Oct 242014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/10/09MANILA2199.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA2199
2009-10-19 09:44
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5468
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING IMMEDIATE 6588
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 002199

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM ECON RP CH
SUBJECT: POLITICAL CONCERNS IN ILOCOS NORTE

Classified By: Political Counselor Thomas B. Gibbons, reason: 1.4 (b) a
nd (d).

SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION
————————

¶1. (C) Ilocos Norte, the birthplace of former President
Ferdinand Marcos, is one of the Philippines’ northernmost
provinces, home to over 500,000 residents. The Marcos family
remains influential there; Ferdinand Marcos Jr. holds one of
the province’s two seats in the House of Representatives, and
the former President’s nephew, Michael Keon, is the
provincial Governor. In a recent visit by Poloff to Laoag,
the capital of Ilocos Norte, Governor Keon discussed voters’
political leanings and the prevalence of politically
motivated violence. The Bishop of Laoag lamented endemic
corruption and remarked that only the marginalized far left
could claim to represent a break from the status quo.
Laoag’s Police Superintendent told us approximately 20 armed
members of the New People’s Army resided in Ilocos Norte, but
they did not disturb the peace because the NPA used the
province as a rest stop.

¶2. (C) Ilocos Norte’s provincial Election Supervisor
expressed concern about the introduction of nationwide
automated vote tabulation for the May 2010 election; he
worried he would have little time to train poll station
workers and little control over the systems crucial to a
smooth and credible election. Sino-Filipino businessmen told
us Ilocos Norte provided a hospitable environment for them,
although the local economy depended heavily on remittances
from abroad. Various interlocutors attributed the
establishment of a Chinese consulate in Laoag to Marcos
family ties to Chinese officials. Subsequent to our visit,
typhoon Parma hit Ilocos Norte with significant economic
impact but causing few fatalities or injuries. End Summary
and Introduction.

GOVERNOR ON NATIONAL POLITICS, LOCAL VIOLENCE
———————————————

¶3. (C) During a September 22-23 visit to Laoag, capital of
Ilocos Norte province, Poloff called on Governor Michael
Keon, a member of President Arroyo’s Lakas-KAMPI party. Both
Keon and, separately, Laoag Mayor Michael Farinas (also a
party member), told us Lakas-KAMPI in Ilocos Norte had
suffered no internal friction as the result of Manila-based
politicians’ recent attempts to challenge the legitimacy of
the May 2009 merger of Lakas and KAMPI. (Note: The
Commission on Elections recently dismissed the challenge; the
dissenting politicians may seek redress in court. End Note.)

¶4. (C) Keon told us he was uncertain whether he would support
Lakas-KAMPI candidate Gilbert Teodoro, the current Secretary
of National Defense; he claimed some in Lakas-KAMPI circles
found Teodoro’s low standing in opinion polls dismaying.
Nevertheless, Keon believed that, in the Ilocos Norte cities
where Mayors had strong political control over their
constituents, they likely could deliver votes for Teodoro.
Teodoro’s main rival in the province was Senator Manuel
Villar; Keon assessed Villar had effectively built up a
network of supporters by cultivating the (nationwide)
Barangay Health Workers organization.

¶5. (C) Keon lamented the political violence in his province,
estimating offhand that two dozen people had died in
politically motivated killings over the past two years. He
cited the September 4 fatal shooting of Ilocos Norte Electric
Cooperative board president Lorenzo Rey Ruiz. Keon described
Ruiz as a friend and claimed his murder had been directed by
unknown persons hoping to take over Ruiz’s job. Keon said
Ilocanos often resorted to political violence because they
could not receive justice from the court system.

POLICE SUPERINTENDENT FOCUSED ON NPA
————————————

¶6. (C) In contrast to Keon, Laoag Police Superintendent
Sterling Blanco told us that he considered the city peaceful.
He anticipated no election-related violence in 2010, saying
Mayor Farinas would likely run unopposed, and there was not
yet any clear challenger to Governor Keon. Blanco seemed
more concerned with the communist New People’s Army (NPA),
saying he believed there were around 20 armed NPA members in
Ilocos Norte’s provincial border areas. He claimed raw
intelligence indicated some high-ranking NPA members

MANILA 00002199 002 OF 003

habitually transited Laoag and viewed it as a safe place for
rest and recreation. He believed the NPA would not
jeopardize their access to Laoag by carrying out acts of
violence there.

¶7. (C) Blanco told us he was satisfied with his progress in
recently-initiated efforts to document unregistered firearms
(part of a nationwide Philippine National Police effort). He
told us that since he began in August, he had registered 50
firearms in Laoag; he aimed for a total of 200 before the
October 31 conclusion of an amnesty period for owners of
unregistered guns.

BISHOP LAMENTS CORRUPTION
————————-

¶8. (C) Laoag Bishop Sergio Utleg privately lamented the state
of politics throughout the Philippines. He cited Grace
Padaca of nearby Isabela province as a rare example of a
Governor who did not win office through vote-buying, but he
said most politicians did, leaving them indebted to their
financiers. The Bishop estimated offhand that it might cost
a politician 20 million Pesos (almost 500,000 USD) to secure
election as Mayor in a city like Laoag. He did not consider
any of the presidential candidates likely to change the
status quo or break with traditional political practices.
Only the radical left presented voters with a genuine
alternative noting that the far left had no prospect of
gaining momentum because of a history of nationwide
repression (Utleg’s term) by the security forces. The Bishop
assessed Liberal Party candidate Benigno Aquino III as “the
least evil” of those likely to enter the race.

