Posts Tagged ‘gloria macapagal arroyo’

There was also US intervention in the peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Philippine government as in those between the latter and the MILF.

Confidential and secret cables released by Wikileaks from the US embassies in Manila and The Hague in the Netherlands show how three governments worked together to designate as “terrorist” Jose Maria Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in peace talks with the Manila government. The move may have been part of Philippine government’s pressure tactics on the NDFP during peace negotiations. However, the move would not yield the Philippine government’s desired results.

Sison, the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army were included in the US terror list in August 2002, right after the Manila visit of then Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was soon after also included on the EU “terrorist list” of organizations and individuals upon the requests of the US and PH governments. His bank account was subsequently frozen, denying him social benefits accorded to refugees living in the Netherlands.

Terrorist-listing as leverage

The US, Dutch and Philippine governments engaged in acts that were inimical to the peace talks between the NDFP and the Philippine government.   The Philippine government used the terrorist listing as leverage against the NDFP. There was intense pressure was brought to bear on Sison: from the  deprivation of social benefits, threats to his life, and even arrest and detention. The matter of the terrorist listing became a prejudicial question in the peace talks.

In a 2005 meeting with US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said that the NPA’s “delisting as a foreign terrorist organization depended on a demonstration or proof of sincerity… such as entering into a cease-fire or new peace talks.”

The same leveraging tactic was echoed by Presidential Peace Adviser Annabelle Abaya in a discussion with US Ambassador Kristie Kenney in November 2009. Abaya noted that Sison’s delisting by the EU “would eliminate some of the GRP’s leverage over him” and that “the GRP preferred Sison to remain designated as a terrorist” but admitted that “talks had not succeeded during his time in the EU list”.

US intervention, through the terrorist listing, had a very negative impact on the peace talks.  It was a move that was aimed at forcing the NDFP to surrender to the Philippine government, even without addressing the roots of the armed conflict. This negates the inherent character of the talks which were primarily aimed at finding solutions to the root causes of the armed struggle. Arroyo appeared more interested in getting the NDFP to surrender than in addressing the substantial issues in the peace negotiations. These issue include human rights, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the disposition of forces.

After a long legal battle, Sison was eventually removed from the EU “terrorist list” in November 2009 based on a ruling by the European Court of First Instance. It appeared that the Dutch “terrorist listing” was done only in relation to asylum proceedings and was not based on actual crimes or terrorist activities.

Prior to the delisting, the US and Dutch governments did everything they could to keep Sison on the list, according to the secret cables.

Sison was arrested and detained by the Dutch government in 2007 on suspicion of ordering the killings of two people in the Philippines. Sison was eventually released and the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. As revealed in previous news, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo told the US ambassador in Manila that Philippine and Dutch governments reportedly collaborated for years to build a case against Sison, but even this could not stand judicial scrutiny.

US opposed de-listing despite lack of evidence

In a confidential 2009 cable from the US embassy in Manila, US ambassador Kristie Kenney vehemently opposed the delisting of Sison by the EU, even if no new information or evidence was available to support his retention in the list.

“The absence of new information does not negate the very significant information we have had for some time regarding Sison.  If Sison and the NPA were to reject their past actions and pledge not to engage in such activity again, there might be some grounds for revisiting their designations, but on the contrary they refuse to agree to a ceasefire and continue to carry out kidnappings and killings.  Under the circumstances, removal of Sison’s terrorist designation is inadvisable,” Kenney said.

In a secret cable from the Netherlands in May 2009, the US embassy in The Hague sought advice from the US State Department on how keep Sison on the terror list amid the looming decision of the EU Court of First Instance nullifying his inclusion in the list. The cable said that the Dutch government was seeking US assistance because Sison was included in the terror list upon the request of the US government.

The US embassy in The Hague cited the inability of the Dutch police, intelligence services and the US embassy in Manila to provide any new information that would justify keeping Sison in the list.

The absence of new evidence or information came despite the massive seizure of NDF documents and equipment during the raids on the NDF office and houses of NDF personnel in the Netherlands by the Dutch authorities in August 2007. The Dutch police seized everything they could get their hands on–computers, disks, papers related to the peace process, personal belongings– and still they could not produce a shred of evidence to support the terrorist listing. Sison was also arrested and detained in this raid.

In another cable from The Hague dated October 2009, the US embassy again sought new information that could justify the retention of Sison in the terrorist list. The cable described a bilateral meeting between US and Dutch officials in Brussels where they discussed how to appeal an adverse EU ruling. The Dutch and US officials feared that the UK and German governments opposed the Dutch position and that majority of countries in the EU would not likely support a Dutch appeal.

The US embassy in The Hague also said that information provided by the Philippine government linking Sison to money-laundering activities was “insufficient to support prosecution in the Netherlands”.

In a separate cable issued from the US embassy in Manila, US authorities hinted at the possibility of rendition or deportation of Sison from the Netherlands to the Philippines, but cited as a stumbling block Sison’s status as a judicially recognized political refugee under the Refugee Convention and Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. ###


Today’s release of all Wikileaks cables included the complete set of cables from the US embassy in Manila. Most interesting are the cables that deal with meetings between the Philippine government and the US embassy in the context of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s fight for political survival amid allegations of election fraud. Cables reveal that ranking Arroyo government officials were already contemplating the declaration of a state of emergency to crackdown on opposition groups.

In 2005, wiretapped phone conversations involving the president and an election official were leaked to the public. Malacanang at first tried to deny the authenticity of the tapes yet at the same time sought to suppress their dissemination. In the tapes, Arroyo was asking Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to help secure her 1 million vote lead over nearest rival Fernando Poe, Jr.

