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Cablegate: Philippines: Democracy Promotion Strategies

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

REF: A. STATE 169892
B. MANILA 4488

1. (U) This message is Sensitive but Unclassified. Please
handle accordingly.

2. (U) This message is in response to the action request
contained in "Democracy Promotion Strategies for EAP Focus
Countries" (ref a). Responses are keyed to specific
informational requests contained in ref a, para 6.

Key Areas of Democratic Deficit

3. (SBU) The Republic of the Philippines is a vibrant,
functioning, democracy with a free-wheeling political life
and an active civil society. For 2005, the think tank
Freedom House gave the Philippines a rating of 2 for
political rights and 3 for civil liberties (on a scale of 1
to 7, with 7 representing the lowest level of freedom), and
an overall status as a "Free" country. However, the
Philippines suffers from continuing poor governance and a
weak rule of law environment, which affects the quality of
its democracy.

4. (SBU) The concentration of political power is one area
of democratic deficit. Although the structure of the
Government of the Philippines (GRP) is similar to that of
the U.S., Philippine political life is more centered on the
personal charisma of individual political leaders, and
considerably more oligarchic. A few dozen powerful families
continue to play a dominating role in politics and hold a
disproportionate share of land and wealth. Approximately
two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives
are from political families, meaning that they have
relatives who are currently holding or once held elected
positions. Half of the members of the 24-seat Senate are
from political families.

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5. (SBU) This concentration of power and wealth contributes
to an environment where corruption, cronyism, and influence
peddling are pervasive in business and government. The GRP
has had limited success in tackling the Philippines' rampant
crime and chronic corruption, which fall heaviest on poorer
Filipinos, and limited police-prosecutor cooperation is
partly to blame. Low wages paid to government employees,
especially in the revenue bureaucracies, creates fertile
ground for bribery and other forms of corruption.
Transparency International ranked the country 102 out of 146
countries in its 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.

6. (SBU) The rule of law remains weak. Taken together with
the concentration of power and corruption and cronyism, this
undermines the average citizen's confidence in the
government and his or her perception of the ability to
change the status quo. Persistent allegations of fraud and
other cheating during elections add to citizens' cynicism
about their leaders and the electoral process. The
judiciary, though generally independent, is hampered by
corruption and inefficiency. About 33 percent of positions
for judges are unfilled because of low salaries for these
positions that require significant professional
qualifications. There is widespread skepticism among
Filipinos that the judicial process can ensure due process
and equal justice; independent observers do not believe that
the judicial system adequately guarantees defendants'
constitutional rights to due process and legal
representation. On the other hand, prosecutors sometimes
encounter protracted delays because plaintiffs can file
appeals on minor procedural ruling in order to bring cases
to a virtual halt. The average trial takes over three

7. (SBU) Weakness in the rule of law reduces the democratic
space in the Philippines. The country is one of the most
dangerous places in the world for journalists to work; few
convictions have ever been secured for killings of
journalists (see para 8). Vigilante killings of suspected
criminals have been increasing in number, and the same
appears to be happening in killings of activists (usually
associated with leftist groups or other political groups).
The long-running New People's Army insurgency and the
insurgency (plus the presence of known terrorists) in
Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago has led to a significant
military presence in some areas around the country, and the
atmosphere of conflict has contributed to a decline in the
democratic space for activists. There is the potential --
if remote -- danger that unchecked and unlawful violence
will alienate leftists who have opted to work within the
established democratic political system.
8. (SBU) Strengthening democracy in the Philippines
requires professional and responsible journalism that can
hold both the government (national and local, civil and
military) and society to account, and contribute to serious
political debate. Broadcast and print media in the
Philippines are active and outspoken, but often criticized
for lacking rigorous journalistic ethics; newspaper reports
often consist more of innuendo and sensationalism than
investigative reporting, and this is at least partly
responsible for attacks on some journalists. Media tend to
reflect the particular political or economic orientations of
owners, publishers, or patrons, some of whom are close
associates of present or past high-level political
officials. Many government-owned television and radio
stations are also outspoken, but they often lack strict
journalistic ethics. Many journalists are not
professionally trained or accredited.

