Oct 232014


Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MANILA2060 2006-05-15 06:21 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
DE RUEHML #2060/01 1350621
O 150621Z MAY 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 002060




E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/15/2016

¶B. MANILA 1746
¶C. MANILA 0641
¶D. 05 MANILA 5947

Classified By: Acting Pol/C Joseph L. Novak for reasons
1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: Mainstream Opposition groups in the
Philippines remain seriously divided among factions linked to
former president Estrada, former president Aquino, Senator
Lacson and others. The Opposition also remains without
effective themes with which to counter the Arroyo
administration. In terms of its next steps, the Opposition
plans to try (once again) to impeach Arroyo this summer,
while also trying to derail her Constitutional change plans.
At this point, it seems unlikely that the Opposition will
gain much traction with these plans unless it benefits from
Malacanang mistakes or some other intervening factor. Key
Opposition figures have also been embarrassed by revelations
linking them to a former FBI analyst who pled guilty to
espionage on May 4. End Summary.

Badly Fragmented

¶2. (C) Mainstream Opposition groups in the Philippines
remain badly divided ten months after their nemesis President
Arroyo was almost forced to resign due to abuse of power
charges and two months after Arroyo’s brief imposition of a
State of National Emergency. (Note: This message focuses on
“mainstream” Opposition groups and not the “legal” left,
which is also strongly anti-Malacanang. Septel focusing on
these leftist groups follows. End Note.) Despite efforts to
work together (see below), contacts report that fierce
infighting continues among the various anti-Arroyo groups and
that no group or person has been able to assert leadership
and emerge as a viable alternative to the president. Ronnie
Zamora, a key player for the Opposition in the House, told
poloff recently that “we (the Opposition) are just not
working together effectively; everyone has their own agenda
and refuses to budge for the greater good of the overall
effort against Arroyo.”

¶3. (C) Key groups making up the mainstream Opposition at
this time include:

— Pro-Estrada: This group, which is the single largest in
the Opposition and which maintains a populist stance on most
issues, remains loyal to former president Joseph “Erap”
Estrada, who is being tried on serious corruption charges and
is under house arrest. One of Estrada’s sons, Jinggoy
Estrada, is a senator, and another, J.V. Ejercito, is a mayor
in the Metro Manila area. His wife, Loi, is also a senator.
He has other supporters in the House and Senate, including
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimental. Erap is said to be
one of the major financiers of the Opposition.

— Pro-FPJ: This group is loyal to the legacy of defeated
presidential candidate Fernando Poe, Jr., the well-known
actor who died in December 2004. The head of this faction is
nominally his widow, Susan Roces, another well-known actor,
who has not yet taken an explicitly political role. House
Minority leader Francis “Chiz” Escudero is in this camp, as
are two sons (Mark and Charlie, both in Congress) of business
tycoon Danding Cojuangco.

— Pro-Aquino: Former president Corazon Aquino came out
against Arroyo in July 2005 and, since that time, has
gathered around her a host of civil society advocates and
some elements of the Catholic Church. This faction is known
for its good government views. Those close to Aquino include
former Cabinet secretaries Corazon “Dinky” Soliman and Butch
Abad (both of whom resigned from Arroyo’s Cabinet in 2005).
Many of these elements are involved in the Black and White
Movement, an anti-Arroyo grouping. Senate President Franklin
Drilon, who also came out against Arroyo in 2005, is linked
to Aquino.

— Pro-Lacson: This camp is linked with Senator Panfilo
“Ping” Lacson, who finished third in the 2004 presidential
election after Arroyo and FPJ. Lacson, who has links with
Estrada for whom he served as head of the Philippine National
Police (PNP), is basically a one-man band. He seems,

MANILA 00002060 002 OF 003

however, to have access to funding from Filipino Chinese
sources, who admire him for his tough anti-kidnapping efforts
while with the PNP.

— Pro-Marcos: This group is linked to Representative Imee
Marcos and Ilocos Norte Governor Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos
Jr., the daughter and son respectively of Ferdinand and
Imelda. The number of Marcos revanchists in the Philippines
is very small, but Imee, in particular, maintains connections
to many in the Manila political elite. Imelda Marcos, who
lives in Manila, is a non-factor politically at this point.

