Oct 242014


Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA2406 2005-05-26 05:47 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANILA 002406



E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/26/2015

¶B. MANILA 1808
¶C. MANILA 1401
¶D. 03 MANILA 6332

Classified By: Political Officer Andrew McClearn for
Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: Party organizations are relatively weak in
the Philippines and are overshadowed by the influence of
personalities. Parties tend to coalesce around popular
political leaders during electoral campaigns due to the
desire for patronage, but otherwise are underfunded, without
clear programs, and largely ineffective. Some of the larger
national parties have recently focused on party-building
activities, but with limited success. The pro-Arroyo
coalition, at first glance, has strong support in both the
House and Senate, but its support is often skin-deep.
Anti-Arroyo forces are fragmented, although a large faction
remains loyal to former president Joseph Estrada. Various
leftist “party list” groups linked with the Communist Party
of the Philippines – New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) are active
in the House — and on the streets. For reasons of stability
and coherence, a stronger party system would be a positive
development, but there is little sign that parties will trump
personalities any time soon. Mission will continue to look
for opportunities to enhance appreciation of political
parties and highlight their importance in a democratic
system. End Summary.

Party Politics and Personalities

¶2. (SBU) Party organizations are relatively weak in the
Philippines and are overshadowed by the influence of
personalities. On the surface, party politics are alive and
well in the Philippines. There are 103 political parties
registered with the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) and
literally hundreds of unregistered parties — mostly very
small — operating in the country. These parties represent
views across the political spectrum. That said, given the
entire mosaic of Philippine politics, parties basically serve
as bit players compared to the role that personalities play.
In fact, parties primarily service the needs of political
personalities, who have gained influence usually due to their
family links. During periods of national campaigns, the
larger political parties sometimes gain strength due to their
association with powerful personalities who can give
patronage in exchange for votes and support. Party influence
tends to recede dramatically, however, after the election
takes place, when the money dries up and attention totally
focuses on the personality in power. During the run-up to
the May 2004, for example, President Arroyo’s Lakas Christian
Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) Party gained a certain degree of
influence as it organized rallies and other events for the
president. Its influence receded after the election,

¶3. (C) Recently, the larger national parties have focused on
party-building activities, but with limited success.
Lakas-CMD and several other parties have participated in
workshops in Manila and elsewhere meant to encourage such
institution-building activities as ways to increase
membership, develop party platforms, implement standardized
funding mechanisms, and facilitate rule-based decision-making
among members. Opposition senators Edgardo Angara and
Jinggoy Estrada both introduced 2004 legislation to reform
the party system by limiting party switching, among other
proposals. Their bills are languishing in committees,
however. Conversations with party advocates have confirmed
that real commitment among politicians to these reform
efforts remains elusive. Lakas-CMD Director Francis
Manglapus told poloff recently that even Lakas — the largest
of the national parties — is understaffed, underfunded, and
over-reliant on the wealth of a few single benefactors to be
truly effective as a national political organization.

The Pro-Arroyo Coalition

¶4. (C) President Arroyo’s coalition, at first glance,
commands strong support in both the House of Representatives
and the Senate. Approximately 200 of 236 House members and
14 of 23 Senators belong to parties considered allies of the
President. Indeed, despite some difficulties and delays, the
President has been able to rely on her coalition to get key
fiscal reform and other bills through the legislature.
Loyalty to the President is often skin-deep, however. Major
members of her coalition are listed below:

— The Lakas-CMD party grew out of the presidential campaign
of former president Fidel Ramos in 1992. President Arroyo is
Lakas Chair, although party policies and discipline is
largely implemented by party president and House Speaker Jose
de Venecia. Lakas-CMD has seven senators, 75
representatives, and has the broadest national party network.
It is probably the single most influential political party
in central Luzon, much of the Visayas, and Mindanao,
including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Most commentators associate Lakas with “Trapos” (traditional
politicians), who are experts in backroom politicking, and —
unfortunately for Arroyo — frequently tainted by public
perceptions that they represent entrenched interests or are
corrupt. The President largely stays out of Lakas-CMD
affairs, although she supported a recent initiative by
Speaker de Venecia to call together leaders of the major
parties in an effort focused on showing unity against any
extra-constitutional efforts to bring down the government.
Some members of Lakas-CMD are firmly set against the KAMPI
group (see below), which is made up of close Arroyo
associates. These Lakas members feel (accurately) that KAMPI
is sapping membership away from Lakas;

— The Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI) party is
closely associated with President Arroyo. Arroyo originally
formed KAMPI as a vehicle for her successful run for
vice-president in 1998, but the party was relatively dormant
for years. After Arroyo’s victory in 2004, however, KAMPI
enlisted some 35 members, mostly disgruntled Lakas-CMD
politicians or others interested in KAMPI because of its
links to the President, the ultimate patron. KAMPI officials
have confirmed to poloffs that the party counts on the close
support of the President, in particular through unofficial
links with First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. Observers have
asserted that the President uses KAMPI to keep Lakas-CMD
stalwart and House Speaker de Venecia’s ambitions in check.
Media reports suggest that KAMPI has more financial resources
than other large parties;

— The Liberal Party (LP) contains many top Filipino
politicians, including: Senate President Franklin Drilon;
Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan; and Senator Manuel
“Mar” Roxas, the top vote-getter in last year’s national
senate race. The LP has 34 representatives and the three
top-tier senators listed above. Education Secretary
Florencio Abad and Environment Secretary Michael Defensor are
also members of the party. LP leaders have worked closely
with Lakas to support the administration’s agenda. Many have
speculated that the LP is gearing up to support a run by one
of its own for president in 2010, with observers frequently
mentioning Mar Roxas as a possible candidate;