--------------------------------------------- -----------
Most Important Desired Outcomes Over the Next 6-8 Months
--------------------------------------------- -----------

9. (SBU) In order to address these areas of democratic
deficit, a broad-based campaign to improve governance at all
levels is vital. While most desired outcomes will likely be
reflected only over the medium- to long-term, some short-
term outcomes are both desirable and realistic. These

-- Government action and statements against -- and a visible
downward trend in -- vigilante killings;
-- Government action and statements against -- and a visible
decrease in -- killings of activists;
-- Passage of a comprehensive counter-terrorism law in order
to give the GRP more and better tools for dealing with
terrorism through the legal system, rather than potentially
doing so extrajudicially;
-- Improved cooperation between police and prosecutors,
reflected in particular through successful prosecutions of
human traffickers;
-- The appointments of a well-respected and qualified
Supreme Court Chief Justice and Associate Justices, when
these positions become vacant;
-- The appointment of a well-respected and qualified
Ombudsman to replace Sonny Marcelo, who is retiring in
-- Continued progress toward peace in Mindanao, which will
decrease the space that terrorists and other militants take
advantage of;
-- Improved capacity and capability of the Commission for
Elections (COMELEC) through, among other things, a)
appointments of well-respected and qualified Commissioners
to existing and future vacancies; b) training of a cadre of
COMELEC trainers; c) development of a long-term strategic
plan; and d) training of COMELEC senior staff;
-- A reduction in the length of the average trial; and
-- Continued releases of detainees who have been in jail
awaiting trial for periods longer than their possible prison
sentences (see para 28-29).

Diplomatic and Programmatic Strategy

10. (U) Mission supports GRP efforts to pass and implement
modern law enforcement legislation, and has worked to
strengthen respect for the rule of law within government
institutions and among public officials and to develop
civilian law enforcement capacity, including police-
prosecutorial cooperation. USAID conducts a number of
projects aimed at improving governance and judicial reform.
As a candidate in the Millennium Challenge Account's
Threshold Country Program, the Philippines may receive MCA
funding to strengthen anti-corruption efforts as a means of
strengthening its fiscal capacity, improving governance and
sustaining reforms. Mission will continue to emphasize the
importance of serious and sustained reforms by the GRP.
Numerous USG programs at both the local and national level
promote transparency, popular participation, capacity
building and equity, all key factors in the healthy
functioning of democracy.

11. (SBU) Mission has repeatedly raised concerns in
meetings with GRP officials about the killings of left-wing
and other activists. The leftists need to see a place for
them within the established democratic political system. If
those leftists who have opted to operate within the system
find themselves targets for violence and assassination or
deliberate political marginalization, the option of going
underground and taking up arms will inevitably become more
attractive. Mission will continue to reiterate to GRP
officials, including at the highest levels, the need to
protect activists of all political parties and groups that
abide by the law and are non-violent, thereby protecting the
democratic space and pluralism that a healthy democracy

12. (SBU) Mission is strongly encouraging the passage of a
comprehensive counter-terrorism law by the Philippine
legislature. Such a legal tool, if implemented properly,
would be an important contribution to the rule of law,
giving the GRP more and better tools for dealing with
terrorism through the legal system. It would reduce the
temptation for members of the security forces to potentially
act extrajudicially.

13. (SBU) Mission will also continue to raise concerns
about vigilante killings, which local officials and
political leaders at times appear to condone, and press for
concrete GRP action in this area. The impunity with which
these killings are taking place undermines GRP and USG
efforts to strengthen the rule of law, and reduces
Filipinos' expectations of the police and judicial branches.

14. (U) Mission continues to support talks between the GRP
and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Mindanao for a
negotiated political settlement. Mission strongly supports
U.S. Institute of Peace efforts to facilitate talks between
the two sides, including by engaging civil society. Mission
also supports efforts to improve governance in the
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Mission will
urge the new ARMM government to improve local administration
and tackle corruption.

15. (U) Democracy-Related Projects and Activities: Current
and planned U.S.-funded or sponsored activities and projects
during the next 6-8 months are listed below.

-- The Asia Foundation is supporting an effort by civil
society organizations, launched in September, to conduct a
"Supreme Court Appointments Watch." The Watch will deal
with two vacancies this December, when Chief Justice Davide
retires and an opening among the Associate Justices arises.

-- Two USAID projects -- Legal Accountability and Dispute
Resolution (LADR) and Rule of Law Effectiveness (ROLE) --
started implementing complementary programs in October to
increase the access of residents of the ARMM to the formal
justice system. LADR is working to strengthen the Shari'a
court system, while ROLE is working with the regular court

-- In December, The International Foundation for Election
Systems (IFES) will start training a cadre of trainers
within the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to enable it to
train others on voter education and general election
administration functions.

-- IFES will in December begin assisting COMELEC's planning
department to develop a long-term strategy, through the
University of the Philippines-National Center for Public
Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG).

