WikiLeaks cables raise questions about past elections

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.20

Recent leaked cables released by anti-secrecy internet group WikiLeaks have caused much discussion and controversy. The documents, mainly confidential and top secret cables sent from the U.S. embassy in Manila to Washington spanning several years, quote not a few individuals including prominent businessmen, and implicate prominent politicians in alleged illegal activities pertaining to past Philippine elections.
One particular cable from 1994, written by then Deputy Chief of Mission Raymond Burghardt, quotes Joel de los Santos, a former consultant to the Ramos administration, as saying that Fidel Ramos, while still a presidential candidate, "received five million pesos (US$ 200,000) from the Libyans to finance his presidential campaign in 1992." The report also says that it was former speaker Jose De Venecia, "front man" and "errand boy" of "his Libyan benefactors" who brought Ramos to Libya. "The Libyans thought they could use De Venecia's aid in enlisting President Fidel Ramos, with his excellent American contacts, as a wedge in helping end Libya's diplomatic isolation in the West. (Embassy has reported extensively on De Venecia's efforts on behalf of Col. Qadhafi)," reads the report.

This has already prompted Ramos' rival in the 1992 election, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, to call for a Senate investigation of Ramos and the alleged Libyan contribution. It will be recalled that Ramos, then the administration candidate, won over Santiago with less than a million votes. Since then, Santiago has not ceased protesting the victory of Ramos, who, she alleges, "stole" the elections. While Santiago had always questioned Ramos' lead over the number of votes she received, now, if the leaked cables are to be believed, the winning candidate may have violated an important provision of the Omnibus Election Code, which could have resulted to Ramos' disqualification as Presidential candidate and being charged with a criminal offense.
Section 81 of the Omnibus Election Code states that "It shall be unlawful for any foreigner, whether judicial or natural person, to aid any candidate or political party, directly or indirectly, or take part in or influence in any manner any election, or to contribute or make any expenditure in connection with any election campaign or partisan political activity." Section 95 also expressly prohibits foreigners and foreign corporations from making contributions, directly or
indirectly, for purposes of partisan political activity.

Another cable from 2009, written by former US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, implicates former National Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane in the alleged fraud committed during the 1997 Presidential election. Kenney writes, "He is a committed Arroyo loyalist whom many believe President Arroyo hand-picked to 'manage' the 2007 Congressional elections before returning to his previous portfolio as Secretary for Public Works...An Arroyo loyalist, Ebdane found his name prominently featured in the "Hello Garci" tapes scandal from the controversial
2004 elections. Many believe he helped then-Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcilliano go into hiding at the peak of the controversy." (Another cable, from 2005, revealed that the Arroyo administration asked the US embassy if it was the source of the "Hello Garci" tapes, as a response to the Philippine government's efforts to improve relations with China, but the US embassy denied the allegation, saying that what it had received were transcripts of the tapes and not the tapes themselves).

While in the 2009 cable Kenney may just be reporting to Washington information that had reached her, much of the discussion surrounding the former ambassador's diplomatic cables are about her impressions of President Noynoy Aquino, and especially the presidency of his mother, Corazon Aquino. According to Kenney, then- Senator Aquino "left the impression of a diffident, unassertive man continuing a political tradition handed on by his parents but not carving his own legacy...Unlike other major presidential candidates… Aquino was vague on specific policies he would pursue if he won office." In a cable sent to Washington shortly before Cory Aquino died, Kenney said, “Aquino’s credibility as a moral crusader was tarnished when she was seen with disgraced former President (Joseph) Estrada in protest movements against (then) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo— even after she had supported then Vice President Arroyo’s successful second People Power revolt in 2001 that ousted Estrada...Revered as a hero for taking the reins of power at a difficult moment in Philippine politics and at a time of great personal loss, President Aquino leaves behind an incomplete transition to democratic governance that, while marked by great personal freedom for Philippine citizens, never seems to have properly taken root in the institutions that must handle the difficult task of governing a diverse and divided society...(Aquino’s) moral leadership, while coming at an important time for the Philippines, never fully compensated for her weak leadership style.”

While some may see Kenney's report as an honest assessment of the Cory Aquino presidency, many also reacted negatively because they believe Kenney had been largely positive about her assessment of the Arroyo presidency.

Another leaked cable from Kenney, dated June 5, 2009, implies that the awarding of contract to Smartmatic for the counting machines used in the May 2010 elections, was anomalous. Wrote Kenney, "On the procedural side, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is poised to award a contract for a massive election automation scheme to supply over 82,000 optical scanning machines for use in every voting precinct. COMELEC continues to review the qualifications of the sole finalist in the bidding for the contract, the Dutch-Venezuelan consortium Smartmatic, which supplied the automation equipment for the 2008 elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. The four disqualified U.S. bidders expressed concern about perceived favoritism toward the finalist. During a test at COMELEC, Smartmatic's optical scanner burned due to improper wiring, while their paper ballots failed to meet bid specifications. The last U.S. firm in the running, ES&S, was eliminated based on alleged failure of the company to comply with a bid security payment of over 44 million pesos (USD 960,000). The outcome of the bidding process has raised some concerns about COMELEC's transparency as well as the
competence of the selected supplier."

Now the US ambassador to Thailand, Kenney has declined to address the contents of the leaked cables in deference to the present Ambassador to the Philippines, and as a matter of policy by the US government.

(Various news sources)