In a confidential US embassy cable dated June 17, 2005, the US embassy candidly acknowledged that the voice on the “Garci tapes” was that of the president. “Garcillano could be a key witness.  He is apparently the person President Arroyo is speaking with in the audiotape,” the cable said.

“Snippets of the tapes featuring what certainly seems to be the President’s voice have even been re-mixed with music to make what is becoming a very popular ring tone for cell phones,” the embassy noted.

However, in an earlier cable, the US embassy said it received transcripts of the “Garci tapes” several weeks before their release, but noted there was no smoking gun to link Malacanang to election fraud.

In the same cable, it was revealed that the Arroyo government, through two officials, suspected the US of involvement in the release of the Garci tapes but the US embassy was quick to deny this.

Thousands took to the streets to demand Arroyo’s ouster or resignation. A broad anti-Arroyo united front had taken shape.

Emergency rule now an option

Possibly the earliest cable mentioning the Arroyo government’s option to declare a state of emergency to deal with the Opposition came out in November 6, 2005. The cable entitled ASSESSMENT OF POTENTIAL THREATS TO DEMOCRACY IN THE PHILIPPINES confirmed that based on the US’ own intel, “senior advisors are considering — and perhaps have begun drafting — possible measures to implement emergency rule of some sort in the Philippines.”

The Philippine government went as far as seeking US help for the measure  via an aide memoire (non-paper) submitted to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US intel chief John Negroponte. In the document, Philippine officials claimed that “political opportunists and destabilizers have forged understandings with Communists, terrorists and Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists to remove the President” and urged “vocal support for our President (Arroyo)” from the US government to help with this “increasingly serious and dangerous situation.”

The US embassy however said that it “did not share the analysis in the aide memoire or believe circumstances would justify extreme measures.”

“We have made clear in our meetings with senior-level GRP officials, also including during CDA’s October 21 meeting with President Arroyo and a separate meeting with Foreign Secretary Romulo on November 3, our firm opposition to emergency rule or martial law,” it added. The US embassy also expressed concern that Arroyo’s advisers “may be increasingly successful in convincing her.”

But the US did not completely shut its doors to the idea of emergency rule.

“In the current political environment, any emergency rule could only be justified by a blatant attempt to overthrow the government, which we do not see as forthcoming,” it said.

In another cable dated November 14, 2005, the US again registered its “firm opposition” to emergency rule to Arroyo, DFA’s Romulo and defense officials. According to the cable, Arroyo replied that the ‘Constitution defines what we can do’ and asserted that her administration may legally invoke certain emergency measures.

Visiting State Department official Eric John also told Arroyo said that “emergency measures could trigger a review of U.S. defense-related and other assistance to the Philippines”.  To this remark, Arroyo “responded only with a defiant stare,” the cable said.

The cable also reported that “Chairman of the Mindanao Economic Development Council “Jess” Dureza told Charge that emergency rule plans were in place to respond quickly to any extra-constitutional attack on the government.  He acknowledged that some top officials, such as National Security Advisor Gonzales and Justice Minister Gonzalez, believed the government was already under siege by communists, terrorists and political opponents, but he doubted that the President would use emergency powers in the absence of a strong provocation”.

In his meeting with an embassy official, House Speaker Jose de Venecia said that emergency rule was being considered because the “alliance of party list leftists in Congress, the New People’s Army, and Opposition figures might make such a step necessary”.  JDV then asserted that his push for charter change “was actually aimed in part at undermining the temptation to resort to such (emergency) measures”.

The US embassy concluded that “it is clearer than ever that consideration of such emergency measures is ongoing at very senior levels”. What is not clear, it said, was if a decision has been made.

Bert Gonzales’ agenda

In November 21, the US embassy also met with National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales who said that he had proposed to Arroyo to invoke a constitutional provision that would “allow her to order the military and police to arrest leftist politicians and suspected Communist forces whom Gonzales believes are now coordinating with the Opposition to overthrow the government.” He further suggested a “six-month duration” for emergency rule to significantly weaken the CPP, before the next impeachment complaint is filed by June of 2006.

According to the cable, “Gonzales said that the GRP would use such powers to arrest all CPP Central Committee members, which he believes includes party list Congressman Satur Ocampo, and other members of Congress whom he believes to be front men for the CPP/NPA.  He admitted that there was no specific plan to date, but noted many things in the Philippines happen without a plan”.

Gonzales apparently saw the political crisis as a way to advance his own ideologically-motivated agenda of ridding the country of leftists and communists. “He said that he had told President Arroyo that, for the good of the country, she should take this step in order finally to get rid the Philippines of the Communist presence, noting that all of the Philippines’ neighbors had already done so,” the cable said.

However, the US embassy official  told Gonzales that “the U.S. would not support emergency rule, that we did not share his analysis of the threat posed by the NPA, and that a campaign against the NPA would be seen as detracting from  genuine counter-terrorism activities for domestic political reasons”.

Again on January 30, the US met with House Speaker de Venecia and he reiterated his support for emergency rule but acknowledged that the US is not supportive. In his meeting with a US official, JDV said that “emergency rule was needed to deal with the threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA), but the U.S. “keeps saying no.”  JDV said the government needed special powers to arrest individuals in the media and elsewhere who are paid and controlled by the NPA.”