-- IFES will help COMELEC hold an election equipment vendor
fair in February 2006 to introduce the latest voting,
counting, and reporting technology to Philippine electoral
stakeholders. Over the course of 2-3 days, COMELEC
officials and other Government officials as well as members
of Congress can learn about the types of technologies
available and make a better informed decision on how to move
ahead with the election mechanization program.

-- IFES will work with other groups associated with USAID's
Transparent and Accountable Governance (TAG) and Legal
Accountability and Dispute Resolution (LADR) projects to
actively pursue a campaign to promote the most qualified
candidates for COMELEC Commissioner positions. This could
involve setting up a non-partisan "appointment watch" for
COMELEC appointees. There is currently one vacancy, and two
more COMELEC Commissioners will retire in February 2006.
This activity will start shortly and conclude in March 2006.
-- In March 2006, IFES will implement a capacity-building
program for COMELEC senior staff members in partnership with

-- In March 2006, the NGO Concerned Citizens for ARMM
Elections (CCAE) will start a program to increase awareness
among ARMM voters of the importance of holding free and fair
elections, funded by a sub-grant from IFES.
-- Libertas, an organization of lawyers, will, through a
sub-grant in March 2006, assess and advocate reforms to the
election complaints adjudication system.

-- Over the next 6 to 8 months, the Transparent and
Accountable Governance (TAG) 2 project will promote good
governance in 16 cities and 20 municipalities in the ARMM,
in the areas of participatory planning and budgeting, public
service excellence, ethics and accountability, and business
processes review. The project goal is to get citizens to
exercise more oversight over local government.

-- Within the next 6 months, Mission will organize a one-
week seminar on improving police-prosecutor cooperation.
The lack of such cooperation is a serious impediment to
effective prosecution, and helps to undermine the average
Filipino's confidence in the justice system and his/her
expectations of justice. The seminar will target a select
group of mid- to senior-level Philippine National Police
(PNP) officers and Philippine Department of Justice (PDOJ)

16. (U) Grants: Small Democracy Grants and EAP/PD Exchange
Alumni Grants have been awarded for relevant programs for a
period of one year, starting September 28, 2005.

-- American Field Service Returnees Foundation: $15,000 to
bring high school students, a mix of Muslims from Mindanao,
students from economically depressed regions, and indigenous
persons (IPs) from Northern Luzon, to Manila for a training
program in civic activism. (Note: Members of the country's
indigenous minority have limited access to basic government
services and are far less integrated into mainstream society
than other minorities. See ref b. End Note.)

-- Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society: $14,836 for
seminars and training sessions to improve the ability of
Muslim NGO activists in Mindanao to convey the message that
participation in civil society and the democratic process is
the best way to achieve political and economic progress.

-- Advocacy MindaNow Foundation: $15,000 for producing
radio public service messages advocating "unity in
diversity" among Muslims, lumads (indigenous persons), and
Christians in Mindanao.

-- Eskwelahan San Katawhan Negros: $14,798 to develop
primary and secondary-level English-language instructional
materials focusing on civic responsibility and involvement.

-- International Association of Hubert H. Humphrey Fellows
Philippines (IAHHHFP): $10,190 for the project "Promoting
Local Democracy", which will strengthen the democratic
process in the Jalajala municipality through capacity-
building partnerships between the municipality and IAHHHFP

-- Women's Action Foundation, Inc.: $15,000 to facilitate
training programs for members of the Angeles City Women
Coordinating Council on policy advocacy and financial

17. (U) International Visitor and Speaker Programs: During
the next 6-8 months, Mission is sponsoring a number of
Filipino participants in International Visitor programs
related to democracy, governance, and the rule of law.

-- Accountability in Government and Business (October 27 -
November 17, 2005)
-- U.S. Judicial System (January 12 - February 2, 2006)
-- Investigative Journalism (March 16 - April 6, 2006)
-- NGOs and Civic Activism (March 23 - April 13, 2006)

18. (U) Mission also anticipates Speaker Programs on the
topics of federalism and fighting corruption, in addition to
a U.S. speaker on broadcast journalism/media training
sometime in November.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Support from the Department or other parts of the USG
--------------------------------------------- --------
19. (SBU) During any high-level visits, officials can
support these objectives by reiterating our concerns about
the rule of law, i.e., vigilante killings and killings of
leftist and other activists, and encourage serious efforts
to reform the public sector and tackle corruption.
Officials should also consider incorporating a public
speaking component during their visits to the Philippines on
topics related to democracy and the rule of law. In
addition, support for a larger number of visiting public
speakers on these topics would be welcome.

