WikiLeaks cables: US denied hand in Arroyo wiretapping scandal

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Sep 13 2011 12:40 AM | Updated as of Sep 13 2011 01:34 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The US embassy in Manila washed its hands clean of involvement in the wiretapping and electoral fraud scandal involving then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in 2004, a diplomatic cable released by anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks said.

Cable 05MANILA2626 dated June 6, 2005, revealed that then Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye met with the embassy's public affairs (PA) counselor to discuss reports that the US government provided Philippine opposition leaders with the wiretapped recordings, which are more known as the "Hello Garci" tapes. 

"PA Counselor dismissed this claim.  Bunye also asked whether the USG was angry with the GRP for trying to improve relations with China.  PA Counselor replied that this claim was wholly unfounded," said the cable, signed in the name of then US Ambassador to the Philippines Joseph Mussomeli.

The cable said embassy officials reiterated the denial in media interviews and in meetings with other government officials.

"Philippine Ambassador to the US Albert Del Rosario, who is in Manila, also requested clarification from the Charge on June 4 about allegations that a USG official had provided the tape to the opposition.  Charge [chargé d'affaires] denied the claim and reiterated US support for democracy and stability in the Philippines.  National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Reynaldo Wycoco also brought up the allegations in a June 5 meeting with Legatt [legal attaché]. Legatt also dismissed the claims," the cable said.

The confidential memo said the US embassy was also in the dark on who created the recordings.

"We are not sure of the precise origin tape itself, much less of the wild charge that the USG was somehow involved in this matter," it said. 

'I am sorry'

Another confidential cable, 05MANILA2970, dated June 28, 2005, discussed Arroyo's apology on national television over the wiretapped conversations that allegedly discussed rigging the 2004 elections.

"In a brief national address on June 27, a subdued President Arroyo admitted that a taped telephone conversation with an election official last year was 'a lapse in judgment' and said 'I am sorry.'  Asked subsequently for media comment, Charge underscored that the USG supports transparency, accountability, and the rule of law," the memo said.

Quoting unnamed US embassy contacts, the cable said "former President Corazon Aquino and Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales pushed Arroyo during a June 26 meeting at Malacanang Palace to explain herself publicly -- or resign."

The 2 leaders allegedly indicated that they would withdraw their support if Arroyo did not come clean in public before the funeral of Cardinal Jaime Sin on June 28. 

The cable also said that a key Arroyo ally, Congressman Jesli Lapus who chaired of the House Ways and Means Committee, told US embassy officials "that Cabinet members had reportedly already convinced Arroyo also to ask her husband Mike to leave the country for an undetermined timeframe, and to convince her son Mikey and brother-in-law Iggy to resign from Congress due to reports linking them to jueteng (illegal gambling) profiteering."

The former First Gentleman last week reiterated his denial of involvement in illegal gambling syndicates.

He described the diplomatic cables' allegations as "baseless and malicious."

He was referring to cable 05MANILA2670, which alleged that the President knew of her husband's "heavy involvement" in smuggling and illegal gambling syndicates but refused to stop him because he got her elected.

Meanwhile, cable 05MANILA2970 said Arroyo's apology "may have bought some time."

No one has been put to jail over the wiretapping scandal, as well as the alleged poll fraud committed in 2004.

'Project Lighthouse'

A former agent of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) has claimed that the Philippine military was behind the wiretapping.

Technical Sergeant Vidal Doble said he was part of an ISAPF group that wiretapped phone conversations of high-profile personalities as part of the so-called "Project Lighthouse."

He insists that the conversations between Garcillano and former President Arroyo of plans to cheat in the 2004 polls are true.

The Aquino administration has offered to protect Garcillano if he reveals everything that he knows about fraud in the 2004 elections.

However, the former Comelec official has rejected the Palace offer.