Sep 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/01/10MANILA170.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10MANILA170
2010-01-27 08:19
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO8987
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #0170/01 0270819
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 270819Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6407
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000170

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/27/2020
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KJUS RP
SUBJECT: PHILIPPINE ELECTION: ESTRADA IN FOR NOW, VILLAR PRESSURED

REF: 09 MANILA 2502 (MARTIAL LAW IN MAGUINDANAO)

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires, a.i. Leslie A. Bassett, reason: 1.4 (
b) and (d).

SUMMARY AND COMMENT
——————-

¶1. (C) Though the presidential campaign officially starts
Feb. 9, electioneering is in full swing, with the main
candidates running ads, debating, and working to undercut
opponents. In a constitutionally questionable decision, a
Commission on Elections (COMELEC) sub-panel ruled that former
President Joseph Estrada is eligible to run for reelection.
Opponents of Estrada have appealed to the full Commission and
will likely appeal to the Supreme Court if needed, but
Malacanang Palace has stayed quiet, perhaps calculating that
Estrada would siphon votes from frontrunning Senator Noynoy
Aquino, and not ruling party candidate Gilberto Teodoro.
Second-place candidate Senator Manny Villar has been
tarnished by a high-profile Senate investigation into charges
he manipulated a major road project to benefit his business
empire, but with the Senate set to adjourn Feb. 5, he may
hope to escape final judgment. COMELEC has received fewer
than half of the 82,000 optical scanners needed for
electronic vote tabulation in the May election, with the
remainder due to be delivered by the end of February. The
police have begun to enforce a weapons ban imposed in
conjunction with the election campaign, arresting hundreds of
people and confiscating hundreds of weapons. However, this
represents a mere fraction of the guns in private hands in
the Philippines, and incidents of political violence
continue. End Summary and Comment.

ESTRADA CLEARS ONE HURDLE
————————-

¶2. (C) In a constitutionally questionable move, a sub-panel
of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) ruled January 20
that former President Joseph Estrada could compete for the
presidency in May’s election despite the Constitution’s
stipulation that “The President shall not be eligible for any
reelection.” The COMELEC ruling accepted the argument of
Estrada supporters that the constitutional restriction
applies only to an incumbent running for reelection to the
same office, although some Constitution drafters have
publicly explained that they intended to cover reelection at
any time. The ruling also noted that Estrada’s eligibility
for the presidency was better left to voters to decide —
prompting at least one major daily newspaper to editorialize
that COMELEC selectively applied this logic to Estrada’s
benefit, while using its discretionary authority to
disqualify scores of other candidates.

¶3. (C) A challenger has appealed the sub-panel ruling, and
the COMELEC’s full complement of seven commissioners will
decide whether to uphold or overturn it. Whichever way
COMELEC decides, the issue will probably end up before the
Supreme Court. Malacanang Palace officials have been
noticeably silent on the issue of Estrada’s candidacy, likely
calculating that Estrada would siphon more votes from Senator
Noynoy Aquino, the current frontrunner, than from ruling
coalition candidate Gilberto Teodoro. While Estrada’s and
other candidates’ eligibility remains in doubt, the COMELEC
has delayed finalizing the ballots for printing. COMELEC’s
original schedule entailed finalizing ballot layouts by
January 25.

POLITICAL ATTACK ON VILLAR
————————–

¶4. (C) Estrada is not the only candidate under pressure.
Political opponents of Senator Manny Villar, ranked second in
all opinion polls, have resurrected a high-profile Senate
debate over a controversial Manila beltway road network known
as the C-5. An investigative report claims Senator Villar,
who helped to shape the project, caused losses to the state
of over 6.2 billion Pesos (over 130 million USD) due to
additional costs and unnecessary payments. Villar also
allegedly accrued illegitimate benefits totaling over 141
million Pesos (over 3 million USD) from excessive state
payments for purchases of land from Villar’s extensive real
estate holdings for the project. (Additionally, Villar
allegedly diverted the road’s course in order to bring it
closer to land he owns, increasing his land’s value.) The
committee report recommends the censure of Villar for

MANILA 00000170 002 OF 002

unethical conduct.

¶5. (SBU) Villar’s allies in the Senate have vehemently
attacked the report’s backers, most notably Senate President
Juan Ponce Enrile (currently allied with Estrada). Villar’s
side has indicated it would seek to vote Enrile out of the
Senate presidency, if it can win majority support for such a
move. Enrile has fired back with allegations that Villar
privately hinted to Enrile he could offer a payoff to quash
the report. It is unclear whether the Senate will vote on
the report’s recommendations before it recesses for election
campaigning Feb. 5, but the debate has served Villar’s
political opponents well, by associating him publicly with
scandal.

SLOW BUT STEADY PROGRESS ON ELECTION AUTOMATION
——————————————— —

¶6. (C) As of January 26, COMELEC had received 30,900
Smartmatic optical scanners, all manufactured overseas.
Under the plan to automate elections nationwide for the first
time in the Philippines, and hopefully reduce the widespread
ballot tampering that has marred past elections, some 37,422
polling stations will use the machines to scan paper ballots,
tabulate the results, and transmit the results electronically
to multiple servers. The COMELEC’s current schedule calls
for receipt of all machines (approximately 82,000) by the end
of February, but COMELEC officials are unable to predict
reliably when the machines will arrive. A representative of
U.S. company Systest, which is currently evaluating the
Smartmatic machines on behalf of COMELEC, plans to visit
Manila February 5-10.

GUN BAN, BUT CONTINUING VIOLENCE
——————————–

¶7. (SBU) With the formal election period approaching, the
authorities have sought to enforce a strict weapons ban. A
police contact told us that, as of January 26, authorities
arrested 439 persons (33 police officials, 25 military
officials, 18 government officials, and the rest being
civilians) for violating the weapons ban. Weapons
confiscated included 159 high-powered firearms; 216
low-powered firearms; 55 bladed weapons; 10 grenades; one
explosive device. However, this represents a tiny fraction
of the weapons in private hands in the Philippines, where gun
possession is ubiquitous.

¶8. (SBU) Senator Villar has expressed alarm over a “climate
of violence” in the runup to the May 10 elections, claiming
that at least four members of his Nacionalista Party who are
seeking local seats were killed in separate incidents in the
past two months. Senator Aquino, the Liberal Party
presidential candidate, also said publicly that little has
been done to curb electoral violence and urged the government
to do more.

¶9. (C) A high-ranking police contact told us that, since
January 10, the police have received reports of eight
killings that may have been election-related. Investigators
determined that four of those killings in fact were the
result of personal, not political, feuds; investigations into
the other four continue. Our contact could not provide a
number for election-related threats or non-lethal assaults
but noted that approximately 1,000 candidates for national or
lower-level offices had requested a government security
detail. The authorities have approved the provision of
approximately 500 of those security details, 250 of which are
already active. Communist efforts to target “dirty
politicians” and to extort fees (in exchange for what they
term “campaign permits”) will also contribute to violence in
the run-up to elections.
BASSETT

   

 

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