February 24 declaration

One month later, the Philippine government would indeed declare a state of emergency over what it viewed as fresh destabilization attempts from an alliance of the “extreme left” and “military adventurists.”Arroyo declared a state of emergency in a televised address at 1120 am on February 24, 2006. JDV told the US embassy that he supported the move and that meetings were conducted up to 3am that day to iron out the declaration.

Prior to the declaration on TV, Gonzales phoned a US embassy official at 6am to inform him that “President Arroyo had approved a draft declaration of a State of Emergency. The US embassy did acknowledge that there were threats to the government from soldiers mounting a coup. There was no “firm opposition” to emergency rule aired by the US, only a call to the Philippine government to respect fully the rule of law, protect civil liberties and human rights, and reject violence”. But even this statement displeased Philippine officials who were expecting greater understanding and support from the US.

Gonzales indicated that “the government planned to arrest members of the military and civilians involved in the plot”. Indeed arrests took place. The PNP released a list of some 50 activists and known CPP members who were to be arrested and charged with rebellion. Included in the list were partylist representatives and other legal personalities. Crispin Beltran would be arrested and brought to Camp Crame. The Batasan 5 partylist lawmakers would eventually be given protective custody by the House of Representatives, which was ironically headed by JDV.

Apart from the arrest of opposition leaders, government attempted to crack down on protest actions and even the media.

In another cable dated March 1, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz and NSA’s Gonzales said that the government “had decided some four months ago to develop judicial cases against persons suspected of rebellion.  Cases were almost ready for submission to judicial authorities when the attempted coup of February 24 was uncovered.  The first charges were brought February 27 against at least 50 individuals, including six Members of Congress. The six legislators are under the temporary custody of the House of Representatives, while others named in the cases have gone underground, they said.  All members of the secret Central Committee of the Communist Party would be charged and arrested,” the two officials told the embassy.

These declarations by Cruz and Gonzales could indeed be true since the government formed the Interagency Legal Action Group (IALAG) which specialized in the filing of trumped-up charges against activists.

“They also intend to re-open old cases, including a case against Congressman Satur Ocampo from 1989.  They will pursue cases against members of the political party Bayan Muna, which they consider a front organization for the CPP/NPA.  They said the government will not pursue cases against other left-wing organizations that neither espouse violence nor associate with the CPP, such as Akbayan”, the cable said.

It should be noted that the people fiercely resisted the declaration of emergency rule and that it was lifted after one week. It should also be stressed that the trumped-up charges of rebellion orchestrated by Gonzales, Cruz et al, and based on ridiculous assertions and inadmissible documents , were all dismissed by the Supreme Court.

But what of the conspirators of emergency rule and the proponents of warrantless arrests and trumped-up charges? What of those who laid the ground work for the violation of civil liberties and human rights? Those who raided the newspaper Tribune and threatened broadcast stations covering the protest actions?

They should all be made accountable. It’s never too late to demand justice for all the wrongs that they did. ###

From 2004-2010, the Philippines witnessed one of the worst waves of human rights violations in its history. Hundreds of activists were killed or abducted. Hundreds more were arrested and faced with trumped-up charges. The magnitude of the abuses caught the attention of the international community. The issue also further isolated the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The main suspects in the killings and disappearances were state security forces.

There were numerous embassy cables on the US position regarding extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. My own estimate is that there were more than 40 cables that referenced extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. These cables ranged from scenesetters for visiting US officials, to actual reports on the actions taken by the US embassy and the Philippine government on EJK’s.

But while there were strong statements of concern to address the killings of activists and journalists, the US continued to provide economic and military aid to the Arroyo government. While the US said “there’s more that needs to be done”, the US also noted progress in the human rights situation as well as Arroyo’s “seriousness” in addressing the problem.

The Philippines remains the biggest recipient of military aid in this region of Asia, receiving some $30 million annually in Foreign Military Financing, education and training as well as Excess Defense Articles. Human rights issues in the country must be taken in the context of US support for Philippine security forces. With the nationwide phenomenon of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, a feat that can only be accomplished by state security forces, there is a valid perception that US tax dollars were funding human rights abuses committed by the AFP.

The US seemed content with how the Arroyo government explained and addressed the issue of extrajudicial killings. The US embassy did not seem perturbed by the lies peddled by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Department of National Defense and the Executive Secretary when asked of the causes of these killings. ( See US gov’t inquired about PH efforts vs. extrajudicial killings — WikiLeaks cable)

Here’s how Executive Secretary Ermita explained the killings in one of the cables dated April 20, 2007:

“In discussing unlawful killings of leftist activists, Ermita provided a detailed historical account of the communist insurgency.  He argued that the killings did not take place in a vacuum but instead occur in the context of the Philippines’ war against the terrorist Communist insurgency.  He underscored that the National (sic) People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines, routinely ambushes and kills members of the AFP.  “There is a war going on,” he emphasized.”

Here, Ermita actually affirms our long-held view that the killings occur in the context of the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency program, which in this case is Oplan Bantay Laya. However, Ermita is saying is that while the killings occur in the context of the counter-insurgency program, whose main implementor is the AFP, the military cannot be blamed for the EJK’s.

The US was in fact supportive of Oplan Bantay Laya. “While total victory over the CPP/NPA in the foreseeable future remains unlikely, the new campaign could over the next couple of years contribute to improvements on the ground,” Kenney said in one cable.  (Ref ID 06MANILA2777).

Another official, DND Usec Ric Blancaflor commented that killings have resulted from the “intensification of anti-insurgency and anti-terrorist drives.”

The same official even tried to explain and justify the targeting of activists from partylist groups.  “Blancaflor added that many within the AFP believe the NPA has taken advantage of the initiative to include Communist elements in the political process,” the cable said.

