR OFFICIALS REACT TO DEVELOPMENTS
————————————–

¶7. (C) Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said that the
President would support a constituent assembly with Senate
participation, while Presidential Management Staff Secretary
Hermogenes Esperon told the Ambassador at a private June 3
breakfast that President Arroyo had no intention of extending
her term in office, but said that she might consider running
for Congress. Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony Golez
said Malacanang respects the independence of Congress in
determining its own priorities, and Presidential Political
Adviser Gabriel Claudio doubted there was sufficient time to
discuss, propose, and approve changes to the Constitution
with the May 2010 elections approaching.

OPPOSITION REACTIONS
——————–

¶8. (C) Opposition reaction was predictably negative. Bayan,
a leftist umbrella organization, decried “the disgusting
display of tyranny of numbers in the House” and vowed to
intensify protest action against the charter change move.
The leftist labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno called the House
approval a “scandalous act” and vowed to block charter
change, which they fear will open up the country’s resources
and services to full foreign ownership. Militant overseas
workers in Hong Kong branded the House measure as “treachery
of the highest order against our country and people.”

MANILA 00001197 003 OF 003

ELECTIONS COMMISSION: NO BARRIERS TO 2010 VOTE
——————————————— –

¶9. (C) Responding to opposition warnings of a no-election
scenario next year, Commission on Elections Chairman Jose
Melo categorically stated that constituent assembly “cannot
be used as a vehicle to postpone elections.” Melo stressed
that the Commission is currently focused on setting up the
system for fully automated elections in 2010 and will not
have time to piggyback a national referendum on proposed
amendments to the Constitution or a separate vote on
delegates to a constitutional convention. Earlier, in a June
1 meeting with Econcouns, Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato
Puno said that the Court expected to see numerous cases on
candidates’ eligibility to run for office, including the case
of former President Joseph Estrada, who is expected to seek
clarification on whether the constitutional ban on
re-election applies only to consecutive periods or is a
lifetime prohibition. Finally, with a twinkle in his eye,
Puno speculated that a failed automated election could lead
to a total failure of the electoral process if, for example,
the votes of portions of the country were not reliably
tabulated. In such a case, there would be, according to
Puno, “no President, no House of Representatives, and only a
partial Senate. Only the Supreme Court would remain.” Puno
clearly relishes the high profile role he sees for himself in
all these cases.

COMMENT
——-

¶10. (C) This latest attempt at a constituent assembly marks
the third attempt at constitutional revision in two and a
half years. An earlier attempt to convene a constituent
assembly failed shortly before the 2007 elections amidst
strong but largely peaceful and nonviolent public protests.
Constitutional change is not viewed lightly by the Philippine
public, even given a perception that key elements of the
post-Marcos 1987 charter are in need of change, including
provisions regarding foreign investment. Despite concerns
from opposition members that the President and her supporters
are seeking to extend her stay in office, and afford her
immunity from prosecution for alleged corruption and other
crimes, any efforts to change the Constitution face serious
hurdles from the Senate, the Courts, and the public.

KENNEY

   

 

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