Oct 242014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2006-01-06 09:31
2011-08-30 01:44
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 02 MANILA 000081



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/06/2016

REF: 05 MANILA 5965

Classified By: Acting Political Counselor Joseph L. Novak for
reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: President Arroyo plans to convene a
“Council of State” meeting on January 24. The meeting, the
first of its kind in many years, would involve government
personalities and other notables in a discussion of “national
issues.” Opposition figures are being invited to the
meeting, but it is not clear whether they will attend. Key
officials of President Arroyo’s Lakas Party are set to meet
January 14 to discuss the way forward on Constitutional
change and other issues. In yet another important January
meeting, Catholic Bishops plan to hold one of their
semi-annual meetings, January 24-27. No one is expecting the
“Council of State” meeting to result in any dramatic
initiatives. End Summary.

Convening a “Council of State”

¶2. (SBU) President Arroyo is expected to convene her
administration’s first “Council of State” meeting on January
24 to discuss pressing “national issues.” Gabriel “Gabby”
Claudio, President Arroyo’s chief political adviser, told
reporters at a January 4 press conference that the convening
of the Council (which is allowed for by executive order —
see below) “is consistent with President Arroyo’s desire for
national unity and her efforts to reach out to various
segments of society.” The meeting would be chaired by
President Arroyo. Vice President Noli de Castro, key members
of Congress (both pro-government and Opposition), former
presidents of the Philippines, and some local officials are
being invited to attend. Other well-known Filipinos may also
be invited to attend at the President’s discretion. When
asked about the reason the meeting was being called, Cabinet
Secretary Ricardo Saludo told Acting Pol/C that “the

President thinks it is a good time to discuss national

¶3. (C) As of January 6, it was unclear whether such
Opposition luminaries as former president Corazon Aquino,
Senate President Franklin Drilon, and minority leaders in
both houses of Congress would attend. Saludo told Acting
Pol/C that Malacanang “did not know whether the Opposition
would attend, but we will make the effort.” Acting Pol/C
asked about former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who
remains under house arrest while he is tried on serious
corruption charges. Saludo replied that “the issue of
possible participation by Erap has yet to be fully settled.”

¶4. (SBU) Background: The “Council of State” concept was
created by President Aquino, who called several meetings of
the body during her 1986-92 term of office. (Note:
President Marcos also held several meetings which he referred
to as “Council of Leaders Summits.” End Note.) Former
presidents Ramos and Estrada never convened a Council meeting
during their terms. President Arroyo’s Executive Order No.
168, dated January 16, 2003, reconstituted the makeup of the
Council. In the original 1987 (Aquino) version, the Council
consisted of the President, Vice President, President of the
Senate, Speaker of the House, the Executive Secretary, the
Secretary of National Defense, the Chief of Staff of the

Armed Services, all members of Congress, the Cabinet and
select members of the private sector. The 2003
reconstitution limits the members of Congress that are
invited (only key Congressional leaders in the current
version) and does not specifically mention the Chief of Staff
of the Armed Services, but adds various local officials.
Lakas To Meet

¶5. (C) Key officials of President Arroyo’s Lakas Party, the
largest single party in the House and the Senate, are also
set to meet January 14 to discuss the way forward on
Constitutional change and other issues. (Note: See Ref a
for details on the ongoing debate over Constitutional change.
End Note.) Party President and Speaker of the House Jose de
Venecia is expected to chair the meeting (Arroyo is honorary
party chairperson and probably will not attend). Saludo told
Acting Pol/C that Malacanang hoped that the meeting would set
Lakas’ policy and legislative agenda for 2006. Saludo
confirmed that KAMPI, a strongly pro-administration party,
would not attend the Lakas function, despite continued
reports that Lakas and KAMPI may unite into one entity.
(Note: Former president Fidel V. Ramos, Lakas Chairman
Emeritus, has been invited to participate in the meeting.
There have been ongoing press reports of friction between
Ramos and Malacanang, and it is not clear whether Ramos will
attend. End Note.)

Catholic Bishop’s Meeting

¶6. (C) In a January 6 meeting with Acting Pol/C, Archbishop
Angel Lagdameo, the new head of the Catholic Bishop’s
Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), confirmed that the CBCP
would be holding one of its semi-annual plenary meetings from
January 24-27 in Manila. Lagdameo said the meeting would
focus on “spiritual and contemplative” issues. He added
that the group would review a statement the CBCP made in July
2005 on the domestic political situation. (Note: Though
critical of Malacanang, the statement was particularly
noteworthy because it did not call for President Arroyo to
resign despite many calls for her to do so at that time.
Many observers believe that Arroyo may have had to resign if
the CBCP had called for her to do so. End Note.) Lagdameo
indicated that the CBCP probably would not decide to update
the July 2005 statement and make one harsher toward Arroyo,
though the group might renew its call for “clean government”
and “pro-poor policies.”


¶7. (C) No one is expecting the “Council of State” meeting to
result in any dramatic initiatives. The Opposition is bound
to criticize it and may well boycott it. That said,
President Arroyo is at least making the effort to reach out,
which is positive. Malacanang is probably watching the CBCP
plans for a meeting warily. It knows that a change in the
Catholic Church’s basically neutral posture on political
issues could undermine the administration. There is little
sign of that happening based on Lagdameo’s comments and our
other soundings, though CBCP meetings are private affairs and
their outcomes notoriously difficult to predict.

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