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. ###