Oct 242014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/06/09MANILA1262.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA1262
2009-06-11 09:20
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO6218
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1262/01 1620920
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 110920Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4365
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 001262

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/12/2019
TAGS: PGOV PHUM RP
SUBJECT: RALLY AGAINST CONSTITUTIONAL REVISIONS DRAWS ONLY MODEST PARTICIPATION

REF: MANILA 1197 (HOUSE PASSES RESOLUTION PUSHING FOR
CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION)

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney,
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Political opponents of President Arroyo who
believe her supporters seek to amend the Constitution to keep
her in office staged a modest demonstration in Manila’s
business district June 10. While the rally paled in
significance and size to the People Power demonstrations that
ousted previous presidents, and had more of an air of a
political rally than a mass protest, the presence of as many
as 13,000 anti-Arroyo protesters underscored the persistent
sense of fear among the President’s many detractors that she
and her supporters will use any means to retain power after
her term expires in 2010. It remains unclear where the
current effort to amend the Constitution will lead. While
the Arroyo-dominated House of Representatives passed a
resolution calling for a constituent assembly to amend the
Constitution in advance of the 2010 national elections, the
resolution contained no details on the kinds of amendments or
changes that the bill’s drafters intended, and included a
controversial proposal for the House and Senate to sit
together as one body on an equal basis, thus blunting the
Senate’s veto power. The controversial nature of the
constituent assembly and the desire of numerous candidates to
see the national elections go forward next year suggests that
the Senate will use all means to block action, and a Supreme
Court challenge is all but assured. Foreign Secretary
Alberto Romulo privately told the Ambassador June 11 that
President Arroyo had no role in supporting the resolution,
and he personally lamented the decision of House leadership
to pursue it. The peaceful nature of the June 10
demonstration and failure of the organizers to rally the tens
of thousands of demonstrators they had predicted suggest the
broader public is unsure where the constitutional amendment
process is headed, and also indicates “protest fatigue” has
set in after years of repeated street demonstrations. END
SUMMARY.

PROTESTERS SHOW UP, BUT NOT IN FORCE
————————————

¶2. (C) Promising a series of protest actions to culminate
with the President’s July 27 State of the Nation Address,
protesters opposing constitutional reform (called “charter
change”) rallied June 10 to denounce the House of
Representatives’ earlier passage of Resolution 1109, which
called for convening Congress into a constituent assembly to
propose amendments to the Constitution. According to
official estimates, about 6,000 protesters attended the
three-hour kickoff rally in Makati City, the country’s
financial district. While the rally attracted the die-hard
members of the political opposition, leftist groups, civil
society organizations, business, and religious groups, the
rally as measured by official statistics was only one-third
the size of similar anti-administration rallies over the past
year, although one group’s statistics estimated the size of
the crowd at 13,000. At a December 2008 demonstration in
Makati City, 5,000 protesters gathered to oppose the draft of
House Resolution 1109, which was then being circulated by
Pampanga Representative and son of President Arroyo, Juan
Miguel Arroyo.

POLITICS AND THEATRICS
———————-

¶3. (C) With high-profile politicians and eye-catching
visuals, the rally demonstrated Filipino flair for theatrics.
A giant video screen showed a mosaic of the lawmakers —
labeled “Gloria’s Toadies” — who voted for House Resolution
¶1109. Dominant political figures, or their offspring, were
well represented. Seven Senators attended, including
presidential aspirants Loren Legarda, Francis Escudero, and
Manuel Roxas, who vowed to block the House resolution in the
Senate. Former House Speaker Jose de Venecia, a champion of
charter change until his falling-out with President Arroyo in
2008, also joined the rally, while Makati City Mayor Jejomar
Binay, another opposition presidential contender, provided
logistical support and participants for the rally. Corazon
Aquino’s grandson delivered an emotional critique of the
Arroyo administration on behalf of the cancer-stricken former
president, while former President Joseph Estrada’s son, San
Juan Mayor Victor Ejercito, delivered his father’s own
scathing assessment.