20. (U) The Department and other USG agencies working in
the Philippines should reinforce and reiterate Mission's
representations to the GRP on the importance of cracking
down on human trafficking (see para 24).

21. (SBU) Potential Activities: Additional funding for
some ongoing or planned activities (e.g., the seminar on
police-prosecutor cooperation) would help maximize the
impact of our efforts. The following are other specific
projects or activities that, if approved and funded, would
support accomplishment of Mission's goals:

-- Building sustainable capacity within the Philippine
National Police (PNP), so that it is governed and
strengthened by modern legislation and procedures that
conform to international conventions and standards, is a key
goal. Mission is focused on strengthening the rule of law
through support for the PNP's Transformation Program.
Reestablishing the ICITAP police advisor position -- but
converting this from a contract to a U.S. direct-hire Senior
Law Enforcement Advisor (SLEA) position -- can be critical
for institutionalizing this transformation effort. This
will, however, require additional resources and the
cooperation of INL and ICITAP.

-- With additional S/CT funding and the assistance of
Department of Justice International Criminal Investigative
Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), future seminars on
police-prosecutor cooperation could target additional
officers and prosecutors and thereby more widely spread the

-- A study of political party financing in the Philippines,
and alternative mechanisms used in other countries,
conducted by USAID. This would be followed by a conference
to present research findings and examine possible mechanisms
that might dilute the current concentration of power in a
few families in favor of newcomers and independents, obtain
feedback and ideas from relevant audiences including
Congress, civil society, and concerned citizens.

-- Assistance to Congress to improve legislative drafting.
Justices regularly complain that laws are not well drafted
and result in either many laws being set aside or
inconsistent rulings by different judges. USAID can
facilitate training of key staff members on technical
aspects of legal training. This generally involves courses
conducted at U.S. universities. USAID can also organize
open forums to discuss ways in which other countries improve
the quality of their laws, such as: opening proposed laws to
public comment, peer review panels, outside advisors on
legal drafting, and speedy approaches to evaluating and
passing technical amendments.

-- Sponsoring the participation of COMELEC Commissioners in
training conferences (e.g., Association of Asian Election
Authorities) to broaden their understanding of their role
and responsibilities.

-- An assessment of how to strengthen both civilian
oversight of the military and linkages between civilians and
the military. NDI provides these assessments for USAID.

-- Training seminars to educate jail guards on the rights of
prisoners. This can be a weeklong program or more, held at
different sites, including the Commission for Human Rights
as a facilitator or trainer.

-- The Philippines is a candidate for the Millennium
Challenge Account's Threshold Country Program. If GRP
proposals to MCA have merit, MCA would provide funding for
intensified anti-corruption efforts focused on the Finance
Department and sub-agencies responsible for government tax
and revenue collection as well as the Ombudsman's Office
(responsible for investigating and prosecuting corruption by
government officials) and others. If the GRP succeeds in
these efforts to fight corruption and restore fiscal
balance, the Philippines could compete for a much larger
scale MCA program aimed at economic growth and development.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Major Impediments: Resource, Political, or Structural
--------------------------------------------- --------

22. (SBU) Accomplishing these outcomes will require more
resources, better governance, broader economic development,
a deeper commitment to pass and enforce required
legislation, and greater capacity of law enforcement on the
part of the GRP. Mission's actions and activities can
reinforce and supplement the GRP's actions, but not
compensate for the lack of GRP action on any one front.
Encouraging public sector reform, political stability,
improved peace and order, economic growth, and a free and
responsible media are part and parcel of the process of
deepening and maturing Philippine democracy and increasing
popular participation in -- and ownership of -- that
democracy. Improving the efficiency of the Philippine court
system and reducing judicial corruption is a long-term
process, as is PNP reform. In the context of corruption
being a major impediment, the resignation of Ombudsman Sonny
Marcelo (slated to take effect in November) is a major blow
to GRP efforts to curb corruption in government.

23. (U) Resource constraints are an issue given the fiscal
deficit. This is further exacerbated by widespread
corruption that decreases the resources available for public
services. Implementation of an Expanded Value Added Tax
(currently being challenged in the Supreme Court) would
significantly ease the GRP's fiscal crunch. The Philippines
is also in the middle of a political crisis, currently
reflected in a standoff between the Executive and the Senate
over a recent Executive Order.

