Oct 232014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2006-02-13 06:00
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #0641/01 0440600
P 130600Z FEB 06
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 000641




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/13/2016

¶B. MANILA 0283
¶C. 05 MANILA 4662
¶D. 05 MANILA 4140

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires, a.i., Paul W. Jones for
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

¶1. (S) Summary: In a January 30 meeting with Charge, House
Speaker De Venecia expressed confidence that the GRP would
amend the Constitution and switch to a parliamentary form of
government by July 2006 by means of a referendum. De Venecia
was optimistic that the House would pass an anti-terrorism
bill soon, and indicated that whether the Visiting Forces
Agreement (VFA) Oversight Committee recommendation to
abrogate the VFA is considered by the full House or Senate
depends on the “political atmosphere.” (Note: After
visiting the accused Marines at the U.S. Embassy on February
9, the co-chairs of the Oversight Committee publicly withdrew
their recommendation to abrogate the VFA — see ref B. End
Note.) De Venecia expressed disappointment that the U.S. had
objected to government plans to impose “emergency rule” to
deal with the NPA threat.

¶2. (C) In a February 7 meeting with Charge, Senate President
Drilon underscored his support for anti-terrorism
legislation, but noted that two draft Senate bills needed to
be reconciled, which might take some time. He said he had
heard of no discussion in the Senate about moving forward now
with a resolution to abrogate the VFA. End Summary.

JDV: Plan for Parliament by July

¶3. (C) During a January 30 meeting with Charge, House
Speaker Jose De Venecia (JDV) expressed confidence that the
Philippine Congress would push through “Charter change” by
July 2006. (Note: “Charter change” or “Cha-Cha” is an
informal term that Filipinos use for Constitutional change.
The centerpiece of proposed amendments would change the
current presidential setup into a unicameral parliamentary
system — see ref D. The office of the President would
likely continue until the end of the incumbent’s term in
¶2010. End Note.) He admitted that the Senate — which
stands to be abolished under most “Cha-Cha” plans — would
resist such change or delay indefinitely, but expressed
confidence that it would nonetheless be possible to move
forward quickly by means of a national referendum, known as a
“People’s Initiative.” He laid out an ambitious timeline to
change to a parliamentary system by July 2006. JDV said he
and his supporters would start in February to get the word
out and collect the required five million signatures (12
percent of all registered voters) needed to propose a
“People’s Initiative.” A national referendum would be held
in June, with a new Parliament, composed of current members
of the House and Senate, installed by July.

¶4. (C) JDV noted that the Constitution allows for only one
subject to be raised via such a referendum every five years.
Therefore, JDV’s plan was to put only one subject on the
ballot, but with two questions: should the Philippines
switch to a parliamentary system?; and, should elections for
it be held in 2007 (the timeframe when mid-term elections are
now slated to be held) or be postponed until 2010? JDV said
that he personally favors holding elections in 2007 as
scheduled, but that a political compromise was reached on
putting the matter to the people. Other proposed
Constitutional changes, such as removing restrictions on
foreign ownership of land and media, would be taken up as
first order of business by the Parliament.

¶5. (C) JDV said he hoped to have a new parliament in place
before the Opposition can file a new impeachment complaint
against President Arroyo, i.e., one year from the July 25,
2005, filing of impeachment charges against her. JDV claimed
that having a Parliament in place before this date could
forestall a new impeachment complaint against the President.
He expressed concern that another impeachment effort could be
politically destabilizing for the country.

Anti-Terror Bill, VFA

MANILA 00000641 002 OF 003

¶6. (C) De Venecia noted that he strongly supported the
passage of anti-terrorism legislation. He said the House
version of a draft anti-terrorism bill was now in its third
(and final) reading. JDV noted that the House version of the
draft bill provided definitions of terrorism, in addition to
specifying terrorist actions, but said he was flexible on the
definitions if they proved to be contentious. The
consolidated draft version being reviewed in the Senate did
not contain definitions of terrorism. Nonetheless, JDV
commented, he did not think that these differences would
cause serious problems when the differing bills eventually
were discussed in a House/Senate bicameral conference
committee meeting.