MALCANANG UNPERTURBED

MANILA 00001262 002 OF 003

———————

¶4. (C) There was no official reaction from the Presidential
Palace. President Arroyo, who has weathered more difficult
political crises in the past, recently returned from her
official visits to South Korea and Russia, and will leave for
Japan and Brazil next week to promote bilateral cooperation.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita commented in a press
briefing that members of the House who voted for Resolution
1109 might have to pay “the political cost come election day.”

FOREIGN SECRETARY DENIES PRESIDENT BEHIND MOVE
——————————————— —

¶5. (C) In a June 11 private discussion over breakfast with
the Ambassador, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo
emphasized his view that the Philippine House of
Representatives’ moves to declare itself a constituent
assembly (“con-ass”) and unilaterally pursue constitutional
change was “a huge mistake” that posed a “ridiculous
distraction from more important issues.” The Foreign
Secretary went on to convey his concern that in instances
where one institution such as the House attempts to
marginalize the influence of others, as with the Senate in
this case, it detracts from the Philippines’ continued
consolidation of democratic institutions. Although Romulo
doubted that the House’s “con-ass” initiative would be likely
to get past the Supreme Court, he suggested that a preferable
outcome would be for more sensible voices in the House to
step forward to highlight the peril. In response to the
Ambassador’s observation that some quarters blamed President
Arroyo for the House’s actions, Romulo vigorously denied that
the President had played any role in promulgating movement
toward a constituent assembly.

POLITICIANS CONSIDER ABANDONING ARROYO COALITION
——————————————— —

¶6. (C) Reports noted that leaders of three political parties
said their groups would abandon the pro-administration
coalition in the House of Representatives if House leadership
attempts to convene a constituent assembly. The Nationalist
People’s Coalition, the Liberal Party, and the Nationalista
Party are aggressively promoting their candidates for the May
presidential elections, and their party leadership expressed
disapproval for attempts to cancel those elections. Despite
these threats by party leadership, one member of the House
confirmed that his party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition,
has not sought the consent of its members to withdraw from
the pro-administration coalition if a constituent assembly
convenes, nor has it formally declared its intention to do so.

MANILA PROTESTS ECHOED IN OTHER LOCALES
—————————————

¶7. (C) Much smaller protests in at least 20 cities across
Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao on June 10 echoed the mood
of the Manila protests and reflected a diverse group of
interests. In Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, protests were
overshadowed by the murder that day of peasant activist
Fermin Lorico by an unknown assailant. Lingayen Archbishop
Oscar Cruz, a staunch Arroyo critic, said bishops were
organizing protest actions in their districts, while Catholic
Bishops Conference of the Philippines President Archbishop
Angel Lagdameo called for peaceful protests to avoid the
undesirable triggering of martial law. Overseas workers’
group Migrante claimed to have organized rallies in other
countries, and youth groups opposed to charter change
launched an online campaign dubbed “Stop Con-Ass Now,” which
had 20,000 supporters.

COMMENT
——-

¶8. (C) Lower-than-expected attendance at the demonstration
reflects the reality that Resolution 1109, on its own, poses
little threat without additional action by the House of
Representatives. The next procedural action on a constituent
assembly could come as early as July 27, when Congress
reconvenes from summer break. At least one constitutional
law expert has cautioned that the Arroyo administration has
no social or moral legitimacy to support major constitutional
reform during the President’s last year in office, and has
only the thinnest layer of legal legitimacy on which to
support such changes. Even then, a Supreme Court ruling
against Resolution 1109 could wipe out any legal standing for
constitutional reform as envisioned by Arroyo’s allies in the
House. As the debate for and against constitutional reform

MANILA 00001262 003 OF 003

lingers on, and as politicians increasingly turn their
attention to their own election campaigns, the likelihood of
Congress passing either contentious or meaningful
constitutional reforms continues to diminish.

KENNEY

   

 

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