Sep 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/09/09MANILA1856.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA1856
2009-09-02 08:42
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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DE RUEHML #1856/01 2450842
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
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FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5059
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001856

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/02/2019
TAGS: PGOV PINR KDEM RP
SUBJECT: MOMENTUM FOR AQUINO PRESIDENTIAL BID GROWS AS LIBERAL PARTY LEADER BOWS OUT

REF: MANILA 1663 (FAREWELL TO CORY)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: In a surprise development, Senator Manuel
“Mar” Roxas on September 1 dropped his aggressive bid to seek
the presidency in 2010, instead throwing his support to
fellow Liberal Party Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. Roxas
ended his candidacy amid widespread emotion and nostalgia
triggered by the August 1 death of Noynoy Aquino’s mother,
former President Corazon Aquino. It remains unclear whether
Roxas’ gracious withdrawal from the race might prompt other
potential candidates to unite behind Aquino in opposition to
whomever bears the standard of President Arroyo’s
Lakas-Kampi-CMD party. Aquino is not known for his charisma
or strong legislative record, and we do not know how much
support he commands among the grassroots. Nevertheless, a
campaign based on his family legacy could energize many
Filipinos and shape the 2010 election. End Summary.

A LEADING CONTENDER BOWS OUT
—————————-

¶2. (C) In an emotional September 1 press conference, Senator
Manuel “Mar” Roxas II announced that he would not seek the
presidency in 2010, instead offering his support to Senator
Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. Roxas’ move stunned his
supporters; the grandson of the late President Manuel Roxas
who founded the Liberal Party, he had already begun an
energetic campaign, spending significant funds on televised
“infomercials” in an effort to raise his profile. While
Roxas was widely recognized as a significant candidate, he
was not a front-runner. Over the past year, support for his
candidacy, when compared with rivals’, remained in the single
digits, according to data from credible polling organization
Social Weather Stations (SWS).

¶3. (C) Roxas’ withdrawal came in response to repeated calls
from Manila media commentators and former supporters of his
mother’s political career for Senator Aquino to run for the
presidency. Pundits debated whether Roxas, the Liberal Party
President, should run with party Vice Chairman Aquino as his
running mate, or whether it would be more appropriate to flip
that hypothetical ticket. An outpouring of emotion and
nostalgia following the death of Aquino’s mother, former
President Corazon Aquino (reftel), energized this debate.
(As of September 2, some main roads in Manila still feature
prominent yellow banners bearing images of the former
President and her husband, former Senator Benigno “Ninoy”
Aquino, who was assassinated in 1983.) Roxas stated that he
and Senator Aquino had discussed the race at length in recent
days and that Aquino had “made it clear to me that he wanted
to carry the torch of leadership.” Roxas cast the coming
presidential race in starkly manichean terms, saying he would
support Aquino “to bring us to the realization of our dream:
Good triumphing over evil” through an Aquino presidency
dedicated to “clean, honest, selfless public service.”

HEEDING THE SIRENS’ CALL?
————————-

¶4. (C) Prior to his mother’s death, Aquino appeared highly
unlikely to become a 2010 presidential candidate. (No
respondents named him in a June SWS poll, when pollsters
posed an open-ended request to name good leaders who might
succeed President Arroyo.) Throughout August, as some
opinion-shapers urged publicly that he run for the highest
office, Aquino remained coy, indicating he had not yet
decided his own preference. And although he joined Roxas for
the September 1 press conference, Aquino refrained from
commenting about his own plans, instead asking the press to
focus on Roxas’ gracious remarks. But Roxas’ comments left no
doubt that Aquino would run, and Roxas pledged that he and
Aquino would not be divided, and that he would stand with his
fellow Senator — leaving the clear impression that he would
seek the vice presidency on Aquino’s ticket.

UNITING THE OPPOSITION – AND STYMIEING ESTRADA?
——————————————— —

¶5. (C) Roxas’ withdrawal comes less than two months before
the deadline for the registration of presidential candidates.
Still, the political playing field remains cluttered with
both credible and nuisance presidential candidacies.
President Arroyo’s detractors have publicly raised concern
that a ballot featuring multiple opposition figures would

MANILA 00001856 002 OF 002

split the votes of Arroyo’s critics and allow her anointed
standard-bearer to win the presidency with a mere plurality.

¶6. (C) One key question, therefore, is whether Aquino can
unite potential candidates from outside of the Liberal Party
behind his own campaign. Following Roxas’ announcement, a
spokesman for Nacionalista Party Senator Manuel “Manny”
Villar indicated Villar’s candidacy remained on track; he
framed Roxas’ decision as part of the Liberal Party’s
internal decisionmaking process. Former President Joseph
“Erap” Estrada, however, spoke positively of Roxas’ move and
hinted that a political consensus in Aquino’s favor might
prompt him to reconsider his own intention to run again for
the presidency.

STORIED BLOODLINES, LESS LUSTROUS CAREER
—————————————-

¶7. (C) Senator Aquino, born on February 8, 1960, received a
bachelor’s degree in economics in 1981 from Ateneo de Manila
and worked in the private sector until 1998. He has never
married. Aquino has proven that he can compete politically
on both the provincial and national level, winning election
as a member of the House of Representatives from Tarlac
province in 1998, and winning a Senate seat in 2007. He has
also held various positions in the Liberal Party, including
Secretary General (1999 – 2002) and, since 2006, Vice
Chairman. During a 1987 coup attempt against his mother,
Aquino was seriously injured by gunfire, and three of his
aides died from wounds.

¶8. (C) Still, most political observers, including his late
mother, agree that he is not a natural politician, lacking
the charisma and aggressive political agenda that usually
propels political candidates. Cory Aquino confided to the
Ambassador in the year before her death that it had taken a
massive effort by the entire Aquino clan — Noynoy’s
celebrity sister, Kris, her husband, basketball star James
Yap, as well as heavy doses of Cory Aquino’s own political
pull, to get Noynoy elected to the Senate. Since taking
office, Aquino’s record as a legislator has been lackluster.
He has not played a leading role in the House or Senate, and
his views on many controversial issues remain unknown.
Noynoy’s own political boosters suggest that this
uncontroversial nature will play well with Filipinos who
generally perceive him as clean. We are not aware of
corruption allegations against him.

COMMENT
——-

¶9. (C) Just as the 1983 assassination of Senator Ninoy Aquino
propelled his wife, Cory, into presidential politics, so too
her death has unexpectedly transformed the political
landscape, launching her son on a quest for the presidency.
Whether the relatively untested (and admittedly
uncharismatic) Noynoy Aquino can unite a fractious opposition
and win the May 10 presidential poll remains highly
uncertain, though Senator Roxas’ high-profile concession in
the name of “country before self” should help. It is not yet
clear who will fund his campaign or provide strategic
guidance. It also is unclear how powerfully Aquino’s
heritage will resonate with younger-generation voters who may
not easily recall his parents’ role in ending the Marcos
dictatorship. But the Aquino surname means much to older
Filipinos, and Aquino’s entry into the race may change what
appeared to be a likely free-for-all into a highly symbolic
contest based on Senator Roxas’ resonant call to put “country
before self.” At the very least, Aquino’s rapid ascent to
the front ranks of presidential contenders illustrates the
deep revulsion at all levels of Philippine society with the
widespread corruption and influence peddling that has
characterized Philippine politics in recent years. End
Comment.
KENNEY

   

 

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