Sep 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/07/08MANILA1696.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA1696
2008-07-17 08:41
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO9539
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1696/01 1990841
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 170841Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1310
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANILA 001696

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/30/2018
TAGS: PTER MOPS PINS PGOV PHUM RP
SUBJECT: LOCAL ELECTIONS IN MUSLIM MINDANAO IMPACT PEACE PROCESS AND ELECTORAL REFORM

REF: A. MANILA 1460 (BROADCAST JOURNALIST FREED BY
KIDNAPPERS)
¶B. MANILA 1399 (TOP BROADCAST JOURNALIST ABDUCTED
IN MINDANAO)

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Provincial and local elections in the
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) elections are
scheduled for August 11, even as an array of key Muslim
groups urges that they be postponed until after the
Philippine government signs a final peace agreement with
Muslim insurgents that could significantly affect the size
and governance of the ARMM. At stake are the positions of
governor and vice-governor, as well as the 24 members of the
unicameral Regional Legislative Assembly. About 70 percent
of the 1.5 million registered voters in the ARMM are expected
to troop to 1,903 poll precincts regionwide. Although
previous ARMM elections have been marred by fraud and
violence, this year’s polls are expected to be more credible,
given the Commission on Election’s (COMELEC) unprecedented
use of automation, and its close collaboration with law
enforcement agencies. Civil society and religious groups
have formed a regional coordinating council to actively
monitor poll preparations and the promotion of higher voter
awareness and participation in the process. Post is now
drafting a plan for observing the elections that will include
Embassy personnel and NGOs. The elections are important not
only for the ARMM, but for the entire country, as they will
serve as a dry run for the projected automation of the
presidential elections in May 2010, which are expected to be
automated.

¶2. (C) Muslim insurgent leaders are concerned over President
Arroyo’s June 18 endorsement of incumbent ARMM Regional
Governor Zaldy Ampatuan for re-election in the August 11
polls. A fresh three-year mandate for the Muslim political
warlord could lock out competing Muslim groups from taking
control of ARMM governance, and make it more difficult to
implement a hoped-for peace settlement between the government
and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Consequently,
some insurgent leaders are calling for a suspension of the
elections to make way for the Mindanao peace process, while
others plan to boycott the polls. Nonetheless, the
Commission on Elections and Congress maintain publicly that
it is determined to have the automated elections push
through. END SUMMARY.

———————————-
ELECTION PERIOD AND SEATS AT STAKE
———————————-

¶3. (U) By law, the ARMM elections are held every three years,
one year after the national elections, with this year’s
overall election period stretching from May 28 through
September 10. The period for filing certificates of
candidacy ended June 4 and the candidates may campaign until
August 9. On election day, August 11, the polls are
scheduled to open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 3:00 p.m.
Counting of votes — called “canvassing” — begins at 6:00
p.m. and, because of automation, is projected to be completed
within hours, rather than days, as was the case with manual
counting. The winners — to serve a three-year term
beginning August 30 — are expected to be proclaimed within
36 hours. All candidates have from August 12 through
September 10 to file their statement of election expenses and
contributions. Six candidates, including Indanan (Sulu) town
mayor Alvarez Isnaji, an important Moro National Liberation
Front (MNLF) member recently accused of masterminding a high
profile kidnapping for ransom, are challenging the
re-election bid of incumbent Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, who has
been endorsed by President Arroyo. Five candidates,
including the incumbent, are vying for the vice governorship.
There are 78 candidates for the 24-member Regional
Legislative Assembly. The 24 seats are allocated among the
six provinces comprising the region, as follows: Lanao del
Sur, 6; Sulu, 6; Maguindanao, 3; Basilan, 3, Shariff
Kabunsuan, 3, and Tawi-Tawi, 3.

———————————————
LESS INTENSE POLITICAL RIVALRY, LESS VIOLENCE
———————————————

¶4. (U) During the entire election period, a firearms ban is
in place to minimize election-related violence. The

MANILA 00001696 002 OF 004

government has also banned local leaders from organizing or
maintaining a private army in an effort to lessen voter
intimidation. The firearms ban is especially important in
this region, where political clans stockpile weapons as a
status symbol and for protection against political rivals.
The COMELEC and the Philippine National Police have initially
identified 400 “areas of concern” — barangays with a higher
potential for violence — where more troops will be deployed.
However, ARMM regional police director Joel Goltiao has
observed that the political rivalry appears less intense for
these elections and they could prove less violent than in
previous years. COMELEC has also deputized the Armed Forces
of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police
(PNP) to ensure that the elections proceed in a peaceful and
orderly manner. COMELEC rules require the PNP and AFP to
secure the election personnel, equipment, and paraphernalia,
but prohibit them from positioning personnel near the polling
precincts to protect voters against possible harassment or
influence.

————————
AUTOMATED POLLS, FINALLY
————————

¶5. (U) Poll automation is expected to reduce electoral fraud,
a perennial feature of Philippine elections. However,
previous attempts to implement the project have been bogged
down by legal questions on the equipment procurement process
as well as the COMELEC,s lack of decisiveness implementing
poll automation. Under the watch of new Chairman Jose Melo
— who was appointed after his successful fact-finding
investigation of extrajudicial killings in the country —
COMELEC will be using two new technologies, the optical mark
reader (OMR), and the more expensive direct recording
electronic (DRE) machines. The optical readers, to be used
in all ARMM provinces except Maguindanao, will require voters
to fill out the ballots, which then will be fed into scanning
machines that tabulate results. The electronic machines —
to be used in Maguindanao because it has a better
communications infrastructure — will fully automate voting
through the use of touch pads and touch-screen technologies.
The direct recording electronic machines will also
electronically transmit results from the precinct to the
provincial canvassing level. Automation is expected to speed
up the election process and reduce opportunities for fraud —
such as vote padding, multiple voting, and ballot switching
— which were common under the manual system.