The DFA meanwhile sought to contain the international impact of the killings. “Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for the Americas Rey Carandang told the Staffdel that the unlawful killing issue had been greatly exaggerated.  “We are not in a state of war,” he claimed”.

The US seemed to take everything at face value, even the discredited line that the killings were the result of an internal purge by the New People’s Army. This view has been discredited by the government’s own Melo Commission as well as the report of UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Philip Alston. There was in fact no evidence produced to support this view, except for an alleged document called “Oplan Bushfire” produced by the AFP itself, allegedly taken from a raid against the NPA.

In cable dated February 9, 2007 (07MANILA458) entitled PROGRESS AGAINST POLITICAL KILLINGS, the PNP’s General Avelino Razon “confirmed suspicions that the Luzon killings may be linked to the then-presence of controversial Major General Jovito Palparan, nicknamed “the Butcher” by activists, although he noted that “there was little or no hard evidence directly linking Palparan or units under his command to such killings”. Truth is, TF Usig never really investigated Palparan. The PNP claimed that Palparan was not under PNP jurisdiction. (Meanwhile, the AFP said that they won’t be investigating Palparan for EJK’s because that’s the PNP’s job).

Perhaps the best summary of the US position on EJK appears in a scenesetter for US Congressman Steve Chabot. In this February 15 2007 cable signed by Kristie Kenney, the US wanted to send the message that the Philippines needs to “control the problem” of EJK’s.

“We press the government at every opportunity to resolve these killings, and I have discussed them with President Arroyo and key members of her cabinet, as well as the Armed Forces Chief of Staff and the Chief of the Philippine National Police.  They all tell me they are as appalled as we are, but we remain insistent that they must get control of this problem,” Kenney said.

Here the issue was not really achieving justice for the victims or correcting the wrongs done by the AFP. The issue was the containment of a problem:  avoiding international fall-out, the further degeneration of the AFP and the further complications in US involvement in Philippine counter-insurgency efforts.

In a scenesetter for visiting General Bryan Brown (Ref ID 07MANILA977), Kenney’s concern on EJK’s focused on “the need to take decisive action to resolve the issue of unlawful killings, which threaten to tarnish the impressive victories the AFP is winning in the field”.

In March 16, 2007 cable (07MANILA863)  issued by Kenney, visiting US State Department official Scot Marciel warned the Philippine government that that unresolved, unlawful killings have the potential to become “a cloud in the relationship” between the two countries.

In the other cables, the US will claim to have helped resolve the issue of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses by providing training, funding and capacity-building for Philippine institutions. The US also claims that its Philippine Defense Reform and other actions by the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) also have positive effects on the AFP.

A new counter-insurgency program has been put in place, one that takes its cue from the US counter-insurgency guide (COIN) of 2009. The new plan combines the “hard” and “soft” approaches to insurgency. Despite the new plan, human rights violations still persist. Under the Aquino administration, human rights groups have documented 50 cases of extrajudicial killings. Meanwhile, convictions of perptrators from the past regime have been dismally low. ###

The 3,000 cables dumped by WikiLeaks last Thursday August 25 provides vital insights into US interests and positions on topics such as terrorism, the Subic rape case, the Arroyo presidency and the ouster movement, extrajudicial killings, the 2007 and 2010 elections and the Philippine economy. It would certainly take some time to analyze the cables which date from 2005 to 2010. I’ve attempted to classify some of them based on topics that would be of interest to progressives and analysts. There will be more to come in the following days. We hope that the “crowd sourcing” done by WikiLeaks can also be done here. We need more people to read and analyze the cables. They’re on the internet. Anyone can read them and make their own summaries.

In the meantime, here are brief descriptions and highlights from cables dating from 2005-2008.


Many of the cables dealt with the issue of counter-terrorism, on the need to maintain US troop presence in Mindanao, the need to pass the anti-terror law and the need to maintain US aid to go alongside US military presence. The topic of terrorism permeates almost many aspects of the work of the embassy, from scene-setters for visiting US officials, regular country assessments, US military and economic aid, Philippine legislation and diplomacy.

  1. The US wanted to build “dual-use” infrastructure in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Apart from their civilian use, these airports would have been designed to meet the requirements of US aircraft such as C-130 cargo planes.
  2. PH Defense Usec Ric Blancaflor describes US.-PH relationship as “just short of incest.”
  3. The Human Security Act (terror law) should give PH government some new tools to use against the CPP/NPA-
  4. WikiLeaks- US troops in Mindanao provide “PR services” to help Armed Forces of the Philippines  improve its image
  5. DFA Secretary Romulo tells US that PH worked with Dutch gov’t “for several years” to build case vs. CPP founder Joma Sison
  6. US gov’t gave economic aid and projects to Gov.Zaldy Ampatuan of the ARMM and a known warlord. Three years later, he will be implicated in the massacre of 57 people, including more than 30 journalists.
  7. The US embassy believes that Philippines “has no obvious enemies except for leftists and Muslims linked with extremist activities”.
  8. PGMA tells US ambassador the AFP wants to buy additional US aircraft because “that’s what our pilots like to fly”. “

Human rights

There were several cables from 2005-2009 on the particular issue of extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists. During this time, there was a surge in the killings of activists critical of the Arroyo government. The US identified the victims as leftist activists “associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines”. In several cables, the US ambassador and other representatives of the US government strongly and repeatedly urged the Philippine government to “control the problem” of EJKs.  In subsequent cables, the US seemed content with the actions taken by the Arroyo government, including the formation of TF Usig, the Melo Commission among others. The US talked with various Philippine officials and noted the progress in addressing the problem of EJK’s. The Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military aid in this part of the world.