Mavericks who are in the ranks of the Opposition, but who are
not particularly aligned with any faction include: Loren
Legarda, FPJ’s vice presidential running mate in 2004 (who is
still contesting the results); Senator Rodolfo Biazon, a
former Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff; and
Brother Eddie Villanueva, an Evangelical leader and former
presidential candidate. Former president Fidel Ramos, while
increasingly critical of Arroyo, has not joined the
Opposition, nor indicated that he has plans to do so.

No Effective Pitch

¶4. (C) A serious problem for the Opposition is that it
remains without effective political or economic themes with
which to counter the Arroyo administration. Although most of
the Opposition groups have published various elaborate (usual
populist in inspiration) “programs of action,” their leaders
basically focus on the state of their plans to undermine
President Arroyo and drive her from office. The current buzz
among the Opposition, for example, is how to derail
Malacanang’s effort to enact Constitutional changes meant to
create a parliamentary form of government. The Opposition is
also planning to try once again to impeach Arroyo this
summer. Observers assert that the main problem hindering the
Opposition’s development of an effective message is that it
only thinks in these type of tactical ways meant to undercut
Arroyo at every turn, without focusing much on the greater
good of the country.

¶5. (C) Opposition contacts readily admit that a major part
of the problem in developing an effective anti-government
message is the fact that macroeconomic conditions under
President Arroyo are basically positive and on the upswing.
Economic growth has been solid, remittances from Overseas
Foreign Workers (OFWs) continue to grow annually at
double-digit rates, the peso has been strong versus the
dollar, etc. Notwithstanding these positive trends, the
income gap continues to grow as the benefits of President
Arroyo’s economic policies have failed to trickle down to the
poorest. Favorable economic conditions for middle and
upper-income Filipinos mean that few of them are prepared to
line up at the barricades in another “People Power” effort to
replace an incumbent government (these groups played pivotal
roles in previous street protests). In addition, in an era
when many Filipinos are increasingly suspicious of politics
as usual, the Opposition is also seen as too closely linked
to former president Estrada, who — while popular with the
poor — is anathema to middle class and wealthier voters due
to his corrupt ways.

Next Steps for Opposition

¶6. (C) Lito Banayo, a political operative close to Senator
Lacson, told Acting Pol/C May 10 that the Opposition
continued to try to unite and stick to “a singular message.”
He asserted that Opposition groups had made some progress in
this area, but he admitted that there was a long way to go —
“The Estrada side will not work closely with the ‘good
government’ supporters of Aquino and vice versa, and everyone
else is suspicious of each other.” In the near term, Banayo
predicted that anti-Arroyo elements in the Senate would seek
to launch new investigations of alleged Malacanang corruption
and abuse of power now that the Supreme Court had ruled that
Malacanang had to be more accommodating regarding Executive
Branch testimony in the House and Senate (ref B).

¶7. (C) Banayo added that Opposition groups were already
preparing a new impeachment complaint against President
Arroyo to file this summer (per the Constitution, the

MANILA 00002060 003.2 OF 003

earliest opportunity to file such a complaint would be this
July, one year after the filing of the last set of charges,
which were dismissed by the House). When asked whether the
complaint would contain anything new, he responded that the
charges would be very similar to last year’s complaint, but
would include alleged large-scale misappropriation by
Malacanang of government fertilizer funds for use during the
2004 election campaign. Regarding Constitutional change,
Minority Leader Escudero told Acting Pol/C on May 8 that the
Opposition remained strongly opposed to the GRP’s proposed
changes and would take the matter to the Supreme Court if
Malacanang’s plan indeed moved forward.


¶8. (C) In the short to mid-term, it seems unlikely that the
Opposition will gain much traction unless it benefits from
Malacanang mistakes or some other intervening factor. Many
Mission contacts report a deep sense of political apathy in
the country stemming, at least in part, from the fact that
previous “People Power” revolts failed to meet expectations.
That said, the depth of anti-Arroyo sentiment in the
Opposition is strong, with some even willing to work with
disgruntled elements in the military against her. Given
this, political volatility is likely to continue. A new
problem for the Opposition is that Estrada, Lacson and other
figures have been implicated in the espionage activities of a
former FBI analyst, who pled guilty on May 4 (ref A). The
political fallout of this case is still unclear, but so far
the revelations have been embarrassing for the Opposition.

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