¶6. (U) Venezuelan firm Smartmatic and local partner Strategic
Alliance Holdings Inc. will supply the direct recording
electronic technology at a cost of P525 million (USD $12
million), while American firm Avante International
Technologies will provide the optical reader technology at a
cost of P87 million (USD $2 million). The COMELEC earlier
contemplated retaining the manual system because of bidding
time constraints, but Congress insisted on automation and
relaxed the procurement rules. With these new technologies,
Melo sees the elections as a dry-run for fully automated
presidential polls in May 2010 and appears fully committed to
see the project through. COMELEC has rolled out an education
campaign to teach ARMM voters and election officials about
the use of the new system, although public demonstrations
using the new machines did not begin until July 1. COMELEC
Chairman Melo described the computerization of the ARMM
elections as a “learning process.”

——————————————-
CIVIL SOCIETY AND RELIGIOUS GROUPS ON WATCH
——————————————-

¶7. (SBU) Cognizant of election fraud allegations in the ARMM
region, particularly during the 2004 presidential elections,
civil society and religious organizations are taking an
active part in promoting clean and credible elections. The
Church-based Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting
(PCRV), together with the Citizens CARE, Legal Network for
Truthful Elections (LENTE), National Citizens Movement for
Free Elections (NAMFREL), Bangsamoro Women Solidarity Forum,
Bangsamoro Legal Network, Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil
Society, and Bishop-Ulama Conference, have formed a regional
coordinating council. They are closely monitoring the
automation project, undertaking voter education campaign, and
continuously mobilizing volunteers for poll watch duty. The
coordinating council’s convenor noted the need for more
volunteers to enable poll watchdogs to have “the muscle to
guard the elections” and monitor the entire process.

MANILA 00001696 003 OF 004

————————————–
USG ASSISTANCE AND MISSION OBSERVATION
————————————–

¶8. (U) The USG supports electoral reform initiatives in the
ARMM and is currently funding — through the USAID — the
project Strengthening the Election process through Voter
Education and Election Monitoring in the ARMM (SEPVEEM) Phase
¶2. The project — to be implemented in 1,500 villages
covering 80 municipalities and cities of the six ARMM
provinces — promotes participation and collaboration among
election stakeholders in effecting meaningful electoral
reforms. The Mission is currently organizing a multi-section
and multi-agency team of volunteers to observe the ARMM
elections. We expect three-person teams — one American, one
locally employed staff, and a security officer — will cover
various precincts in the ARMM, selected based on U.S. Embassy
security requirements and COMELEC’s list of approved safe
areas for foreign observers. Locations will be reviewed by
the Regional Security Office.

——————————————— —
PRESIDENT ARROYO ENDORSES THE INCUMBENT GOVERNOR
——————————————— —

¶9. (U) As had been expected, President Arroyo publicly
endorsed incumbent Governor Zaldy Ampatuan’s re-election bid
at the June 18 regional caucus of the
Lakas-Christian-Muslim-Democrat (Lakas-CMD) and Kampi parties
in Davao City. During her endorsement speech, Arroyo said,
“I have no doubt that our candidates in the ARMM will win the
election. This early, I ask you, Zaldy, to prepare your plan
for a peace offensive centered on expanding the people’s
opportunities.” Ampatuan and his father — Maguindanao
Governor Andal “Andy” Ampatuan — are staunch loyalists of
the Arroyo Administration, who delivered the vote during the
May 2004 and May 2007 national elections. Consequently,
Arroyo remains indebted to the Ampatuans as the Lakas-CMD and
Kampi parties look ahead toward the 2010 national election.
The top leadership posts, as well as 80 percent of the
assembly seats, have in previous elections been won by
administration candidates who are backed by well established
political machinery and resources. Salic Ibrahim, chair of
Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms (Citizens CARE)
— an umbrella organization of 25 ARMM-based NGOs — noted
that Malacanang,s annointment “spells the difference” in the
ARMM elections.

————————————
MNLF FIELDS CANDIDATE, MILF BOYCOTTS
————————————

¶10. (C) The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) — the
formerly secessionist Muslim movement that forged a peace
agreement with the government in 1996 and now wants to retake
the ARMM leadership — is fielding Indanan Mayor Alvarez
Isnaji to challenge the re-election bid of Governor Ampatuan.
In view of Ampatuan’s well financed political machine, and
the legal charges recently filed against Isnaji over his
alleged role in the June 8 kidnapping-for-ransom of broadcast
journalist Ces Drilon and three others (ref a), MNLF leaders
are urging the government to suspend the August 11 polls.
Meanwhile, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) —
currently in peace talks with the government — is concerned
that the re-election of Ampatuan would delay the
implementation of a negotiated peace settlement until after
the next three year term in 2011. The MILF has a policy of
“non-recognition and non-participation” in the poll exercise,
and intends to boycott the ARMM election as in years past.

¶11. (U) While peace advocates want the elections postponed to
allow the government more time to focus on the MILF peace
talks, and the tripartite review of the 1996 MNLF final peace
agreement, COMELEC and some influential Congressmen and
Senators, including Deputy House Speaker Simeon Datumanong (a
close relative of Zaldy Ampatuan) and Senate Minority leader
Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr., are determined to have the
automated elections push through. In response to security
problems on Jolo as military and police operations continue
against suspected perpetrators of the June 8
kidnapping-for-ransom incident, Pimentel said that the
elections may be suspended, but only in specific
violence-prone areas. “The elections should go on,”
commented Pimentel.

MANILA 00001696 004 OF 004

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

   

 

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.