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Cablegate: Limited Protests Against President Mark People Power

VZCZCXRO6173
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #0483/01 0560946
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 250946Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9891
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000483

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PGOV KCOR PINR RP

SUBJECT: LIMITED PROTESTS AGAINST PRESIDENT MARK PEOPLE POWER
ANNIVERSARY

REF: A. MANILA 404

B. MANILA 316

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On the 22nd anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People
Power Revolution that ousted former President Ferdinand Marcos,
thousands of Filipinos turned out to demonstrate, some calling for
President Arroyo to step down over corruption charges related to a
government contract, others showing their support for the
beleaguered president. The political landscape was also divided,
with opposition Senate President Manuel Villar asserting that the
President's actions on a disputed infrastructure contract
constituted an impeachable offense, while pro-administration
Senators, led by influential Juan Enrile, continued to defend her.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National
Police remained solidly behind President Arroyo, as the Catholic
Church hierarchy displayed an ambivalent posture, calling for
soul-searching on the country's endemic corruption but avoiding a
call for public intervention in the political process. While
citizens, politicians, and public figures openly discussed her fate,
President Arroyo brushed aside calls for her resignation and visited
typhoon-ravaged areas of the country, projecting a business as usual
demeanor. END SUMMARY.

NATIONWIDE RALLIES MARK PEOPLE POWER ANNIVERSARY
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (SBU) Generally peaceful rallies - with some scuffles between
police and protesters - took place nationwide February 25 to mark
the 22nd anniversary of the People Power Revolution to call for the
resignation of President Gloria Arroyo. Bayan, an umbrella
organization for leftist groups, organized anti-Arroyo
demonstrations in at least 15 cities around the country, including
Baguio in Northern Luzon, Legazpi in the Visayas, and Cagayan de Oro
in Mindanao. In Manila, the leftist organization led approximately
2,000 protesters to the historic Mendiola Bridge, just outside
Malacanang Palace, where 13 protesting farmers were killed by
security forces in 1987, and called for President Arroyo to step
down. Citizens' Congress, a pro-administration group, concurrently
staged a rally in Intramuros, Manila, calling for greater unity and
a stop to political bickering. None of the demonstrations were even
a fraction of the size of the massive People Power protests that
brought down Presidents Marcos and Estrada.

SECURITY FORCES LOYAL TO PRESIDENT
----------------------------------

3. (SBU) Amid rumors that elements of the military would withdraw
support from Arroyo, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief
Hermogenes Esperon, along with the major service commanders of the
Philippine Army, Navy and Air Force, stressed the military's loyalty
to the Constitution and the President and assured publicly that no
military personnel would take part in anti-government rallies. He
dismissed the rumors as disinformation campaigns aimed at creating a
wedge in the military. Likewise, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Director General Avelino Razon, Jr. said plainly that "the PNP will
not get ourselves involved in politics, much less political
intervention." Razon asserted that the police remain "united and
loyal behind the Constitution and the duly constituted authorities."
Esperon and Razon led a "unity march" from the People Power
monument to a well-known golf club.

TAKING SECURITY PRECAUTIONS
---------------------------

4. (SBU) Though both the PNP and AFP expected the demonstrations to
be peaceful, the PNP deployed approximately 1,200 PNP personnel
around the Metro Manila area, including Malacanang Palace, while
over 5,000 PNP personnel from nearby Central Luzon and Southern
Tagalog regions were placed on standby. The AFP went on "red
alert," with 3,000 troops from the National Capital Region Command
augmented by an "anti-coup" battalion composed of four companies of
infantry from different divisions. In addition, dozens of AFP
armored assets were deployed to assist the PNP if called upon or if
there were uniformed AFP members joining the rallies.

FORMER PRESIDENT RAMOS WARNS ABOUT "CORRUPT OFFICIALS"
--------------------------------------------- ---------

5. (SBU) Speaking in an EDSA anniversary kick-off ceremony attended
by President Arroyo on February 22, respected former President Fidel
Ramos, an Arroyo ally who played a pivotal role in the overthrow of
Marcos and is considered a weathervane of public opinion, warned
about "corrupt officials" and stressed that "greed, corruption and
apathy" -- sins which precipitated the first people power revolution
in 1986 -- are back. "History might yet call us to come together

MANILA 00000483 002 OF 002


once again to offer our lives and fortunes on the altar of our civic
ideals." The former President has been a pillar of support to
President Arroyo during a series of political crises.

SENATE PRESIDENT VILLAR CALLS FOR IMPEACHMENT
---------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Shortly after President Arroyo's admission on February 23
that there were "irregularities" in a $329 million national
broadband contract with Chinese firm ZTE (ref A), Senate President
Manuel Villar argued that her signing of the contract constituted an
impeachable offense. Senator Aquilino Pimentel said he would urge
the Senate to examine Arroyo's statements for possible violation of
anti-graft laws. President Arroyo has thus far survived three
impeachment attempts in the House of Representatives, the last one
in July 2007. By law, the earliest an impeachment complaint can be
filed against her is July 2008. The Constitution prohibits the
filing of more than one impeachment complaint within a one-year
period.

ON THE FRINGES: SNAP ELECTIONS, CARETAKER PRESIDENT
--------------------------------------------- ------

7. (SBU) Independent Representative Eduardo Nonato Joson filed a
bill calling for snap elections, believing that the option would
prevent "anarchists and opportunists from taking advantage of the
present crisis." However, the proposal will likely not fly in the
pro-administration chamber. For his part, former President Estrada
appealed to the military to support the people's call for the
President to resign but rejected a military takeover. He offered to
become "caretaker President" in the event the President's seat is
vacated.

PRESIDENT ARROYO: "I WILL LEAVE IN 2010"
----------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Over the last few days, President Arroyo brushed aside
calls for her resignation and visited typhoon-ravaged areas of the
country, projecting a business-as-usual demeanor. She reiterated
that, in keeping with the Constitution, she would not resign but
would step down when she finishes her term in 2010 and strive "to
promote reforms so that I could leave a stronger country to my
successor." Referring to the People Power movements that brought
down Presidents Marcos and Estrada, Arroyo said: "The world embraced
EDSA I in 1986. The world tolerated EDSA II. The world will not
forgive an EDSA III."

9. (SBU) On the same day, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, who was
seriously implicated in the ZTE scandal, left for Hong Kong for "an
acupuncture treatment" after the Ombudsman began an investigation on
the ZTE controversy. Summoned to its opening hearing, the First
Gentleman sent his lawyer to represent him. Malacanang Palace,
however, assured that he will testify if his medical condition
allows it.

COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) President Arroyo's statement that the world would not
forgive another popular revolt, while self-serving, carried a
fundamental truth. Another people power revolution would make a
habit of changing presidents between elections, through
constitutionally-questionable means, with negative implications for
political and economic stability, including foreign investment that
the Philippines needs to sustain current economic growth. The
Presidential elections in 2010 act as a brake on efforts to oust
President Arroyo, since several politically powerful senators are
candidates, and believe their chances are best served if President
Arroyo completes her term. Despite outrage at corruption scandals
among segments of the political class, the general public is not
energized.

Visit Embassy Manila's Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/manila/index. cfm

You can also access this site through the State Department's
Classified SIPRNET website: http://www.state.sgov.gov

KENNEY

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