  1. US senate staff says Philippines on “downward trend in terms of human rights and rule of law”
  2. US embassy in Manila takes cynical view of extrajudicial killings in PH, saying these killings will persist so long as NPA also escalates attacks vs. AFP
  3. Here’s a self-incriminating statement. Defense Undersecretary Ric Blancaflor said killings of activists “resulted from the intensification of anti-insurgency, anti-terrorist drives.”
  4. US embassy shows “concern” over arrest of Morong 43 amid reports of rights abuses.

The Arroyo presidency

The cables revealed the attitude of the US embassy towards moves to oust Arroyo from power. The US closely monitored the situation and came to the observation that there was no critical mass to oust Arroyo and that her removal via people power would serve as another bad example to other nations. Arroyo was no Thaksin, as one cable said. The embassy was confident she would weather the different challenges to her regime. The embassy took note of Arroyo’s SONA speeches, her declaration of a state of national emergency, her refusal to resign, efforts at charter change and the various issues of corruption plaguing her administration.

In one cable, released just before the death of President Corazon Aquino, US ambassador Kristie Kenney called the former president an “icon of democracy” but also a  “partial icon of morality” because of her alliance with “dubious political figures” like deposed president Joseph Estrada. Cory and Erap were both part of the broad anti-Arroyo movement. According to Kenney, the decision of Cory to align with Erap against GMA “blemished her reputation as a moral crusader”.

  1. US embassy in Manila did not think anti-GMA protests would gain momentum
  2. Little chance Arroyo will do a Thaksin
  3. On the declaration of a state of emergency, PH officials downplay negative effects
  4. US had negative view of “people power” to oust GMA, calls them constitutionally-questionable means with negative implications for stability
  5. Anti-Arroyo protests still lack critical mass
  6. Wikileaks: Kenney calls Cory “partial icon of morality” for allying with “dubious political figures” like Erap.
  7. Arroyo’s last SONA:  GMA touts achievements, slam critics

Subic rape case

Updates on the Subic rape case involving US Marine Lance Cpl Daniel Smith was a common post from 2006-2008. The cables detail how the US embassy intended to manage the fall-out from the incident. It showed the insistence of the US to keep custody of Smith even after his conviction by a Philippine court. Smith would later on be acquitted  by an Appeals court after the victim, under mysterious circumstances, executed an affidavit that she wasn’t sure that she was raped.

The US protested detention of US Marine and convicted rapist Daniel Smith in PH Jail, insisting on US custody . The move would trigger another round of controversy in the Visiting Forces Agreement. Smith was transferred back to the US embassy amid protests from lawmakers and activists. The Supreme Court would eventually rule that the transfer to the US embassy was not in accord with the VFA, that it was wrong. However, a final ruling on the matter was made moot when an Appeals court acquitted Smith in the rape case.

The economy

Being an important trading partner hosting many US economic interests, the US embassy kept tabs on the Philippine economy. It discussed the impacts of the global financial crisis, labor export policy, the sustainability of growth among other issues.

The US embassy often used its position to lobby for the interests of US firms, as seen in their efforts to amend certain provisions in the Philippines Cheaper Medicines Bill authored by Senator Mar Roxas. The US felt that the bill, which sought to bring down prices of drugs, would infringe on the intellectual property rights of US pharmaceutical firms. The US reps talked with Sen. Roxas at least twice. At least 3 cables were dedicated to discussing these exchanges.

Another cable talks about the US embassy’s support for a Texas power firm that was bidding for the concession agreement of the country’s power transmission line. The competitors in the bidding included China’ State Grid.

The US was also very interested in the mineral reserves of the country but was wary of the security situation in Mindanao.

  1. Wikileaks – DENR sec Mike Defensor asks US gov’t for “joint mineral resources assessment” of PH
  2. US Embassy Manila wary of government efforts to curb oil prices. May harm U.S. commercial interests.
  3. Former Senator Mar Roxas talked with US gov’t re intellectual property rights issues in cheaper meds bill.
  4. Wikileaks- US ambassador offers to be “catalyst” in facilitating power sector privatization in PH
  5. US lobbied legislators Rep.Cua and Sen.Mar Roxas to protect IPR of US drug firms in PH Cheaper Meds Bill.
  6. Texas power firm asks US gov’t help to secure bid for TransCo vs. China’s State Grid Corp and Italy’s Terna SPA
  7. US embassy sees labor export as “engine of growth” but calls on PH gov’t to address brain drain

Peace, insurgency, elections, corruption

There were other cables on topics such as the peace process with the MILF, how the US government viewed the armed struggle waged by the CPP-NPA, as well as the Philippine partylist system which offered representation for marginalized sectors. There’s also  one article trying to explain the “masa” phenomenon and its potency as a political force.

  1. US embassy on the CPP-NPA
  2. US embassy in Manila believed that total victory over the NPA was unlikely even with Oplan Bantay Laya
  3. PH has no obvious enemies except for leftists and Muslims linked with extremist activities.
  4. US embassy discusses Philippine Party-List System
  5. The “Masa” as a political force
  6. Philippine government “is taking real strides” towards eliminating corruption (This was released in late 2007, at the time the ZTE controversy first broke out).

As far as diplomacy was concerned, the US asked the Philippines “never be more than 1 vote apart from the US UN delegation and to abstain rather than vote against the U.S. on issues in the UN.

