Cablegate: Philippine Election-Related Violence

DE RUEHML #1613/01 1370914
O 170914Z MAY 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: A. MANILA 1544
B. MANILA 1521
C. MANILA 1494
D. MANILA 1467
E. MANILA 1215
F. MANILA 1073


1. (SBU) 2007 election-related violence has taken the lives of
local candidates, political supporters, members of the police and
military, election workers, and by-standers. While the police
privately claimed to have ruled out all but 51 campaign-era killings
as politically motivated, media and other sources have reported at
least l26 election-related deaths, with 21 in the final week and 11
on Election Day. Both the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the
Philippine National Police (PNP) nonetheless assessed that - with
some isolated incidents -- the nationwide elections were "relatively
peaceful" and have predicted the violence will now subside.
President Arroyo has ordered the PNP, the Armed Forces of the
Philippines, and the Department of Justice to cooperate and promptly
to file cases against the perpetrators.

2. (SBU) Whatever the exact number, the tragic deaths and injuries
are reflective of larger problems within the Philippines: inadequate
enforcement even of existing restrictions on guns (during the
campaign period, new permits were theoretically required for each
gun-carrier); widespread availability of weapons; a "culture of
impunity" that makes murder -- for any reason -- relatively
risk-free; under-funded and under-trained law enforcement agencies;
reluctance of witnesses to offer testimony for fear of retaliation
due to an inadequate witness protection program; and, a weak and
slow-working judicial system. In our ongoing campaign against
unlawful killings, the USG is actively seeking to provide additional
assistance to help the Philippines address these myriad problems.


3. (U) Between December 2006 and May 2007, media accounts and NGO
sources have reported at least 126 people killed and 149 injured in
217 election-related incidents nationwide. Sixty were politicians
seeking reelection or new candidates; fifteen were policemen
providing security to politicians; and eight were soldiers. The
rest were supporters or civilians, including election workers who
died in an arson-related fire of a polling center. Among the three
main regions, Luzon and Mindanao accounted for a majority of the

4. (SBU) While Philippine National Police (PNP) statistics as of
May 9 already listed 99 election-related killings, on May 17 PNP
shared with Embassy privately a new compilation revising its count
down to only 51 such political killings in this campaign season.
PNP officials explained that further investigations had indicated
non-political motives in all other cases. PNP has not yet made its
revised version public.

5. (U) Both the COMELEC and PNP publicly declared this year's
elections "relatively peaceful," with casualties "significantly
lower" than during the 2004 election campaign, when there were 149
deaths in 249 incidents. In the 2001 mid-term elections, there were
reportedly 111 deaths in 269 incidents. Officials have predicted
that the violence will subside within a week.


6. (U) President Arroyo on April 30 called on the military to
reinforce the police in stopping the violence and "move forcefully
against those using threats or intimidation for partisan politics."
The President also called on security officials to identify and
dismantle all "private armies," often associated with local
political leaders. Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon, at the
behest of COMELEC, ordered the immediate deployment of troops in
areas of concern and the installation of more checkpoints
nationwide. A total of 115,000 policemen and 20,000 members of the
Philippine army were deployed to "hotspots" to curb the violence.

7. (U) PNP Chief Oscar Calderon directed police commanders at all
levels to adopt pro-active measures, such as increased police
visibility and round-the-clock checkpoints, especially in "critical"
areas. PNP claimed to have confiscated 1,820 firearms, 182
explosives, and more than 302 deadly weapons have since the start of
the election period in January. Police reportedly killed some 30
suspects while arresting another 1,969 in the confiscation process.

MANILA 00001613 002 OF 003

PNP claimed also to have dismantled 52 of 90 "known private

8. (U) President Arroyo also ordered the PNP, AFP, and the
Department of Justice to "harness their investigative and legal
resources" in addressing election-related violence as well as other
unlawful killings, utilizing the assistance from foreign partners as
possible. The President also urged prompt filing of cases against


9. (U) The earliest known incident occurred on December 16, when
Abra Congressman Luis Bersamin was gunned down in front of a church
in Manila after attending a wedding. Abra Governor Vicente Valera,
expected to vie for Bersamin's seat, was implicated in the killing
but denied involvement. Two weeks later, in Tapaz town, Capiz
Province, Vice Mayor Victor Gardose, Gardose's bodyguard, and a
village chief were fatally shot while about to attend a religious
festival event. Gardose had announced his intention to seek the
town mayoral seat.

10. (U) A mayoral candidate from Datu Paglas town, North Cotabato
Province, his wife, and bodyguard were injured while his driver was
killed in an ambush while en route to a nearby town in Sultan
Kudarat on March 15.

