Oct 232014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2007-06-27 08:58
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #2156/01 1780858
O 270858Z JUN 07
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANILA 002156



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/27/2017


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

¶1. (C) Summary. The new Philippine Senate that will
officially convene July 23 will have an even stronger
Opposition cast than its predecessor, although the lower
house of Congress will remain strongly pro-Administration.
The Commission on Elections has formally proclaimed eleven
out of the twelve victors in the nationwide Senate races,
while re-counting of Maguindanao provincial ballots and those
in a few other “failed” local elections continues to
determine whether a pro-Administration candidate or another
Opposition candidate won the final slot in the “Magic 12.”
The presidency of the Senate remains up for grabs, although
the leading contender remains incumbent Senate President
Villar. An unusual feature of the new Senate will be the
inclusion of Navy Lieutenant Antonio Trillanes IV, still
under trial for his alleged role as mastermind of the 2003
“Oakwood Mutiny,” along with repeated coup leader and former
Senator Gregorio Honasan. The tone in the new Senate is apt
to be even shriller, more partisan and personal, and
uncompromising than in recent years, leaving little prospect
for much significant legislation. End Summary.

New Senate — almost complete

¶2. (U) On June 6, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC)
proclaimed ten of the twelve winning Senators from the May 14
mid-term elections. Even without a final tally, the COMELEC
ruled that the remaining votes would not affect their clear
victories. In numerical order based on the nationwide
voting, the winning candidates included:
— Loren Legarda (Genuine Opposition — GO), former Senator
and 2004 Vice Presidential candidate;
— Francis “Chiz” Escudero (GO), Congressman and House
Minority Leader in the 13th Congress;
— Panfilo “Ping” Lacson (GO), incumbent Senator;
— Manuel “Manny” Villar (GO), incumbent Senator and Senate
President in the 13th Congress;
— Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan (Independent), incumbent
Senator and Majority Leader in the 13th Congress;
— Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III (GO), Congressman in the 13th
Congress and son of martyred hero “Ninoy” Aquino and former
President Corazon Aquino;
— Edgardo “Ed” Angara (pro-Administration “Team Unity” —
TU), incumbent Senator;
— Alan Peter Cayetano (GO), Congressman in the 13th
Congress, brother of incumbent Senator Pilar “Pia” Cayetano,
and son of a late Senator;
— Joker Arroyo (TU), incumbent Senator; and,
— Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan (Independent), former Senator
and, until late June, facing new coup charges related to the
Oakwood Mutiny as well as the February 2006 attempted coup;
he had in the 1990s received a pardon for his attempted coup
attempts in the 1980s.

Enter the mutineer

¶3. (U) On June 15, the COMELEC proclaimed as the eleventh
Senate victor detained Navy Lieutenant Antonio Trillanes IV,
alleged leader of the failed military “Oakwood Mutiny” in
¶2003. The COMELEC ruled that no other candidate could
mathematically dislodge him from the 11th or 12th ranking
even though the final votes were not complete nationwide.
Trillanes became the first Philippine Senator to win election
while in prison; for his proclamation ceremony, he required a
court order and permission from Chief of Staff General
Esperon of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which
is responsible for his custody in light of parallel trials
for a court martial and a criminal charge. General Esperon
subsequently requested that the Court determine whether the
AFP should retain custody or whether he should enter civilian
custody in light of Trillanes’ new role. Controversy
continues to swirl about whether Trillanes should be allowed
to attend Senate hearings and conduct ordinary Senate
business outside his cell, or whether he will have to serve
his term from his detention facilities unless military and
civilian courts find him not guilty. Many cite the recent
example of a Congressman who won and served two terms in
Congress from his jail while serving a sentence for statutory

Hot Contest for Twelfth Seat

¶4. (U) The COMELEC has yet to proclaim the twelfth
senatorial seat, with opposition candidate Aquilino “Koko”
Pimentel III (son of current Senate Minority Leader “Nene”
Pimentel) and TU candidate and incumbent Congressman Juan

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Miguel “Migz” Zubiri close in the running. Zubiri currently
trails Pimentel by some 100,000 votes, with approximately
300,000 votes in Maguindanao Province now under re-canvassing
following the still-unexplained temporary disappearance of
its certificates of canvassing (in addition to some ongoing
counting of a few other by-elections or re-counts in smaller
jurisdictions where the COMELEC had postponed elections or
declared failures). Initial results show Zubiri leading
Pimentel by a two to one margin there, but Pimentel has filed
a petition before the Supreme Court to stop the canvassing of
votes due to alleged irregularities. The Supreme Court will
hear arguments on the case on June 28 or 29.

