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Cablegate: The "Masa" As a Political Force

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: The "Masa" as a Political Force

REF: A. Manila 1401 B. Manila 1195
- C. 04 Manila 3484

1. (SBU) Summary: The underprivileged and impoverished
"masa" remains a potentially significant but largely
unorganized political force. The once-influential Pwersa ng
Masang Pilipino (PMP) party of former President Estrada has
claimed success in renewing the party's membership and
effectiveness through new outreach programs for the urban
poor. Leftist parties, many associated with the Communist
Party of the Philippines (CPP), have representatives in
Congress under the "party-list" system and trumpet public
victories in representing "masa" concerns, which focus on
job scarcity, rising inflation, and feelings of inaction by
the government to assist the poor. Some religious groups
reach out to this audience as well. The "masa" appears to
view the U.S. presence in the Philippines as generally
favorable, while wishing for even more assistance. Despite
the enduring appeal of the Communist Party of the
Philippines and other leftist groups, this unfortunate group
will likely remain politically marginal, especially with so
many of its potential leaders heading off every year as
Overseas Filipino Workers. End Summary.

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Who are they?

2. (U) The popular appeal of actor Fernando Poe Jr. (FPJ) in
the May 2004 Presidential elections -- which many Filipinos
of all classes continue to believe he won, only to be
"cheated" out of it by the Arroyo administration --
underscored the potential power of the "masa," the millions
of underprivileged and impoverished Filipinos that make up
nearly 75 percent of the voting population. This group
voted together as a bloc in 1998 in the successful campaign
of President Joseph Estrada, another popular former actor.
They were the core of the unsuccessful "EDSA 3" people power
movement opposed to the removal of Estrada in May 2001.
Significantly, however, it was Manila's middle class and not
the "masa" fueling both the successful 1986 "EDSA 1" people
power that drove Ferdinand Marcos out of power and the "EDSA
2" movement that led to Vice President Gloria Macapagal-
Arroyo's assumption of the presidency in January 2001.

3. (U) President Arroyo, in her own 2004 campaign, sought
to appeal to the "masa" with what she called a "pro-poor"
political agenda. In her "10-point plan," she notably
included programs meant to benefit the "masa:" job creation,
educational investment, and the provision of power to every
neighborhood in the Philippines. However, Arroyo's
popularity among the "masa" has fallen steadily. In a March
30 national survey by Pulse Asia, Arroyo scored an average
39 percent approval rating among the "masa," a full 17
percentage points below her June 2004 rating and her lowest
rating since she became President.

Political Party of the Urban Poor

4. (SBU) The Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (Force of the
Filipino Masses, or PMP) was Estrada's main political force
in winning the 1998 election, with a claimed card-carrying
membership of over four million, mostly from Metro Manila.
However, according to PMP political affairs adviser Rolando
Ramirez and PMP Secretary General Horatio "Boy" Morales,
shortly after the 1998 victory, Estrada lost interest in
building the PMP as an institution and it quickly lost
influence. While partially re-vitalized in the "EDSA 3"
uprising, PMP's ability effectively to mobilize mass numbers
of supporters was constrained by what Morales admitted was
"ineffectual party leadership at the municipal and
neighborhood levels."

5. (SBU) Morales and Ramirez claimed in a discussion with
poloff that the current PMP Secretariat, with Estrada still
acting as party President despite his house arrest, had now
changed course and was again focused on recruiting and
developing leaders in a drive to professionalize the party.
Ramirez admitted that membership levels had dipped since
1998, but predicted that the recent recruitment of 17 new,
activist Manila chapter coordinators for the various
municipalities in Metro Manila would reinvigorate the party.

6. (SBU) Ramirez cited as recent PMP successes an April 15
conference in Rizal province, which drew almost 200
participants, and a March 2005 national PMP conference for
over 500 mid-level party organizers from not only Manila but
also from Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, and Laguna provinces.
Beyond cultivating Manila and central Luzon's provincial
coordinators, the PMP next hopes next to revive virtually
moribund PMP offices in more far-flung provinces, according
to these PMP officials.

7. (SBU) PMP's current operational plan is to create a
network among the urban poor that engages with the "masa"
and provides a variety of self-help livelihood programs to
address the main problem -- scarcity of work -- based on the
Filipino concept of "bayanihan" or self-reliance. In order
words, the PMP officials explained, PMP hopes to position
itself as a party that helps the "masa" to help themselves.
Morales added that the PMP wants ordinary people to see the
PMP as a "solution provider." When asked how the PMP
managed its relations with other political parties like
Bayan Muna (see para 8) that also seek to represent the
underprivileged, Morales -- a former member of the Communist
Party of the Philippines (CPP) -- said that the PMP saw room
for "tactical alliances but not strategic. We don't think
Bayan Muna and friends know how to solve the problems facing

Competition for the Poor

8. (U) Leftist parties, many associated with the CPP, have
trumpeted public victories in representing "masa" concerns.
Bayan Muna (BM) is pre-eminent, with three seats in
Congress, having drawn over 1.2 million nationwide votes in
the May 2004 election. (Note: The 1987 Constitution
provided for a limited number of "party-list
representatives" who do not represent geographical
constituencies. End note) Analysts have also credited BM
with helping fellow CPP-related party-list groups elect
three additional members to the House: Anakpawis obtained
two seats, and Gabriela one. Although none was willing to
provide Embassy with membership information, these three CPP-
related parties collectively garnered over two million votes
in the May 2004 election.

