Oct 242014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2006-01-18 08:40
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.

180840Z Jan 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000242



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/18/2016


¶B. 05 MANILA 5965
¶C. 05 MANILA 5947

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

¶1. (C) Summary: Leaders of the Lakas Party — including
President Arroyo — underscored support for Constitutional
change during a January 14 meeting. Per Lakas, proposed
changes would take effect in 2007 when a parliament led by a
prime minister would be created. President Arroyo would be
allowed to serve out her term with her powers basically
intact until its scheduled end in 2010. In other domestic
political news, there has been talk of a small Cabinet
reshuffle and a maverick lawyer has filed impeachment charges
against President Arroyo. Lakas’ statement appears to have
added a new impetus to the push for Constitutional change,
although the Senate is still balking. End Summary.

Lakas Meeting

¶2. (C) Leaders of the Lakas Party — including President
Arroyo — underscored support for Constitutional change
during a January 17 meeting. Aside from Arroyo, who is
honorary chairperson of the party, Speaker of the House Joe
de Venecia (the current head of Lakas) also participated, as
did former president Fidel V. Ramos, the party’s Chairman
Emeritus. In a statement issued at the close of the meeting,
the Lakas leadership said its proposed changes to the
Constitution would take effect in 2007 when a unicameral
legislature (i.e., parliament) led by a prime minister would
be created, effectively ending the current bicameral system.
President Arroyo would be allowed to serve out her term with
her powers basically intact until its scheduled end in 2010,
however. Per the proposal, when she leaves office, a
ceremonial president would take over, with the prime minister
receiving full executive powers at that time. (Note: Most
of Lakas’ points regarding Constitutional change were very
similar to the conclusions reached by a Malacanang-created
“Consultative Commission” that issued its report in December
2005 — see ref b. End Note.)

¶3. (C) The timeframe for pressing these proposed changes
through was very ambitious, with Lakas promising it would be
done within the next six months. When asked about the Lakas
meeting, Ed Castro, the senior foreign policy adviser to
Speaker De Venecia, told Acting Pol/C on January 17 that
“Malacanang and the House are now 100 percent committed to
‘Charter Change’ — it will take place.” (Note: “Charter
change or “Cha-Cha” is an informal term that Filipinos use
for Constitutional change. End Note.) When asked about the
Senate’s position on the matter (given that it stands to be
abolished under most plans), Castro said “the Senate will
come around and come to understand how vital such change is.”

¶4. (C) The Lakas meeting also seems to have afforded
President Arroyo and former president Ramos a chance to work
together in a collegial way on Constitutional change. In the
recent past, Ramos has highlighted his own plan for such
change which would basically require that Arroyo leave office
in 2007 to make way for a new parliamentary system. While
Ramos has been pressing his plan hard, Malacanang has never
supported his formula, though it has been careful not to
alienate Ramos, who is still politically influential. At the
Lakas meeting on January 14, Ramos seemed to go along with
the consensus without a fuss. In a January 12 meeting,
Gabriel “Gabby” Claudio, President Arroyo’s chief political
adviser, told Acting Pol/C that he felt that Ramos “would
remain on board with President Arroyo and her administration,
although he clearly has differences on the subject of Charter

Minor Cabinet Reshuffle?

¶5. (SBU) In other domestic political news, there has been
talk of a small Cabinet reshuffle. Based on what Mission
understands, Mike Defensor has already become the Chief of
Staff at Malacanang, replacing Tomas Alcantara, who is
apparently returning to private business. Defensor has
reportedly left his old post, Secretary of the Department of
Environmental Resources, to take over the Chief of Staff
position. Congressman Ronnie Puno, a close confidant of the
President’s, has been mentioned as a possible new Secretary
of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).
(Note: Among other matters, DILG supervises the Philippine
National Police. End Note.) Current DILG Secretary Angelo
Reyes has publicly stated that he wants to remain at his job,
however, asserting that he has turned down an offer to be
ambassador to the U.S. instead. Rene Velasco, the current
head of the Philippine Information Agency (which operates out
of Malacanang) has also been mentioned as a possible
candidate to head the Office of Presidential Management Staff
(PMS). Velasco would replace former PMS Chief Rigoberto
Tiglao who has been appointed ambassador to Greece.

¶6. (C) When queried about the Cabinet and possible changes,
Claudio told Acting Pol/C that there probably would be “a
limited Cabinet reshuffle in the next several weeks, but the
President has not definitely decided who it might effect and
when to announce it.” In a January 13 meeting with Acting
Pol/C, Congressman Puno confirmed that he was a candidate for
the DILG position, noting that he had held the position from
1999-2000 (under then-president Joseph Estrada). In an
implicit criticism of Reyes, Puno claimed that President
Arroyo wanted someone in the position “who knows a lot about
local government issues as opposed to only law enforcement

Impeachment Charges

¶7. (C) Finally, in other news, a maverick lawyer filed
impeachment charges against President Arroyo on January 16.
The lawyer, Oliver Lozano, had also filed impeachment charges
last year, which were ultimately tossed out by the House in
September 2005. Lozano’s new charges were a virtually a
replica of an “amended” impeachment complaint filed by the
Opposition last year accusing Arroyo of abuse of power and
corruption (the majority in the House refused to review the
Opposition’s charges at the time, ruling that Lozano’s
petition took precedence).

¶8. (C) The Opposition has lashed out at Lozano, asserting
that — in filing his complaint — he was trying to confuse
matters for the Opposition, which is currently studying the
issue of when to file its own impeachment charges. (Note:
In recent meetings, Opposition leaders, such as Senator
Panfilo Lacson, have underscored their support for the filing
of new impeachment charges in 2006 — see ref c, for example.
End Note.) In any case, Lozano’s charges can only be
reviewed by the House in the July 2006 timeframe (or one-year
after July 2005 when the House last initiated a review of
impeachment charges). When asked about the possibility of a
new impeachment battle, Claudio told Acting Pol/C that
Malacanang was “not at all worried” with attempts “to rehash
old, unproven charges.” Late on January 17, Lozano’s
complaint was returned to him because it had not been
endorsed by even one House member and did not meet other
technical specifications.


¶9. (C) The Lakas statement appears to have added a new
impetus to the push for Constitutional change given that
Malacanang and the House now seem to be aligned strongly
behind it. That said, many senators continue to voice strong
public opposition to the idea. Our guess is that — given
the Senate’s strong opposition — Constitutional change will
continue to be a tough sell. Lozano’s impeachment charges
are not new and do not seem to be worrying Malacanang, which
appears to be on a stronger political footing at this time
than it was for much of last year.

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