¶5. (SBU) The COMELEC had previously indicated that it hoped
to proclaim all winners by June 30, but now admits this
target is problematic. Although the Constitution provides
that newly-elected members of Congress “shall begin unless
otherwise provided by law on the 30th day of June next
following the election,” the COMELEC’s Legal Department
Executive Director Pio Joson and Commissioner Rene Sarmiento
have claimed that COMELEC has the “liberality” to delay
proclamation as necessary.

New Dynamics in Senate

¶6. (SBU) The (at least) seven newly-elected opposition
senators will join six Opposition incumbents, assuring the
opposition a solid majority in the 23-member Senate. (The
seat of Senator Alfredo Lim, who won as Mayor of Manila, will
remain vacant.) Re-elected Pangilinan, who broke with the
Administration by calling for President Arroyo’s resignation
in 2005, is likely generally to side with the opposition.
Should the younger Pimentel win the twelfth seat, the
opposition would control 15 seats. The pro-Administration
bloc will add two senators to the five currently in the
Senate, for a total of seven seats. Should Zubiri win the
twelfth seat, there would be eight pro-administration
Senators. The always controversial “Gringo” Honasan, despite
his history of coup attempts, now appears poised to take a
cooperative stance towards the Administration, especially
following Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez’ recent
recommendation that prosecutors drop all ongoing charges
against him for “lack of evidence.”

¶7. (C) Incumbent and newly elected Opposition members have
struggled — so far without success — to obtain consensus on
the next Senate President, debating inconclusively among
themselves even whether to hold a “secret” vote. The
front-runner continues to be current Senate President Villar,
but he faces a serious challenge from the elder Pimentel, who
served as Senate President during the Estrada administration.
The formal election — usually pro forma — will take place
on July 23 when both houses of Congress reconvene. Another
possible outcome is a leadership-sharing scheme between
Villar and Pimentel to keep political alliances intact, just
as when the Villar replaced Senate President Franklin Drilon
in 2006 under a term-sharing agreement in the previous
Senate. Up for grabs also are various Committee chairmanship
and their unaudited budgets of millions of pesos annually;
these are likely among the horses now under trading.

¶8. (C) The strongly Opposition cast of the Senate will put
it at odds with the staunchly pro-Administration lower House,
complicating any hopes at an ambitious legislative agenda
over the next three years. An additional complication is the
number of Senators who have Presidential ambitions in 2010,
almost certainly including Villar and Manuel “Mar” Roxas II
but quite possibly also Legarda, Escudero, Lacson (a
candidate in 2004), Pangilinan (aided by the popular appeal
of his superstar wife Sharon Cuneta), and even Aquino. The
would-be candidates will face choices about gaining public
stature by standing up to President Arroyo and obstructing
her agenda (with one of the first tests in the absence of new
legislation to be ratification of the Australian Status of
Forces Agreement) or by acting “Presidential” by voting
responsibly “in the national interest.”

The special problem of Trillanes

¶9. (U) Trillanes first gained national prominence during
the failed Oakwood Mutiny in July 2003, after which he
surrendered and has remained in detention as his trials
proceed slowly. He has refused to plea bargain, unlike most
of his co-conspirators. A 1995 honors graduate of the
Philippine Military Academy, he will join three other Academy
graduates in the Senate: Rodolfo Biazon, Honasan, and
Lacson. Trillanes gave up his commission in 2007 to file his
certificate of candidacy for the Senate, although there is
some doubt whether an officer undergoing a court martial has
the right to do so. During his Navy career, his unit

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apprehended many criminals in Philippine waters, and rescued
32 survivors of the ill-fated vessel Princess of the Orient
during a typhoon in 1998. From 2001 to 2003, Trillanes
pursued a master’s degree in public administration at the
University of the Philippines, where he researched and wrote
on corruption in the Navy’s procurement system.

