Oct 242014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2007-10-26 08:50
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #3541/01 2990850
O 260850Z OCT 07
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 003541



E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/25/2017


¶B. MANILA 3086
¶C. MANILA 2965

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Philippine President Gloria Macapagal
Arroyo’s October 25 pardon of convicted former President
Joseph Estrada (1998-2001) is commanding strong interest
throughout Philippine society. The Arroyo administration
reportedly enlisted a former Estrada cabinet member to garner
support for the pardon in political circles — with some
success. The pardon drew mixed reactions from former chief
executives, while the left was predictably outspoken in its
rejection of Estrada’s pardon. Private sector leaders
generally view Arroyo’s actions as a pragmatic necessity,
given Estrada’s lingering popularity, while prosecutors and
the Acting Justice Secretary have debated the pardon’s legal
merits. Media coverage, while mixed, has included commentary
sharply critical of the administration. END SUMMARY.

Garnering Support

¶2. (C) At an October 25 dinner with the Ambassador, a former
Estrada Cabinet official said that the Arroyo administration
had placed him in charge of garnering support for the pardon
among key political figures and others. During the dinner,
he received the text of a supportive statement from former
President Corazon Aquino, which Aquino later gave to the
press. He said former President Fidel Ramos was not enthused
about the pardon and speculated that Ramos was annoyed at not
being consulted earlier. Cebu’s Cardinal Vidal, according to
the former Estrada official, would publicly support the
pardon, and Manila Cardinal Rosales (now out of the country)
would not be opposed. Notwithstanding his lack of enthusiasm
for the pardon, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. would not
oppose Estrada’s pardon.

Business Responses

¶3. (C) Among the business community, a Filipino businessman
with close ties to Malacanang Palace told Ambassador that
President Arroyo saw no advantage in dragging out matters,
given Estrada’s enduring popularity with the electorate and
the President’s other problems. A highly-respected
businessman stressed to Ambassador that Estrada’s sick and
elderly 102-year-old mother was also a factor; only furloughs
from incarceration had made possible Estrada’s recent visits
to his mother, whose death without the presence of her son
would reflect poorly on Arroyo among the public.

Arroyo Administration

¶4. (C) Acting Justice Secretary and Solicitor General Agnes
Devanadera, who worked closely with Malacanang Palace to
hammer out legal details of the pardon, discussed the issue
with polcouns. She viewed the pardon against the larger
context of President Arroyo’s overarching policies of
reconciliation: Arroyo has worked for peace with Muslim
insurgents, offered amnesty to communist guerrillas, and
reached out to even her bitterest political opponents. In
that vein, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno had publicly
stated that Estrada deserved clemency, since he had “made the
ultimate sacrifice” in stepping down for the good of the
country. Although Estrada’s long-running court case had been
a constant and divisive public issue, Devanadera reported
that Arroyo’s cabinet was not united in supporting the
President’s move to pardon Estrada. She averred that she
herself would have opposed the pardon had it not been for two
points: Estrada’s banishment from further public office, and
the requirement that he return to the public treasury more
than $12 million in ill-gotten gains. When asked why she had
confidence that Estrada would abide by these conditions,
Devanadera responded that Estrada knew the pardon could be
revoked if he did not comply.

Estrada’s Response

¶5. (SBU) For his part, Estrada “thanked God for
enlightening” President Arroyo, and said that he stood ready
to put the divisive past behind and accept reconciliation
with the President. He went on to say that his only ambition
at this point was to run his own presidential library and
museum. Public reaction was mixed among other former
presidents. Former President Aquino said that she was happy
for Estrada and his family, and expressed her hope that he
would use the lessons he has learned to help the less

MANILA 00003541 002 OF 002

fortunate. Former President Ramos was not so charitable,
warning that Arroyo’s move (only six weeks after Estrada’s
conviction) was overly hasty, since Estrada had made neither
an admission of guilt nor an appeal for clemency. Ramos
characterized the pardon as a “national calamity” that could
even endanger the nation’s security.


¶6. (SBU) Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo insisted that the
President had disregarded the whole justice system in
pardoning Estrada. Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio
asserted that Arroyo had no legal basis in pardoning Estrada,
since he had been impeached, and that in any event no
petition had been filed pursuant to a pardon. Villa-Ignacio
went on to opine that Estrada’s age — cited by Arroyo as one
factor militating in favor of pardon — was irrelevant due to
Estrada’s lack of remorse, usually considered an indication
of a convict’s potential to cause further harm to society.
Acting Justice Secretary Devanadera countered to polcouns
that Estrada’s 2001 forced resignation was not a case of
impeachment, and that the Supreme Court had “created a new
kind of animal” in finding that, although Estrada had not
actually resigned in person, he had “effectively resigned.”

¶7. (SBU) Dante Jimenez, a founder of the “No Pardon for
Estrada Movement” (NOPE) characterized the pardon as the
saddest moment in history for Philippine justice, and a very
bad precedent. On the left side of the nation’s political
spectrum, Representative Satur Ocampo cited the pardon as
evidence of the administration’s lack of seriousness in
fighting corruption, while Representative Teodoro Casino
described the pardon as an opportunistic political maneuver
by Arroyo, rather than a magnanimous act of justice; both
decried Estrada’s lack of remorse. A scathing October 26
editorial in the leading daily “Philippine Inquirer” opposed
Estrada’s pardon, opining that political expediency had once
again trumped the pursuit of justice. It went on to say that
the pardon’s real purpose was not to save Estrada, but
President Arroyo.

¶8. (C) COMMENT: Estrada’s former Cabinet member was coy
regarding his former boss’s political future, blandly
dissembling that “who knows what the people would want.”
Ambassador counseled that Estrada would do well to try to be
a model former president, interested in key overall issues
rather than meddling in petty politics. The Estrada pardon
will likely remain, for the foreseeable future, a divisive
and controversial issue — one where there would appear to be
little to be gained by USG involvement. Under the
circumstances, our public affairs stance should be that the
case in an internal matter for the Philippine government, and
that we respect their decisions in the matter. END COMMENT.



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