ELECTION OBSERVATION
——————–

¶9. (C) We called on Father Leonardo Ruiz, who heads the
provincial offices of the Parish Pastoral Council for
Responsible Voting (PPCRV), which is accredited to observe
elections, as well as the National Citizens’ Movement for
Free Elections (NAMFREL), which conducts election-day
“quick-counts.” Ruiz also leads the local branch of NGO
Vote-Care, which conducts public information campaigns. Ruiz
told us Ilocos Norte elections typically entailed isolated
incidents of violence, as well as vote-buying. But he
claimed that elections generally represented the will of the
electorate, and he expressed satisfaction that the NAMFREL
quick-count tallies very closely approximated the final
official figures. His efforts generally drew enough
volunteers that he could have two people present at each of
Ilocos Norte’s approximately 1,500 polling stations.
Multiple political parties typically also provided observers
for the polling stations, he noted.

¶10. (C) Drawing on readily-accessible data from the 2001
election, Ruiz explained he was able to run his election-day
efforts on a minimal budget. In 2001, he had received from
the Social Action Center, NAMFREL, PPCRV, and other
unspecified donors a total of 109,000 Pesos (slightly more
than 2,000 USD at current exchange rates). All PPCRV and
NAMFREL volunteers worked without pay, Ruiz noted, although
many local parishes provided them with snacks.

ELECTION OFFICIAL WORRIED ABOUT AUTOMATION
——————————————

¶11. (C) Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Provincial Election
Supervisor Alipio Castillo told us he was concerned about the
automation of the upcoming election. COMELEC had substantial
expertise in running elections, he said, but the change to
computerized vote tabulation was unnerving. “We’re used to
lecturing people on how to do elections,” he said. “Now
we’re being lectured to.” He worried that COMELEC officials
bore full responsibility for the election process, but they
had to depend on corporate technicians to resolve any
problems that might arise with the new computer systems.

¶12. (C) Castillo felt under significant time pressure —
COMELEC staff had not yet received training in the use of the
computers, and yet they would have to become sufficiently
familiar to train polling station workers, who typically were
public school teachers. There were many aspects of the
automated system which remained unclear to Castillo. He said
he hoped that upcoming meetings with upper-echelon COMELEC
officials in Manila would help clarify matters, but at the
time of our meeting, he admitted he had more questions than
answers about this topic.

MANILA 00002199 003 OF 003

SINO-FILIPINOS LAUD TOLERANCE, LAMENT ECONOMY
———————————————

¶13. (C) Leading members of the Chinese Filipino Chamber of
Commerce told us Ilocos Norte provided a peaceful and
tolerant environment for Sino-Filipinos; Filipinos of Chinese
descent were well-integrated with ethnic Ilocanos, and, in
contrast to Manila, Ilocos Norte was free of
kidnap-for-ransom gangs targeting ethnic Chinese. The
businessmen lamented the state of the economy, however, which
they claimed was heavily dependent on remittances provided by
the Ilocano diaspora. While Ilocos Norte in recent years had
drawn tourists from China, foreign tourism had fallen earlier
in the decade, after concern about the spread of various
respiratory diseases in Southeast Asia.

PRC CONSULATE IN LAOAG
———————-

¶14. (C) When asked the raison d’etre of the Chinese consulate
in Laoag, the Chamber of Commerce members (and other
interlocutors) said they could discern no reason why the PRC
would need or want a diplomatic post in Ilocos Norte. They
attributed the establishment of this consulate to close ties
between Chinese officials and the Marcos family. Meeting
with us in Manila, Ilocos Norte Congressman Ferdinand
“Bong-Bong” Marcos Jr. confirmed he had lobbied PRC officials
to establish the Laoag consulate. Marcos said the Chinese
had opened the consulate after considering the long-term
outlook for Chinese interests in Ilocos Norte, including
tourism and Chinese investment. Marcos then noted
tangentially that multiple business deals between Chinese and
Ilocano parties had collapsed after allegations of kickbacks
in a 2007 transaction between GRP officials and Chinese
telecommunication firm ZTE.

TYPHOON EFFECT
————–

¶15. (U) Subsequent to our visit, typhoon Pepeng hit northern
and central Luzon. Ilocos Norte was spared the worst of the
typhoon’s impact, though. According to recent reports, only
two people in the province died from the typhoon’s effects,
and four sustained injuries. The GRP claimed that the
typhoon affected approximately 144,000 province residents,
although only 1,000 took shelter in evacuation centers. The
typhoon destroyed 156 homes and partially damaged 1,374
others. The GRP estimated crop, livestock, and
infrastructure damage totaled 847 million Pesos
(approximately 18 million USD). As of October 13, the GRP had
provided 524,000 Pesos (slightly over 10,000 USD) of
assistance to Ilocos Norte.

KENNEY

   

 

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