¶7. (C) JDV explained that the joint House/Senate Oversight
Committee on the VFA could bring to the floor at any time its
non-binding resolution to abrogate the VFA, depending on the
“political atmosphere.” (Note: After visiting the accused
Marines at the Embassy on February 9, the co-chairs of the
VFA Oversight Committee withdrew their recommendation to
abrogate the VFA — see ref B. End Note.) JDV admitted that
domestic politics were in play and the left was pressing the
matter hard. Charge noted that accusations that the U.S. did
not respect the Philippine judicial system were belied by
recent U.S. extraditions of American citizens to the
Philippines. JDV requested details on these cases, which
Mission later provided.

Emergency Rule & Domestic Politics

¶8. (S) In a tone of friendly exasperation, JDV told Charge
that “emergency rule” was needed to deal with the threat
posed by the New People’s Army (NPA), but the U.S. “keeps
saying no.” JDV said the government needed special powers to
arrest individuals in the media and elsewhere who are paid
and controlled by the NPA, but he left the clear impression
that the idea of “emergency rule” was dead. On domestic
politics, JDV described himself as the “balancer” between
President Arroyo and former President Ramos. He claimed that
much of President Arroyo’s inability to gain popular support
was due to antipathy toward her husband, Mike Arroyo, who is
perceived as involved in corruption and gambling. Whatever
happens, he concluded, President Arroyo will never give up
power before 2010.

Drilon on Anti-Terrorism Legislation…

¶9. (C) In his February 7 meeting with Senate President
Franklin Drilon, Charge asked about the status of draft
anti-terrorism legislation in the Senate. Drilon underscored
that he was in favor of such legislation. He added that he
had asked Senator Manuel Villar to review a proposed
anti-terrorism bill recently filed by Senator Juan Ponce
Enrile and compare it to the consolidated draft bill that the
Senate was already reviewing. Drilon said Enrile’s bill was
well worth reviewing, but, even more importantly, it was
critical that Enrile support this type of legislation due to
his long-standing national security credentials as a former
Secretary of National Defense and as a well-known lawyer. It

would be very positive, for example, if Enrile was the one
who introduced an agreed-on bill on the floor. (Note:
Enrile’s draft bill is similar to the consolidated draft, but
it contains stricter penalties and contains definitions of
terrorism, in addition to listing terrorist acts. End Note.)
Drilon related that reconciling the two draft bills might
take some time, but the process should be complete by early
this year. Once the Senate and House passed their bills, the
two sides would meet in a bicameral conference meeting and
agree to a final bill to take back to each chamber for a

¶10. (C) Drilon noted that there was some concern among
senators, such as Aquilino Pimental and Joker Arroyo, over
civil liberty protections in any such legislation. He added
that the proposals were also being discussed in a “poisoned
atmosphere” due to allegations that the military was being
used by Malacanang to conduct wiretapping on Opposition
legislators and others (ref A). Charge noted that the U.S.
supported effective legislation in this area that also

MANILA 00000641 003 OF 003

protected civil liberties.

…And on VFA

¶11. (C) Asked about the VFA, Drilon responded that he had
heard no discussion in the Senate of moving forward with a
resolution that would demand abrogation of the Visiting
Forces Agreement (VFA). He had checked with Francis
Pangilinan, Majority Leader of the Senate, who indicated that
the matter was not on the Senate’s agenda at this time.
Drilon added that the matter might nonetheless arise in the
Foreign Relations Committee, which was headed by Senator
Miriam Santiago-Defensor, who had played a key role in
pushing forward the Oversight Committee’s January 19


¶12. (C) JDV and Drilon basically made all the right sounds
regarding the need for an anti-terrorism bill, which was
positive. Very few observers share JDV’s optimism that the
change to a parliamentary system can be accomplished by July,
but JDV is a determined operator who will no doubt try.
Drilon — now an opponent of President Arroyo’s — did not
say much about Constitutional change, except to assert, in
concert with JDV, that President Arroyo will never agree to
relinquish power before the end of her term in 2010.

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