11. (U) On April 27 in Nueva Ecija, a shootout between security
guards for Congressman Rodolfo Antonino, who was running for
reelection, and police detailed to protect challenger Antonio
Esquivel left Esquivel and one other dead, along with 12 wounded at
an election rally. Esquivel's death prompted the deployment of
1,000 troops in the province. Shortly before the incident, the
Court of Appeals had ordered Esquivel's arrest for the killing of a
village chief in 1994. (Note: The province, a traditional election
hotspot, has been under the control of the Joson political dynasty
for five decades. Two Joson family members were convicted for
murdering a political rival in 1995 but obtained presidential
pardons and are back in power. End Note.)

12. (U) On April 28 in Pangasinan Province, San Carlos City Mayor
Julian Resuello was shot dead by two men who posed as his supporters
as he made his way through a crowd. A suspect is now in police
custody. Resuello and his son, currently vice mayor, had planned to
switch seats. A younger son took over the mayoral candidacy.

13. (U) At a political rally on April 29 in General Nakar town,
Quezon Province, a political leader was shot after introducing the
incumbent mayor to the crowd. The incident happened hours after
five people were killed, including two campaign supporters of a
mayoral candidate, in a shootout in a cockfighting arena in Sariaya
town of the same province.

14. (U) On May 2, a mayoral candidate in Santa Fe town in Cebu
Province was gunned down in front of the COMELEC office after
attending a disqualification hearing.

15. (U) On May 4, in Abra Province -- another traditional election
hotspot -- six relatives of Congressional candidate and outgoing
Lagayan town mayor Cecilia Luna were killed and three other
seriously wounded when her vehicle was attacked. Luna, who was not
in the car, blamed incumbent Governor Valera for the killings. On
the same day, a shootout occurred between troops in civilian clothes
and bodyguards of Bocaue town (Bulacan Province) mayoral aspirant
Jon-jon Villanueva, son of prominent evangelist leader "Brother
Eddie." The shootout, which left one soldier dead, erupted when
Villanueva's bodyguards accosted the soldiers for tearing down
opposition campaign posters.

16. (U) On May 10, a fifteen-man police contingent assigned to
Mindoro Occidental Governor Josephine Sato was ambushed by alleged
communist rebels in San Jose town. They were securing the road in
preparation for the governor's campaign sortie when a landmine
exploded and about 30 suspected NPA members opened fire. The attack
left five policemen dead and six others wounded. (Note: Sato has
declared a "total war" against the insurgency and survived two
attempts against her life in 2004. End Note.) On the same day, in
Compostela Valley Province, a gubernatorial candidate was shot dead
and his daughter wounded by men who came to his house to distribute
campaign leaflets.


17. (U) In what Education Secretary Jesli Lapus condemned as a
"wretched act," arson at a school serving as a polling precinct in

MANILA 00001613 003 OF 003

remote Taysan town, Batangas Province killed two people and injured
at least five others. The police suspected the New People's Army of
an effort to disrupt the elections; others have speculated that the
intent was to destroy ballot boxes unfavorable to a certain

18. (U) In Pio Corpuz town, Masbate Province, unidentified gunmen
killed two campaign leaders for a mayoral candidate before the polls
opened. In another Masbate town, a mayoral candidate's brother was
killed while serving as poll watcher. In Abra Province, a village
chairman was shot dead before dawn in Bucay town, but his alleged
killer was arrested shortly after the killing. In Negros
Occidental, a political supporter of a mayoral candidate was killed
in front of his home upon returning from a meeting.

19. (U) In Mindanao, an alleged "flying voter" was killed and
another wounded in Marawi City. He was among 70 reportedly brought
from neighboring Iligan City to vote under fictitious names for a
certain candidate in exchange for P1,000 (21 USD). In Basilan,
armed men fired at a polling center, killing the nephews of Sumisip
mayor Hajarun Jamiri, who was in the precinct to cast his vote.

20. (U) A day after the elections, some 100 suspected communist
rebels attacked and killed eight soldiers based in Manabo town in
Abra Province. The soldiers were deployed to the area as route
security for the transfer of election results from polling precincts
to the town center for the canvassing process. On May 16,
unidentified gunmen killed a mayoral candidate and his son in Malita
town, Davao del Sur. Prior to his death, the son had complained to
local media about the dirty tactics employed by his father's
opponent. On the same day, a winning incumbent councilor in
Polomolok town, South Cotabato, was shot at close range while
manning his store, and remains in critical condition.

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