Responding to a query by a US State Department office on Women Empowerment, the US embassy in Manila said that the 5 influential women in the country are Sen. Loren Legarda, Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez, TV host and actress Kris Aquino, journalist Malou Mangahas and governor  Grace Padaca The cable also listed the phone numbers and addresses of the 5 women. The cable also revealed that the US embassy point-of-contact for women’s issues is a guy. ###

The Commission on Elections and the Commission on Audit should investigate the P197 million election fund given to the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the 2004 elections. The Summary of Interviews annexed to the Mayuga report raises questions on the possible misuse of the election funds. Based on interviews of various officials involved in the programming and disbursing of funds, the bulk of the funds were not used for AFP units doing election duties, but by the intelligence units of the AFP.

In 2004, the COMELEC released P197 million when it deputized the AFP for election duties nationwide. The funds were supposed to cover expenses of the TF HOPE headquarters, operational expenses, missions and reservists.

In his interview with the Mayuga panel, then Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia who headed the Task Force Honest Orderly and Peaceful Elections (HOPE) suggested that the AFP review how the election funds were spent because it was a big amount of money and that what was spent did not come close to the amount that was released. Though Garcia headed the TF HOPE, he said the funds were not even shown to him. He said he did not know “how the funds were broken down”.

According to Garcia, the funds were under the control of J3 or the General Staff for Operations then headed by M/Gen. Hermogenes Esperon. He said that Esperon was in Mindanao in 2004 as J3 and that he “can be anywhere to supervise…election and non-election matters.”

Meanwhile, Lt.Col. Gilbert Gapay, who was the budget officer of Esperon, testified before the panel that the bulk of the P197 million election funds, amounting to P101 million, was intended for intelligence projects and was therefore released to the Office of the J2 (Intelligence) and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP).

When Esperon was interviewed by the Mayuga panel about the liquidation of the funds, he said that the comptroller of TF HOPE was supposed to do this, but since the TF was disbanded, the liquidation would be done by J6 (Comptroller).

The different personalities interviewed by the Mayuga panel had differing accounts on how funds were approved, released and liquidated. There were inconclusive statements on how the funds were actually used and what steps were taken to properly liquidate these funds. No one was able to offer a definitive explanation on what happened to the funds after the 2004 elections.

According to the testimony of Navy Lt.Cdr. Napoleon Suarez of the AFP budget office, the funds were released in three tranches, P25 million in April 29, P101 million in April 30, and P71 million from April 30 to July 8 and that the Programmed Operating Expenses were prepared by the office of Gen. Esperon.

How were the funds “broken down”? According to AFP records obtained from sources, the P25 million first tranche was used mainly for operational support of various units doing election duty. Of the total amount, ISAFP only got P300,000 for “intelligence operations”.

The allotment of the second tranche was nothing short of astounding. Of the total second tranche of P101 million, P80 million was allotted for the Office of the J2 (Intelligence) for six so-called “intelligence projects”. These intelligence projects went by names such as “Starbucks”, “Nescafe”, “SONA”, “Salakot” and “Turban” and  had corresponding Allotment Advise numbers. From the same tranche, the ISAFP received P6 million for operational support. The Philippine Army and the Philippine Navy received P10 million and P5 million respectively for operational support.

Of the third tranche of P71 million, J2 received an additional P5 million for “intelligence projects” while ISAFP received an additional P1.6 million for intelligence operations.

In all, the J2 received a total of P85 million for so-called “intelligence projects”, making it the single biggest recipient of funds from the COMELEC allotment. “Bumukol”, as what Jun Lozada would say when referring to anomalous items.  ISAFP meanwhile received a total of P7.9 million also making it one of the bigger recepient of funds. Of P197 million from COMELEC, the total funds for intelligence projects and operations (J2, ISAFP) amounted to P92.9 million (and not P101 million as earlier claimed by Gapay).

Majority of the funds released did not go to the actual AFP units deputized by the COMELEC to perform election duties in the so-called hot spots.

Who approved the programming and release of funds? Some officers interviewed said that the programming of the funds was done by the TF Commander (Garcia) with approval by then AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Narcisso Abaya. Gen. Garcia says he has nothing to do with the funds and was not even aware of the breakdown of the funds. Yet other officers say that the J3 (Esperon) was the one who programmed the funds.

Why was there a need to allot huge funds for J2? One unverifeid theory goes that it was J3 that programmed the huge funds for J2 intelligence projects to give J3 some room for maneuver when it came to the use of funds. After the funds were released to J2, these were allegedly “converted” into cash and given to J3 allegedly for election operations favoring GMA. Since the J2 funds would be unaudited, it would be a perfect way to convert then divert the funds, without having to officially liquidate them. The head of J2,Maj. Gen. Pedro Ramboanga, was a classmate of Gen. Esperon.

The fact that Gen. Garcia, TF HOPE commander himself, had doubts on the use of funds should already compel COA and the Comelec to look into these disbursements.

Comelec and COA should investigate all personalities who may have been involved in the approval, release, use and liquidation of these funds. These include Gen. Esperon, his operations chief then colonel and now M/Gen. Rey Ardo, as well as Esperon’s budget officer Lt.Col. Gapay and even the personnel of the Office of the Comptroller of the AFP GHQ.

While on the matter of funds, some P2.8 million from the COMELEC was allotted to the Presidential Security Group. It is not clear what election-related work the PSG was conducting for it to receive funds from the poll body.

