Sep 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/11/09MANILA2290.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA2290
2009-11-03 07:55
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO6914
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #2290/01 3070755
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 030755Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5619
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 002290

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/04/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL RP
SUBJECT: SENATOR VILLAR GOES ON THE OFFENSIVE IN PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN

REF: A. MANILA 2218 (FORMER PRESIDENT ESTRADA ANNOUNCES
PRESIDENTIAL RUN)
¶B. MANILA 1901 (SENATOR AQUINO DECLARES
PRESIDENTIAL BID)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: In a private breakfast with the Ambassador
October 28, a relaxed and confident Senator Manuel “Manny”
Villar said he would focus his presidential campaign message
on the need for an accomplished, pragmatic leader in
Malacanang, and criticized his opponents as inexperienced,
beholden to hidden campaign financiers, or simply phony.
Taken aback by the emergence of Senator Benigno “Noynoy”
Aquino as a viable competitor, Villar said he had regrouped
and would stress that Filipinos should not vote for a
candidate based on heritage — a jab at Aquino — but look
for business and political accomplishments, which favor
Villar’s background as a real estate developer and former
head of both houses of Congress. Villar did not minimize the
struggle he faces, voicing admiration for his opponents’
successful public relations efforts, and said television
access and hands-on campaigning would be key. If elected,
Villar said improved road infrastructure, increased foreign
investment and enhanced fiscal methods would be priorities.
END SUMMARY.

MOMENT OF DOUBT
—————

¶2. (C) Though Senator Villar has made clear his intention to
seek the presidency for the past two years, he told the
Ambassador that he had a shock in August, when the outpouring
of emotion over the death of former President Corazon Aquino
propelled her son, Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, from
relative obscurity in the Philippine Senate to the front rank
of presidential contenders in a matter of weeks. Villar said
that, like most political observers, he was unprepared for
the wave of popular support that led Senator Manuel A. “Mar”
Roxas to abandon his presidential bid at the head of the
Liberal Party ticket in favor of Aquino. Villar said his
worry over the sudden change of events — and his fear that
perhaps Senator Aquino would be seen as the favorite of the
U.S. in the election given his mother’s legacy, despite the
USG’s clearly stated position it has no favorites in the
Philippine election — led him to travel to Washington, D.C.,
early this fall to sound out U.S. politicians and observers
in the company of political ally Senator Aquilino Pimentel.
Villar told the Ambassador he came away reassured from his
meetings on the Hill and the State Department that the USG
remained neutral in the election.

THREE WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL
—————————-

¶3. (C) Still, Villar voiced rueful admiration at the public
affairs savvy of the Aquino team. He noted that Noynoy
Aquino and his advisers had used the outpouring of public
affection for Cory Aquino, whose administration is
collectively viewed as more democratic and less corrupt than
that of President Arroyo, as a springboard to a viable
presidential bid. Not only that, the Liberal Party had
extended its hold on the public imagination with the
high-profile wedding October 27 of its vice presidential
pick, Mar Roxas, and well-known TV reporter Korina Sanchez.
The ornate wedding was televised live nationwide, garnered
front-page pictures and headlines and featured a wide array
of Philippine political and cultural icons. Villar
laughingly predicted that the Liberal Party would soon find a
way to engineer a similar high-profile wedding for bachelor
Noynoy Aquino to gain more publicity. In a humorous play on
a hit movie, he said the party’s campaign strategy should be
called, “A Funeral and Two Weddings.”

WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET
—————————-

¶4. (C) Villar told the Ambassador that he had a simple
strategy for gaining the presidency: Just be Manny Villar.
And he also made it clear he plans to assail his opponents
for pretending to be what they are not. Villar briefly
rehearsed his rags-to-riches story, noting how he had grown
up poor in Tondo, the most impoverished area of Manila, and
played in the massive garbage dump there, but by dint of hard
work and determination rose to become one of the Philippines’
most successful (and richest) real estate developers before
moving on to become Speaker of the House of Representatives,
Senate President and now a presidential candidate.

MANILA 00002290 002 OF 003

¶5. (C) Taking a sharper tone — and taking obvious aim at his
opponents — Villar said, “When you look at me, you’re
looking at Manny Villar, the real thing, not my father, not
my mother, not at some tycoon behind me.” Villar’s remark
was clearly directed at a variety of political opponents. On
one level it was a jab at Senator Aquino, whose candidacy has
been propelled in large measure by fond memories of his
parents, assassinated Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino and
Corazon Aquino, major icons of Philippine democratic and
political development, rather than by any significant
accomplishments in Noynoy Aquino’s own political career,
which observers routinely describe as “lackluster.”

¶6. (C) On another level, Villar was highlighting the role
that big-money contributors will play in the national
election campaign. A peso multi-billionaire himself, Villar
told the Ambassador he could fund his own campaign, and would
not be beholden to some hidden financier, as other less
well-off candidates would. The press is rie with
speculation that numerous candidates are eeking the backing
of the country’s leading tycons, and it is routinely noted
that Senator Aquin and Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential
candidate Gilbrto Teodoro are close relatives of San Miguel
Cororation head Danding Cojuangco, one of the Philippnes’
wealthiest men.