24. (SBU) The Philippines is on G/TIP's Tier 2 Watchlist
for Trafficking in Persons. Without concrete and visible
improvement in this area -- particularly in arrests and
successful prosecutions -- the GRP could be downgraded to
Tier 3 next year, resulting in sanctions that would affect
most of our assistance programs in the Philippines. Mission
has consistently and vigorously engaged and assisted the GRP
on this issue; the burden is now on the GRP to take
appropriate steps, including convictions of traffickers, to
show progress in curbing and eliminating this inhumane
practice. Inaction on the GRP's part could potentially
undercut all of the USG's good efforts and intentions in the
area of democracy promotion.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Significant Influences On Democratization Efforts
--------------------------------------------- ----

25. (U) Our U.K., Australian, and U.N. counterparts have
expressed interest in supporting PNP reform and improving
cooperation between police and prosecutors. The UNDP
supports a broad effort to improve governance in the
Philippines (through support for COMELEC, the Office of the
Ombudsman, etc.) and to empower indigenous peoples.

26. (U) There are many civil society organizations that can
exert significant positive influence on both democratization
efforts and the host government.

-- Survey or polling organizations like the Social Weather
Stations and Asia Pulse provide timely information to both
the government and the public on important issues like
governance, corruption, public satisfaction levels and
preferences, etc. and informs decision-making. At the local
level there are also smaller polling centers that provide
customer feedback to local government units (e.g. The Holy
Name University in Bohol conducts an annual Bohol Poll).

-- Civil society organizations engaged in advocacy enhance
the ability of the public to participate in important policy
discussions. Many important laws in the Philippines were
passed with the active participation of civil society
organizations (e.g. Fisheries Reform Act, Urban Development
and Housing Act, Indigenous People's Rights Act, etc.).
Civil society organizations like the Concerned Citizens of
Abra for Good Governance and the Transparency and
Accountability Network also exert pressure on government to
be transparent and accountable to the people.

-- Associations of local government units like the League of
Municipalities, League of Provinces, and the League of
Cities continue to be the voice of local democracy and
decentralization in the Philippines.

-- Media organizations like the Philippine Center for
Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the Center for Media
Freedom and Responsibility continue to keep government on
its toes by acting as watchdogs and exposing government

--------------------------------------------- ----
Areas of Democracy Promotion Supported by the GRP
--------------------------------------------- ----

27. (U) Host country involvement in international or
regional organizations that promote democracy include
membership in the International Union of Parliamentarians,
Association of Asian Election Authorities, World Jurist
Association, and the Global Organization of Parliamentarians
Against Corruption. The Philippines will be hosting the
International Judicial Reform Conference in November.

28. (U) The Court of Appeals Mediation Project, supported
by USAID, was launched on August 31. A special initiative
under the Supreme Court's Action Program for Judicial Reform
(APJR), it is aimed at increasing the efficiency and
effectiveness of the administration of justice through the
use of alternative dispute mechanisms and the provision of
affordable judicial services.

29. (U) The Supreme Court is continuing efforts to ensure
speedier trials and sanction judicial malfeasance, and is in
the midst of a 5-year program to increase judicial branch
efficiency and raise public confidence in the judiciary.
Lengthy pretrial detention is a serious problem, but the
courts have been active in releasing those detainees during
the past two years who have been in jail longer than the
possible prison term they would have served if convicted.

30. (U) The recently established regional consultative
bodies for indigenous peoples could play a significant
"pressure valve" role in representing and advocating their
concerns at the local and national levels. The National
Commission for Indigenous Persons (NCIP) expects to set up a
similar national consultative body in the near future.
Further engagement of IPs in the local and national
political processes -- negligible at this point -- could
help raise their status.

31. (U) In general, the GRP's policies do not undermine or
run contrary to the USG's democracy promotion policy.

The Consequences of Pursuing This Agenda

32. (U) The Philippines has a generally positive
environment for democracy and rule of law promotion efforts,
with GRP officials receptive to assistance and suggestions.
Conducted openly and stated plainly, our efforts should
generate no complaints or raise anyone's hackles, especially
since they are consistent with or similar to past efforts
and are generally perceived as beneficial to the Philippines
and supportive of democratic traditions here. In the past,
criticism from Filipinos has generally come when the U.S. is
perceived or alleged to be acting behind the scenes to
influence the political process in the Philippines, or from
"nationalists" opposed to U.S. military bases or our
military training presence in the country -- or from
oligarchs who perceive threats to their interests. As a
democratic country with an active civil society, the
Philippines has no obvious enemies of honestly-advocated
democracy promotion efforts, except for leftists and Muslims
linked with extremist activities.


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