¶10. (C) Trillanes has stated that he will use his new
position to bring about President Arroyo’s impeachment
(although the lower House must initiate and vote on charges
before Senate deliberation), and has reportedly already
authored twenty new bills related to corruption, poverty, and
education. He promised to refuse the usual “pork barrel”
Senate allocations (approximately US$4.3 million per
Senator), which he has labeled a “tool for corruption” rather
than development. Many observers also expect him to insist
on a series of public hearings regarding unlawful and
extra-judicial killings and the alleged complicity of the
AFP, with an apparent special grudge against General Esperon.
General Esperon has already vowed to respond to any Senate
summons by invoking the controversial Executive Order 464
requiring Cabinet and other executive officials to seek
Presidential permission to attend congressional hearings.
Although the Supreme Court in 2006 declared the Executive
Order unconstitutional, the Court nonetheless recognized the
doctrine of “executive privilege” to keep information
confidential if justified by the circumstances.


¶11. (C) Senior military officers and other commentators
have publicly and privately pondered the special appeal to
the electorate of both Trillanes and Honasan, who had
extremely limited campaign funds and, in the case of
Trillanes, could not even leave his cell to campaign. Many
attribute it to the fabled Filipino support for the
“underdog” — a key factor in the 1998 election of President
Estrada (who played this role in countless films) and in the
2004 Presidential candidacy of fellow actor Fernando Poe Jr.
Others have noted that many voters simply responded to the
“movie star good looks” of the two, especially the youthful
Trillanes (who will be the youngest member of the Senate).
But others have noted that many citizens — including or
especially those in the lower ranks of the military — admire
both for challenging the status quo and for exposing alleged
abuses and corruption within the military. The AFP even
commissioned a post-election internal survey of views on
Trillanes and his victory; the results are not yet public.
However, some senior AFP officers discount this theory,
noting that huge numbers of AFP troops — perhaps even most
of those serving outside Metro Manila — did not have the
opportunity to vote for any candidate since they were far
from their home provinces and did not avail themselves of the
absentee ballot provisions of the law. (According to the
COMELEC, 15,000 AFP troops did submit absentee ballots,
however.) They have alleged instead that Trillanes’ victory
in particular was due to covert support from “leftist”
organizations, including the party list group Bayan Muna.
Wealthy opposition Senator Jamby Madrigal has also admitted
providing extensive personal financial support — including
for his television campaign ads — for Trillanes, due to his
open opposition to President Arroyo.

¶12. (U) In a media briefing on June 20, Executive Secretary
Eduardo Ermita indicated the “high probability” that the
President would grant political “amnesty” — before
convictions — to Trillanes. Another option would be for the
Department of Justice, as it did for Honasan, simply to drop
all charges against Trillanes either in the “spirit of
reconciliation” or “for lack of evidence.”


¶13. (C) The traditional tug-of-war between the
Administration and Congress, and between the House and the
Senate, is apt to be more fierce than usual over the next
three years, especially given the stakes ahead in the 2010
Presidential elections. Concern is high within the AFP as
well as in civil society in particular over Trillanes’
victory — an amazing feat by anyone’s standards for someone
who, facing trial before military and civilian courts on coup
charges, did not have the freedom to wage a national
campaign, lacked campaign machinery, and showed unimpressive
results in pre-election surveys. Senior AFP officers
privately worry about the signals both Trillanes’ victory and
Honasan’s return to the Senate send to the rank-and-file:
when unhappy, stage a rebellion and then run for public
office? Officials of the Presidential Legislative Liaison
Office have privately expressed the hope that, after all the
election hoopla and campaign rhetoric, it will soon be
“politics as usual,” and even outspoken members like
Trillanes will soon learn to “play the game” by “traditional”
rules (i.e. exchanging votes for favors or other

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“inducements”). The Administration will, however, more
likely find it difficult to advance its remaining legislative
agenda, starting in the Senate with the desired ratification
of the Australian Status of Forces Agreement.

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