NOT AN ACT
———-

¶7. (C) Villar’s comment also took aim at former resident
Joseph “Erap” Estrada, the deposed formr leader who is again
running for office. In an ronic twist given Villar’s humble
upbringing in ondo, Estrada draws some of his strongest
suppor from the poor in Tondo, where he announced his
residential bid on October 21. Yet Estrada was bon into a
prosperous family, and his only real conecion to underclass
Filipinos is that he made hs name as a movie star who
specialized in roles here he was the poor underdog fighting
for the rghts of his underprivileged compatriots. In
resonse to the Ambassador, Villar acknowledged Estradas
popularity among the poor, especially in Tondo but repeated
that he, Villar, is “the real thin.”

MALACANANG NO PLACE FOR ON-THE-JOB TRAINING
——————————————-

8.(C) Senator Villar said a second thrust of his campign
will be to emphasize the vital need for exective experience
in order to be a successful presdent. “How can someone run
this country when they have never even been a barangay
captain (village leader), never built a road, never run an
organization?” Villar queried. “The presidency is no place
for on-the-job training.” He went on to note that he had
built major expressways, run one of the country’s largest and
most successful real estate development corporations, and
headed both of the country’s legislative bodies. This depth
of experience set him apart from his main competitors, Villar
stated, again in a swipe at Senator Aquino.

CAMPAIGN NUTS AND BOLTS
———————–

¶9. (C) Villar appeared unconcerned that he has not yet
announced a vice presidential partner. He said he had
considered youthful Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, but said
that his staff did not gel with Escudero. Villar described
current Vice President Noli DeCastro as a close friend and
political ally, but voiced fears that DeCastro’s association
with President Arroyo would be detrimental. That left
Senator Loren Legarda, whom he did not hold in terribly high
regard and whose signature issue — the environment — did
not really resonate with voters, but whom many Filipinos
consider “pretty,” so Villar thought he could “learn to live
with her” as a running mate. As for the best way to reach
the mass of voters, Villar said television air time was
vital, and he bemoaned the fact that major television network
ABS-CBN — which cultivated the successful media career of
Senator Aquino’s sister, Kris — gave daily coverage to
Senator Aquino and virtually ignored him. There was also no
substitute for traveling the length and breadth of the
country, Villar stated, and noted that he had deep experience
traveling in Mindanao and the Visayas. While Senator Aquino
had a significant polling advantage around the metro Manila
area, where most voters had access to television news, Villar
said he has a greater advantage in the Visayas and other less
urban areas.

MANILA 00002290 003 OF 003

INFRASTRUCTURE KEY TO INCREASED GROWTH
————————————–

¶10. (C) Elaborating on his priorities should he be elected,
Villar spoke enthusiastically about the need for improved
infrastructure in the country, particularly roads and
expressways. Villar said he wanted not merely to join up the
northern and southern expressways that bracket Manila but do
not currently connect, but to extend them in both directions
to link all of the main island of Luzon with the Bicol
region, hundreds of miles to the south. This would improve
the transport of people and goods, particularly agricultural
products. Rail development would not be a priority,
according to Villar, as it did not deliver the same rapid
return as roads and was not as flexible a transport method.

¶11. (C) The Philippines also needed to open up to foreign
investment, Villar opined, saying that a lack of foreign
capital had hampered the country’s development. Fiscal
improvements were also vital in increasing the government’s
income, and were one of the few positive legacies of the
Arroyo administration, according to Villar. He laughingly
voiced admiration for current Finance Secretary Margarito
“Gary” Teves, saying Teves had the right “boring” demeanor to
head the finance department, so there were no surprises for
the markets, good or bad, an observation he attributed to a
comment by former President Bill Clinton about ideal
qualities for finance ministers.

COMMENT
——-

¶12. (C) After a tough political year that saw him deposed as
Senate president over charges that he profited personally
from a major road building project, Villar looked fit and
relaxed, and projected a congenial and confident demeanor.
He asserted that this would be his last effort to run for
office, and that if he did not succeed, he would devote his
efforts to managing his new foundation and improving the
lives of Filipinos; he also noted that his wife,
Representative Cynthia Villar, would not run again for
Congress, but would help his campaign. Villar remains near
the top of every presidential poll, and his combination of
experience, financial resources and public affability are
strengths for his campaign. Still, his opponents and critics
turn some of Villar’s arguments back on him, charging that he
has profited illegally from legislation he authored in the
Senate, and that his vaunted experience has sometimes
resulted in failure, as when he was ousted as Senate head,
not to mention that he does not yet have a running mate.
Nonetheless, Villar is well-positioned at the moment, and his
practical understanding of the mechanics of running a
nationwide campaign make him a strong prospect for President.
KENNEY

   

 

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.