9. (U) Another leftist party-list group -- Akbayan -- has
disassociated itself from both Bayan Muna and the CPP. It
reportedly has 87,000 members and several active grassroots
outreach programs to encourage disadvantaged citizens to
demand basic public services and land rights. Akbayan
received nearly one million votes in 2004 and now has three
Congressional representatives, most notably Rep. Loretta
Rosales, who has sponsored human rights and land reform
legislation aimed at curbing violence and land disputes in
the rural areas. She has also been a strong supporter of
anti-TIP efforts and played a key role in the founding of a
new Philippine Myanmar Parliamentary Caucus to highlight
human rights abuses in Burma and call for ASEAN to ensure
Burma does not become ASEAN chair in 2006.

10. (U) BM representatives in particular recently were
active in supporting a national transport strike on April
18. In a press interview, BM Representative Teodoro Casino
accused major oil companies of operating as a "cartel" and
called on the GRP to scrap the Oil Deregulation Law passed
in 1998 in order to protect "masa" consumers hurt by
inflationary pressures. Additionally, media reports of the
one-day national strike indicated militant union Kilosang
Mayo Uno (KMU) -- also CPP-related -- helped support many
chapters of the 500,000 member PISTON transport worker's
union (Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator
Nationwide), which was the primary union that led the
strike. BM's organizing activities have continued despite a
series of killings of leftist activists, in what leftist
leaders have called a "systematic campaign" by armed
elements in the GRP (ref a).

11. (SBU) According to Joel Rocamora from the Institute of
Popular Democracy (IPD), demographic trends favored
continued growth of the "masa," but in many respects
engaging many underprivileged sectors in domestic political
activity was now more difficult because of the opportunities
to become Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). While
acknowledging efforts by party-list groups in particular to
politicize OFW issues among the "masa," Rocamora lamented
that many erstwhile grassroots "masa" organizers were
themselves instead earning their living abroad as OFWs.
Leftist groups sponsored numerous demonstrations and media
campaigns during the July 2004 Filipino-Iraq hostage crisis
that highlighted the plight of low-paid OFWs. In a March 17
rally, another small party related to the CPP-- Migrante --
again tried, unsuccessfully, to mobilize large crowds on
behalf of yet another Filipino-Iraq hostage issue (refs b
and c).

12. (U) Religious groups also reach out to elements of the
"masa." Influential Manila Archbishop Guadencio Rosales has
recently promoted the national "Pondo ng Pinoy" - "Fund for
the Filipino" -- program, which calls on all Catholics to
donate 25 centavos (less than a penny) to support livelihood
projects for impoverished Filipinos. Money collected is
funneled into micro-lending programs run by the Church or
affiliated NGOs. Since its launch in June 2004, this fund
has raised about USD 300,000. Archbishop Rosales has been
less of a public political advocate than predecessor Jaime
Cardinal Sin, whose outspoken views gave strong impetus to
the EDSA 1 movement in 1986.

13. (U) The Protestant "Jesus Is Lord" (JIL) movement, led
by Brother Eddie Villanueva, provided thousands of pro-
Arroyo demonstrators and mass media coverage of the EDSA 2
event. However, Villanueva ran against Arroyo in the 2004
presidential race and drew large crowds during the campaign
-- if not on election day -- with a focus on alleged
corruption in the Arroyo administration and complaints about
injustice for the common Filipino. The powerful Christian
group Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), a strong supporter of former
president Estrada, was instrumental in mobilizing street
protesters and using radio and television to energize many
"masa" and other supporters during the EDSA 3 event in May

From the Mouths of the "Masa"

14. (U) Recent informal, non-scientifically chosen
discussions on the street in Metro Manila revealed common
"masa" concerns including lack of jobs, rising cost of
living, and feelings that the GRP had failed effectively to
assist the poor. A general consensus unfavorably contrasted
President Arroyo as a leader who does not care about the
"masa" as opposed to former presidents Estrada and Ferdinand
Marcos as "good" leaders who did. Some bemoaned what they
said was the current administration's opposition to wage
increases despite increasing inflation. Many complained
about land titling problems, which they blamed on a
government that they said did not deal decisively with
pressing issues among the poor. (Note: Most of these may
have been actual squatters who had no right to land titles
under current law. End note.) Several mentioned corruption
in the bureaucracy as the principal reason for their
distrust of politicians. Others accepted some blame for
their plight, while calling for a strong disciplinarian as
President who would advocate a more rigorous work ethic,
along with better livelihood programs. Most expressed
special concern about what they viewed as rising crime in
urban poor areas, while at the same time admitting that many
families actually encouraged their own children to steal in
order to be able to eat.

15. (U) Views toward the U.S. and its role in the
Philippines were generally positive. Of special mention
were favorable memories of U.S. assistance in fighting the
Japanese in World War II. Others were more non-committal,
saying the U.S. "wasn't doing anything to harm us." One
respondent, however, complained that President Arroyo "nods
her head when it comes to the USG." A few criticized the
U.S. for "not helping poor people" in the Philippines. Many
observers have noted, however, that a huge majority of
Filipinos -- especially among the bottom layers of society -
- would likely favor a return of U.S. bases if ever the
choice were put to a referendum.


16. (SBU) The "masa" have the numbers, but poverty and lack
of education are constraints upon translating this into
effective political representation and power. The extent of
poverty and poor governance helps explain the enduring
appeal of the CPP as well as newer leftist groups. But, as
the IPD's Rocamora noted, "until now, the masa has shown the
capacity to bring down a government, but not to build up a
government." The export of OFWs provides an enormous
political-economic safety valve for the Philippines; not
only by providing needed hard currency for the domestic
economy, but also by exporting large numbers of ambitious
individuals from the "masa" who might otherwise combine to
force acute social-economic issues such as persistent
poverty and unemployment to the political front burner and
to take a pre-dominant political role against the entrenched

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