— The Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), led by
well-known businessman and former Marcos associate Eduardo
“Danding” Cojuangco, continues to have strong support in the
House of Representatives with some 40 members. House Ways
and Means Chairman and NPC Rep. Jesli Lapus has been key in
pushing through numerous pieces of fiscal legislation
proposed by the Arroyo Administration. However, the
defection of a small group of NPC members to the opposition
has called into question the party’s effectiveness and
commitment to the pro-Arroyo coalition (see Para 5);

— The Nacionalista Party (NP) is led by senators Manuel
Villar (the weathiest member of the legislature) and Ralph
Recto. In addition to these two senators, it counts 14
representatives as members. NP was a key part of the
pro-Arroyo coalition during the 2004 elections, although its
contrary positions to those of the administration on an array
of issues, such as taxation and bilateral ties with the U.S.,
increasingly strain this connection. NP’s visibility will
rise when Villar assumes the Senate Presidency in December
2005, the result of a power-sharing agreement reached with
Senator Drilon of the LP.

A Fragmented Opposition

¶5. (C) Despite on-and-off efforts to organize themselves
into a coherent force, anti-Arroyo forces remain fragmented,
although a large faction remains loyal to former president
Joseph Estrada. The major opposition groups include:

— Former president Estrada leads the Partido ng Masang
Pilipino (PMP). The party has attempted to reinvigorate
party rolls, its organization, and its reputation as the
party of the “masa” (Ref B). Two senators count themselves
members of the party, including Loi Estrada (the wife of
Estrada) and Jinggoy Estrada (a son). (Note: Senators Juan
Ponce Enrile and Jamby Madrigal were active PMP members, but
recently declared themselves to be independents. Both still
retain some links to the party, however.) PMP has limited
reach in the House with only two members. PMP mounts
vigorous public relations efforts — as evidenced at
www.erap.ph — but remains seriously debilitated by the fact
that party chairman Estrada is under house arrest and on
trial, accused of corruption and plunder;

— The Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) party is in
disarray, although respected Senator Edgardo Angara retains
his position as head of the party. Once one of the stronger
parties, only seven representatives remain in the LDP.
Popular former LDP members such as Sen. Panfilo Lacson and
Rep. Ronaldo Zamora have become independents after
much-publicized rows with Angara;

— Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel leads Partido
Demokratikong ng Pilipino (PDP-Laban). The other senator in
PDP-Laban is Cebu-based Sergio Osmena III. Rep. Teodoro
Locsin is the party’s only House member. This group derives
clout due to Pimentel’s standing as a senior statesman from
Mindanao and copious financial support provided by Makati
Mayor Jejomar Binay and Locsin, two wealthy party members;

— Rep. Imee Marcos, the articulate daughter of former
president Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda Marcos, leads
Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL). KBL began as provincial
party, and only has Marcos as a member in the House and no
representation in the Senate. Marcos has roundly criticized
the administration in both public and private forums.
According to Marcos, her value to the opposition is to
provide name recognition, youth, and energy (she is 49). Her
brother, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is the governor of
Ilocos Norte Province in northern Luzon island;

— As noted above, a small faction of the NPC has joined the
opposition. House Minority Leader, Rep. Francis Escudero
leads this faction. Escudero, who also campaigned in 2004
for opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr., will likely run
for the Senate in 2007.

The &Legal Left8

¶6. (C) Various leftist “party list” groups linked with the
CPP-NPA are active in the House — and on the streets. These
groups have been relatively effective at rallying public
support, most recently by organizing protests to oppose tax
legislation, and against job cuts and cost of living
increases. There are now 24 members of the House of
Representatives elected by the “party list” system — roughly
half of whom are leftists (Ref D). Groups within this rubric

— Rep. Satur Ocampo, a long-time leftist, heads Bayan Muna
(BM), which has three representatives. A more moderate
representative, Teodoro “Teddy” Casino, is also a party
member. BM often takes the lead in organizing protests along
with other leftist groups. BM representatives have recently
accused elements of the GRP’s security forces of
systematically killing BM leaders across the country (Ref C);

— Anak Pawis, Gabriela, and Partido ng Manggagawa are
closely allied with Bayan Muna and, overall, have four
members in the House. Led by representatives Crispin
Beltran, Liza Maza, and labor organizer Renato Magtubo, these
three groups focus on youth, women, and labor issues,

— Of the leftist parties in the House, Akbayan is the most
important one that is not associated with the CPP-NPA. It
has three members in the House and is led by long-time human
rights activist Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales. Akbayan has a
history of very frosty relations with Bayan Muna, with
Rosales complaining that she has received death threats from
the NPA.


¶7. (C) For reasons of stability and coherence, a stronger
party system would be a positive development in the
Philippines, but there is little sign that parties will trump
personalities any time soon. Deep, lasting family ties are
an abiding factor in Philippine culture and scions of
influential families will continue to prove crucial in the
political system, both at the national and local level. In
light of this, the relative strength of political parties
will continue to ebb and flow mainly according to their links
with popular personalities. For example, Lakas-CMD will
likely gain or lose influence per House Speaker de Venecia’s
political fortunes, while KAMPI’s fortunes are totally
dependent on Arroyo’s, as is the case with the PMP and

¶8. (SBU) Through USG assistance, the International
Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute
have done capacity-building work with Philippine parties in
the past. In addition, Mission has included young
politicians in International Visitor Leadership Program
(IVLP) projects focused on state and local government,
accountability in government, and party organization and
financing. Mission will continue to look for opportunities
to enhance appreciation of political parties and highlight
their importance in a democratic system.

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