A probe into how the AFP poll funds were used may lead us to how the 2004 elections were rigged and who among the military should be accountable.###

I was a participant of the EDSA 2 uprising which marks its 10th year anniversary this year. I was then part of the youth and student movement and was the chair of the youth group Anakbayan. Here is a brief personal account of my experiences.

What transpired 10 years ago offers a lot of lessons for those who still want to see change brought about in our country. Part of that would have to deal with achieving justice for the victims of the Arroyo regime, the principal political beneficiary of the uprising. Remembering EDSA , after more than 9 years of the Arroyo regime, should not make us fall into cynicism when it comes to “people power”.

January 16 was the start of a period in Philippine history known as the EDSA 2 People Power  uprising which culminated in the ouster of then president Joseph Estrada from Malacañang on January 20. The protests started on the evening of January 16 when youth and students and different groups marched to the Edsa Shrine and held a protest program. The protest was triggered by the Senate’s refusal to open the second envelope that contained information on a bank account allegedly belonging to Pres. Estrada.

I joined the protest actions on January 17, marching with UP students and teachers that some estimate to have reached 15,000 people. We stayed at Edsa till past midnight and returned early the following day.

The youth were considered the most numerous of all the participants of EDSA 2. We were part of the Estrada Resign Youth Movement (ERYM) at that time. There was Anakbayan, LFS, NUSP, CEGP, SCM and other student councils and organizations. We were joined by Mon Pagdangangan (who died a few years after EDSA2) and China Cojuangco (who hosted some of the meetings at her parents’ home in Forbes). Mark Leviste, now vice-governor of Batangas, was also present during some of our meetings.

Black was the official protest color. For some reason, I never did wear black though.

Edsa 2 was the first time I really appreciated the MRT. The train line ferried thousands of people from Quezon City and Manila who wanted to join the protest action. I could remember train coaches emptying as they reached the Ortigas station. It was the fastest and cheapest mode of transportation at a time when the EDSA Ortigas area was closed to traffic. (Fast forward 10 years later, fare rates for the MRT are set to increase by 50-100%).

I remember a lot “balimbings” at that time, those who withdrew support from Erap at the last minute and went to Edsa. Some of them were booed by the people. Others were prevented from speaking on stage.

I spoke before the crowd on the fourth day, it was almost 6am. I was asked to provide some agitation before the march to Mendiola. At that time, not everyone was convinced we had to march to Mendiola, but a good majority was already raring to go. I could tell from the reaction of the crowd during the speech.

We already dispatched an advance team of several thousand activists from various sectors to go to Manila to prepare the people for the coming of the main march in the morning of January 20. That was at the dawn of January 20. The main body of the Bayan forces were already in marching formation from the corner of the POEA Edsa and up along Ortigas Avenue. It was a very formidable and solid looking contingent among the different forces assembled at Edsa that day.

The signal to march was given at 6pm. Then Bayan secretary general Teddy Casino gave the announcement. Another announcement however said that some groups will be staying behind at EDSA.

It was a long march from the Edsa Shrine, to Shaw, to Sta. Mesa then Nagtahan, then Lacson, Espana, Morayta then Recto. Everyone knew it wasn’t wise to go through San Juan. (Four years later, I would join another long march from the Edsa Shrine to Makati, at the declaration of a state of emergency by Arroyo.)

It was still dark when we marched. We hadn’t slept but  none of us felt tired. The people of Mandaluyong lined up along the streets were giving us water and food.

We marched along Recto to Mendiola. The Estrada supporters scampered. We took Mendiola. We held a program on top of a flat-bed truck. We received news Erap left the Palace. In a few hours, Mrs. Arroyo was sworn in at Edsa We didn’t go back to Edsa to witnesses the oath taking. For many of us, EDSA 2 wasn’t about GMA . The Mendiola march was the climax for us. Around 75,000 joined that march with started at 6am and ended by noon.

Post-EDSA 2

Arroyo’s rise to the presidency would be followed by the arrest of former president Estrada which precipitated “EDSA 3”. Arroyo  was able to retain her hold on power despite a siege of Malacanang. The following year, on Rizal Day, she promised she would not run for office in 2004.

As everyone knows, she didn’t keep that promise. In 2004, Arroyo ran for president and as many believe, cheated her way to Malacanang. What followed was six more years of illegitimate, fascist, pro-imperialist and oppressive rule.

A broad array of anti-Arroyo forces emerged in 2005 and sought the ouster of the fraudulent president. The broad front would muster tens of thousands of people in the streets between the years 2005-2009. Their efforts to remove Arroyo however would be frustrated because of a number of factors both internal and external.

During this period, Estrada was convicted of plunder, but was later on pardoned by Arroyo. Estrada would be a vocal critic and active opponent of Arroyo on issues like Charter change. Estrada forces were an important part of the broad anti-Arroyo united front. Former president Cory Aquino would also be active again in the protest actions before her death in 2009. She joined many street actions and had called on Arroyo to resign in 2005.

During the period of 2001-2010, hundreds of activists were killed, abducted and tortured by the Arroyo regime. The activists and leaders of the national democratic movement bore the brunt of the fascist attacks, from the policy of extrajudicial killings and abductions, to the calibrated preemptive response (CPR) versus street protests.  The ND forces were the most persistent in the anti-Arroyo movement, and many proved by giving the highest sacrifice.

Along the way, we lost many dear comrades and friends. We lost former secretary Josie Lichauco who was a fierce Arroyo critic and was an active street parliamentarian. Sammy Ong, whistleblower in the Garcia scandal, succumbed to sickness.

