US rebuffed Gloria Arroyo on martial law plan
In the midst of the “Hello Garci” controversy in 2005, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reportedly considered declaring martial law and gave “a defiant stare” at a US official who told her that Washington could not go along with the plan.
A series of purported confidential US Embassy cables released by the antisecrecy network WikiLeaks during the weekend revealed Washington’s moves to dissuade Arroyo from clamping martial law two decades after the dismantling of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.
WikiLeaks uploaded on its website more than 2,000 sensitive memos said to have come from the US Embassy in Manila out of a cache of 250,000 from American diplomatic missions worldwide that has sparked consternation but official silence from Washington.
Asked for comment, US Embassy spokesperson Tina Malone told the Inquirer: “We do not comment on the substance or authenticity of the materials, including allegedly classified documents, which may have been leaked.”
One supposedly secret memo to the US Department of State talked of a Philippine aide memoir which claimed that political destabilizers had forged an alliance with communists and al-Qaida-linked terrorists to remove Arroyo and that this required either emergency rule or martial law.
Arroyo was then battling for political survival following revelations in wiretapped conversations with an election commissioner, Virgilio Garcillano, that she stole the 2004 presidential election—a charge she denies.
The memo said that in a one-on-one meeting on Nov. 7, 2005, on the margins of a courtesy call by a US aid official, then US Chargé d’Affaires Paul Jones told Arroyo that Washington “did not share the analysis in the aide memoir or believe circumstances would justify extreme measures.”
“President Arroyo appeared somewhat nonplussed, but responded only that she was ‘so sorry to hear’ this,” according to the paper.
In another meeting with Arroyo on Nov. 11, visiting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Eric John said that “the invocation of emergency measures could trigger a review of US defense-related and other assistance to the Philippines,” according to another WikiLeaks document.
“The President responded only with a defiant stare,” the paper said.
Raul Lambino, an Arroyo spokesperson, declined comment on the papers. He said he had yet to speak to his client, who was only discharged recently from the hospital after undergoing an operation.
Prone to panicking
Confidential US Embassy background memos for US officials visiting Manila during the “Hello Garci” controversy and reported attempts by the Arroyo administration to declare martial law and by her opponents to foment a coup d’etat outlined Washington’s position.
The memos noted a year earlier that the Arroyo administration had to cope with terrorist assaults, referring to the SuperFerry bombing that left over 100 people dead and the Valentine’s Day bomb attacks that killed eight people and wounded scores.
“Amid these challenges, President Arroyo is fighting for her political life, as she struggles to cope with allegations she engaged in cheating to win the 2004 presidential elections,” one memo said.
The memo stressed US concerns that the declaration of martial law would splinter the military and police, and affect Washington’s counterterrorism activities in the Philippines.
It also said that such a move would “undermine nascent reform efforts currently underway, intensify economic problems, fuel the communist insurgency and plunge the country into turmoil.”
US Embassy officials worried that Arroyo was “prone to panicking and making things worse” and warned of “new distractions” in the following year, according to a 2005 memo.
Then National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales was among Arroyo’s advisers who passionately argued for the declaration of martial law, according to the cables.
Gonzales reportedly believed that “the government was already under siege by communists, terrorists and political opponents.”
Gonzales on Tuesday denied in a phone interview with the Inquirer ever recommending the declaration of martial law. He said the constitutional provision for emergency rule had “no teeth.”
“I never considered it,” Gonzales said. “I never recommended it. I’m not in favor of it.” He said he found the WikiLeaks documents “amusing.”
Gonzales was on the phone to the US Embassy to alert its officials just hours before Arroyo finally decided to declare a state of emergency on Feb. 24, 2006, according to a WikiLeaks paper.
Arroyo’s emergency declaration, citing a leftist and rightist conspiracy to oust her, lasted for a week and led to the arrest of over a dozen soldiers and civilians.
The Supreme Court on May 3 upheld the legality of the emergency action, but said that a clause in the declaration giving Arroyo decree-making powers similar to those exercised by Marcos was unconstitutional.
Clampdown on media
Another supporter of Arroyo’s emergency measure was then House Speaker Jose de Venecia, according to another WikiLeaks document. De Venecia reportedly spoke to Chargé d’Affaires Paul Jones just days before the emergency was declared.
“In a tone of friendly exasperation, JDV told the Chargé that ‘emergency rule’ was needed to deal with the threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA), but the US ‘keeps saying no.’ JDV said the government needed special powers to arrest individuals in the media and elsewhere who are paid and controlled by the NPA, but he left the clear impression that the idea of ‘emergency rule’ was dead,” the memo said.
De Venecia “claimed that much of President Arroyo’s inability to gain popular support was due to antipathy toward her husband, Mike Arroyo, who is perceived as involved in corruption and gambling. Whatever happens, he concluded, Arroyo will never give up power before 2010,” according to the cable.
In an article in the Inquirer on Aug. 13, 2009, then Ambassador Albert F. del Rosario said that De Venecia came to Washington and indicated that Malacañang had “empowered him to ask if we could defend for them the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.”
“Taken aback, I could only ask why. The Speaker responded that it was to be used against certain members of the political opposition,” said Del Rosario, who is now the foreign secretary of the Aquino administration.
Malacañang denied Del Rosario’s claim at that time, calling it “hearsay.”
The Inquirer attempted to get De Venecia’s comment on this article, but he was out of the country. With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Christine O. Avendaño, Nancy C. Carvajal and Lawrence de Guzman, Inquirer research
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