Oct 232014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2008-02-05 09:22
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #0316/01 0360922
O 050922Z FEB 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000316



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/04/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, for reason 1.4 (d).

¶1. (C) SUMMARY. In a widely anticipated move confirming
President Arroyo’s political strength, a coalition of 174
pro-Administration representatives on February 4 successfully
removed House Speaker Jose de Venecia, the longest-serving
speaker in Philippine history, from his powerful position.
An erstwhile close ally of President Arroyo, de Venecia fell
victim to President Arroyo’s supporters in the house after de
Venecia’s son accused the President’s family of involvement
in a national corruption scandal. Representative Prospero
Nograles, from a largely Christian city in Mindanao, has
assumed the speakership, but all other positions, including
deputy speaker and committee chairmanships remain, at least
for the time, unchanged. The change in speakers — from one
pro-Administration member to another — is unlikely
significantly to alter the legislative agenda in the House,
though there may be a renewed interest in Mindanao issues.
De Venecia was initially expected to obtain an ambassadorship
as a consolation prize, but his strident parting remarks
against President Arroyo will probably preclude that
possibility. END SUMMARY.

End of an Era

¶2. (SBU) Speaker Jose de Venecia, who holds the distinction
of being elected to the House Speakership for an
unprecedented five terms, was removed from his position
February 4. The Philippine House of Representatives —
voting 174-35, with 16 abstentions — declared the Speaker’s
seat vacant and elected Davao City Rep. Prospero Nograles as
the new Speaker. Under House rules, a simple majority of 121
of the total of 240 seats in the chamber is necessary to
elect a Speaker. The coalition that removed de Venecia was
led by President Arroyo’s two sons in the House, Pampanga
Representative Mikey Arroyo and Camarines Sur Representative
Dato Arroyo, who hosted meetings with over 100 like-minded
representatives in Quezon City, where they reached consensus
to oust de Venecia.

¶3. (SBU) Ironically, de Venecia had been one of President
Arroyo’s staunchest supporters and as head of the
pro-administration coalition, had actively pushed President
Arroyo’s legislative agenda since she took over the reins at
Malacanang in 2001. De Venecia served as president of the
ruling party Lakas, and President Arroyo served as its
honorary chairman. At the height of the President’s
political crisis in 2005 and 2006 triggered by the “Hello
Garci” illegal wiretapping controversy, de Venecia
effectively steered his House allies to block impeachment
moves against her. In exchange for his loyalty, the
President consistently supported him as Speaker.

Relations Sour Over Corruption Scandal

¶4. (SBU) The close political relationship between the
President and the Speaker soured when de Venecia’s son, Jose
“Joey” de Venecia III, made allegations linking First
Gentleman Miguel Arroyo to a corruption scandal involving a
botched government communications contract worth over $300
million. The younger de Venecia testified in a Senate
hearing on the matter that the First Gentleman had warned him
to “back off” from bidding on the national broadband network
project because the First Gentleman had a personal interest
in the contract. The younger de Venecia continued to make
accusations, rendering futile numerous attempts by political
leaders, including former President Fidel Ramos, to keep the
relationship between the Speaker and the President intact.
As the ouster move against his father snowballed, the younger
de Venecia was quick to point to the First Gentleman as the
brains behind the ouster.

No Graceful Exit

¶5. (C) While many expected de Venecia to exit quietly, he
signaled in an interview before the vote that there would be
no “graceful exit” for him. In a sign of things to come, he
alleged that House members were being paid P1 million (25,000
USD) to vote against him and warned the President’s sons
against using “government resources” to oust him or risk
“another explosion of another financial scandal.” Just prior
to the vote that removed him from the Speakership, de Venecia
was granted time to speak on the House floor. He used the
opportunity to deliver an emotional hour-long speech that
effectively declared war against the Administration. De
Venecia stopped just short of saying he regretted supporting
the President as his vice-presidential running mate in 1998,
but said he had brought her into the highest levels of

MANILA 00000316 002 OF 002

government and had shielded her from a string of impeachment
attempts. He also accused the Arroyo administration of
masterminding his ouster and of corruption and arrogance
while in power. In response, Malacanang officials said that
de Venecia “burned his bridges” and challenged him to bring
his charges to the courts.

Mindanao Block Formed Nograles Base of Support
——————————————— –

¶6. (C) Davao City Representative Prospero Nograles, one of
President Arroyo’s loyal lieutenants, actively lobbied for
the speakership and successfully engineered his election by
building a critical mass of support among his fellow Mindanao
representatives. Irrespective of party, Mindanao
representatives voted for Nograles, arguing that a Mindanaoan
had never held the position and it was time to rectify the
situation. The Mindanao block, together with the
Administration’s support, effectively ensured Nograles’s
election. Now on his fifth term, the 60-year old Nograles, a
law school classmate of the First Gentleman, was first
elected to the House of Representatives in 1989. He served
as House majority leader from 2004-2007 and was head of the
House panel in the bicameral Commission on Appointments prior
to his election as Speaker. Nograles, a Christian, is
reputed to have a sharp mind, as evidenced by his
second-highest score on the 1971 Philippine Bar examination.
He supports the global war on terror, the strengthening of
U.S.-Philippine relations, and the promotion of human rights
and rule of law.

What Next for De Venecia?

¶7. (C) While President Arroyo had publicly voiced her
support for de Venecia, Senate President Manny Villar, who
himself was ousted from the House speakership in 2000, told
the Ambassador February 2 that President Arroyo was behind
the ouster and was getting back at de Venecia for his son’s
accusations against the First Gentleman on the communications
corruption scandal. Villar said de Venecia’s ouster proved
yet again that President Arroyo is the “ultimate survivor and
politician,” and sent a clear warning to Congress on the need
to work with the Administration. Villar said de Venecia’s
wife had urged her husband to exit quietly, but he was
reluctant to leave without a vote, believing that
representatives should take a stand publicly and vote


¶8. (C) In supporting de Venecia’s ouster, President Arroyo
sent a very clear message to the rest of the Congress that
there will be grave consequences for failure to cooperate
with Malacanang. More importantly, President Arroyo
demonstrated she still holds sway over the 200
pro-Administration House members, and anyone seeking the
Presidency in 2010 will need her imprimatur. The change in
leadership has brought expectations of reform, particularly
with regard to transparency, an element missing under de
Venecia’s stewardship. However, at least legislatively, de
Venecia’s departure is unlikely to have much of an impact as
it amounts to an even trade: one pro-Administration speaker
will replace another. However, Nograles’s election could
result in a growing emphasis on Mindanao issues, which often
get lost in the Manila-centric Congress. De Venecia’s future
job prospects appear dim. While many expected he would
finish his career with a significant ambassadorial post, his
impassioned exit may have destroyed that possibility.



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