Ka Crispin Beltran died from an accident, less than a year after his release from detention. He was a huge loss to the entire peoples’ movement.

Fernando Poe, Jr. , the main victim of election fraud in 2004, died in 2005, rendering his election protest moot. Former Sen. Raul Roco also died from illness during this period.

For some people, the experience of the last 10 years may seem like a good argument that EDSA2 was a “mistake”`. We ended up from bad to worse, they would say.

I won’t argue the fact that Arroyo turned out to be a really bad president. She was the worst president since Marcos. Arroyo didn’t just err. She committed one heinous crime after another.

But EDSA 2 wasn’t about bringing Arroyo to power. It was about removing the Estrada regime which at that time was perceived as corrupt. Arroyo was the beneficiary of EDSA 2 because of the principle of constitutional succession. She would have had a chance to effect reforms but she failed miserably. As we again learned, changing the president is not enough to bring about fundamental change. The problems of society require more than changing the Palace occupant. Arroyo, by virtue of her class position and political affiliation, carried the same ruling class and pro-imperialist interests after she was installed as president.

From the experience of the years after EDSA 2, we can see that there’s no single “formula” for sparking “people power”. Oakwood was not able to muster much public support, as with the Peninsula siege in 2007 and the Marine stand-off in 2006. The bases of the protest actions were valid but this did not necessarily translate into mass mobilizations ala-EDSA2. The protests against the Garci scandal (2005) and the ZTE scandal (2008) had good starts but were not sustained enough to lead to a critical mass that could have removed the despised Arroyo regime.

There were some in the anti-Arroyo front that sought to replicate EDSA 2, though mechanically and artificially at times. Some scoffed at the idea of building a sustained mass movement along various issues. “Puro kasi kayo build-up” was one comment I heard during meetings with various groups.

Some wanted a quick resolution to the problem despite the reality that the problem would require greater effort and greater mobilizations over a period of time. There was no quick fix and attempting to mechanically replicate EDSA was often met with failure. Arroyo was most vicious when it came to suppressing any emerging “people power”.

EDSA 2 was the culmination of a series of huge demonstrations months before the January 20, 2001. There was also a broad united front made up of various political forces. And then there was an event that triggered a spontaneous reaction from the people.

There was also the question of who (or what) will replace Arroyo if she is ousted. For many, the EDSA 2 experience was a reminder that constitutional succession is not always the best route to follow, especially since at the time, it was Noli de Castro who would be the immediate successor. While ND forces had pushed for a “transition council” before the holding of elections, there were also various other ideas on who to replace GMA. There appeared to be no consensus on this matter, even among anti-Arroyo forces.

Why did the broad anti-Arroyo front fail to remove GMA despite her extreme political isolation? Why wasn’t there a repeat of “people power”? These are matters that still need to be studied and assessed, not just as a matter of historical record, but also as a matter for future reference should we be faced with a similar situation.

Reasons for remembering

Ten years after EDSA 2 and we see Arroyo now sitting as a member of Congress as she faces possible prosecution for her many crimes. Former president Estrada ran and lost in the 2010 elections, but still got 8 million votes.

Benigno Aquino III is now president and has promised to go after Arroyo, though no charges have been brought against the former president. Estrada was charged and arrested within Arroyo’s first 100 days. Aquino’s first 100 days was marked by a failure to hold Arroyo accountable.

Even under the second Aquino regime, we see that many of the problems we faced 10 years ago remain. The resolution of these problems is made impossible by the dominant class interests within the current regime. Prices, fares and fees are going up. Land reform remains a dream for many farmers. Corrupt officials are getting off the hook. Foreign impositions such as the “public-private partnership”, despite the dismal track record of privatization in the country, are being  peddled as the solution to our economic woes.

Is there still any reason to remember EDSA 2?

There is. We need to be reminded that genuine change requires more than just a change in the presidency, and this holds true even for the current government that replaced Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The entire oppressive system needs to be replaced, and defeating one anti-people regime after another can help truly empower the people and weaken the oppressors, until such time that the people are capable of bringing about genuine change.

We also need to be reminded that the principal beneficiary of EDSA 2 betrayed it and committed grave crimes against the people in her bid to hold on to power. Remembering EDSA 2 should compel us to see to it that Arroyo is made accountable for extrajudicial killings, corruption, election fraud and the sell-out of national interest.

Lastly, remembering EDSA 2 should give us a sense of hope, that a united and struggling people are a powerful force for change. “People power” is and should always be an option for the oppressed. It may be an old concept, but it will never go “out of style”. How and when the next one will happen depends on the unfolding of events, the severity of the crisis and the determination of the Filipino people to seek a better future. ###

The recent Supreme Court decision declaring unconstitutional Executive Order No.1 creating the Philippine Truth Commission highlights the difficulty of making Gloria Macapagal Arroyo accountable, even when she is no longer in power as president. The Truth Commission decision was preceded by other decisions involving Arroyo midnight appointments and a status quo order on the impeachment case vs. the Ombudsman. The rulings appear to benefit the former president.

If this trend continues, and extends to the Ombudsman impeachment case also pending before the SC, then there will be fewer avenues to make Arroyo accountable. Both the Truth Commission (with its limitations) and the Ombudsman (with its constitutional mandate) are supposed to investigate corruption cases.

The work to make Arroyo accountable continues to encounter increasing obstacles. This should serve as a challenge to the Aquino administration to make a more determined effort in going after the former president and her cohorts involved in gross corruption and human rights violatons. It is also a challenge to the various anti-Arroyo groups and personalities, to unite and persevere in holding to account the past president. ###