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Cablegate: Philippines to Hold First Nationwide Village Elections

VZCZCXRO0016
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHML #3547/01 2990934
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 260934Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8747
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 003547

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM RP
SUBJECT: PHILIPPINES TO HOLD FIRST NATIONWIDE VILLAGE ELECTIONS
SINCE 2002

1. (U) SUMMARY: Nationwide village council elections will take
place on October 29 for the first time since 2002. More than
335,000 seats are at stake. These elections do not directly involve
national political parties, but the newly elected village
chairpersons will be in a good position to control modest resources
and influence local voting in future elections. There have been
only 13 election-related fatalities throughout the 42,000 village
districts so far, suggesting that the final figure will likely be
lower than the 75 deaths recorded in the 2002 elections. Simple
vote-counting procedures should mean that election results will be
available more quickly and could decrease vote fraud compared to
previous national elections. The Mission's election observation
efforts will include the dispatch of political staff to polling
places in Metro Manila and an extensive USAID training program in
Mindanao. Indicative of the very local nature of these elections,
there has been minimal campaigning thus far and press interest has
also been low. END SUMMARY.

BARANGAY: THE BASIC POLITICAL UNIT
----------------------------------

2. (U) The village and neighborhood districts, or barangays, are
the smallest political units in the Philippine system. Their
populations can range from a minimum of 2,000 in rural areas to over
100,000 in urban areas. Councilors manage day-to-day government
affairs, basic infrastructure projects, and some services. Their
political significance is enhanced when councilors - and especially
the chairpersons, or captains - are able to deliver votes for
candidates seeking higher office.

3. (U) Approximately 335,000 youth councilors, aged 15 to 18, will
also be elected on October 29. There are 3.1 million youths
registered to vote in these separate elections. The positions are
intended to raise the profile of youth concerns and hone the
leadership potential of the younger generation.

4. (U) According to the Commission on Elections, voter turnout on
October 29 could be slightly higher than in the national midterm
elections in May. The Commission predicts a turnout rate greater
than 75%, which would surpass the 73% of the May 2007 vote. There
are 51 million voters registered for the barangay elections, which
is more than the 45.5 million who registered in the May elections.
The difference may be due to simultaneous youth council elections or
heightened interest in issues closer to home.

NATIONAL INTEREST AND INVOLVEMENT
---------------------------------

5. (U) Political parties are banned from supporting campaigns at
the barangay level. However, it is clear that these elections
matter to national politicians, many of whom look to barangay
captains as their front-line soldiers in turning out the vote for
congressional and presidential polls. The timing and format of the
local elections have also been subject to Congressional tinkering.
For example, barangay councils are supposed to serve just three
years, and the last round of local elections should have been held
in 2005. But the Congress delayed the election, arguing that it
came too quickly on the heels of the 2004 presidential and
congressional votes, and reset the election date to 2007.

6. (U) Congress almost delayed the elections again this year, as
the House of Representatives passed a bill to postpone the poll
until 2009, but the Senate defeated the bill, noting that candidates
had already filed for office and the election commission had spent
funds to prepare for the vote, sitting village officials had already
served for five years and many of the youth councilors were no
longer so youthful. A former congresswoman stated publicly that
congressmen needed time, following the May elections, to replenish
their war chests, which would enable them to support handpicked
barangay captains. Unlike representatives, who are elected in local
districts, senators are elected in at-large national contests and
would not benefit from such a move.

QUICKER PROCESS THAN NATIONAL ELECTIONS
---------------------------------------

7. (U) The winners will take office on November 30, and the
Commission on Elections has until November 1 to proclaim winners, if
there are no challenges. Most of the winners will be determined on
the same day, since vote tallies need not be re-tabulated at higher
levels, as is the case with municipal, provincial, and congressional
elections.

VOTING CHALLENGES
-----------------

8. (U) Election Commission officials believe that the simple
vote-counting procedures will both speed the issuance of final

MANILA 00003547 002 OF 002


results and reduce opportunities for fraud, because cheating often
occurs through "vote padding" as votes get tabulated at each
successive level during national polls. However, the presence of
observers will be reduced compared to national elections.

9. (U) To help remedy the lack of observers, USAID has supported
training of Filipino observers in the Autonomous Region of Muslim
Mindanao (ARMM). The Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reform (Citizens
CARE) is a consortium of 24 Muslim nongovernmental organizations
that USAID has worked with, through the International Foundation for
Election Systems, to support improvements in the electoral process.
During the upcoming elections, Citizens CARE will field some 3,000
volunteers to monitor the voting and counting of votes with coverage
in 710 barangays throughout the ARRM. This training advances the
USG's larger goal of supporting freer and fairer elections in the
Philippines by improving election processes and building the
capacity of locals to do election monitoring.

10. (U) The Philippine National Police have so far recorded 17
election-related violent incidents, resulting in 13 deaths. This
compares with 114 deaths associated with the national elections
carried out in May, and some 75 fatalities that took place during
the last local elections in 2002 - 30 of whom were candidates. A
police task force has been formed to reduce violence, and a ban on
carrying guns in public is in place until November 13.

11. (U) Post will follow up with election results as they become
available.

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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