Cablegate: A View From Manila's Streets: General Pessimism

Published: Wed 16 Nov 2005 07:41 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
B. MANILA 4662
1. (U) This message is Sensitive but Unclassified -- Please
protect accordingly.
2. (SBU) Summary: Poloff and Pol FSN visited a poor
neighborhood in Manila on November 14 to canvass views about
residents' lives, politics and the U.S. Filipinos on the
streets were generally pessimistic about their situation.
They viewed politicians as corrupt and indifferent to the
pressing needs of the poor. The U.S. was viewed favorably.
The sample, while by no means representative, with only
about 15 people who were interviewed, highlighted a
continued disconnect between citizens and those in power in
the Philippines which shows up in more formal surveys. End
Walkabout Near the Port
3. (U) On November 14, Poloff and Pol FSN visited a poor
neighborhood in the Port area of Manila to listen to the
views of ordinary Filipinos. Some of the interviewees in
this old, busy area with narrow streets made a living as
casual laborers, including at the docks. A handful were
operators of small "sari-sari" stores that sell cigarettes
and candy. Many were squatters, living in clapboard
structures huddled up against the streets, whose families
had migrated to Manila from rural areas, mostly on Luzon
Island. Poloff and Pol FSN interviewed around 15 men and
women with ages ranging from 17 to 55.
Pessimistic About Future
4. (U) All the interviewees were pessimistic about their
own and their families' future. They complained about the
high price of essential items, the lack of jobs, and -- for
those with some form of employment -- about inadequate
incomes. Several "sari-sari" operators said their sales had
fallen in recent months. Two men who claimed to have jobs
with the city government, but who appeared to be unoccupied,
said their salaries were too small to meet their families'
basic needs given recent price increases. Several laborers,
who had not found work that day, related that their children
could not find jobs though they (the children) had gone
through high school. One said his son had even graduated
from a college and still could not find a job. Given the
option, most would gladly leave the Philippines and work
abroad. Some noted that they might depart Manila and go
back to their home areas if things did not change for the
The Politicians: Power-Hungry and Corrupt
5. (SBU) Residents of the neighborhood were uniformly
cynical about politicians and Filipino politics in general.
Politicians "forget their campaign promises" immediately
after elections and only have "personal agendas,"
interviewees asserted. They all criticized political
bickering and said they wanted politicians to stop the
attacks because it "only hurts us." They felt that
politicians were seeking political and financial gain
instead of trying to help the poor. No one could name a
politician that they believed was really both competent and
honest. "They're all the same," was a common refrain, and
one man said he had stopped voting in elections because of
this. Several passionately denounced corrupt politicians
and corruption in government, and asserted that this was the
most significant problem in the Philippines. "Corruption,
corruption, corruption!" exclaimed one neighborhood resident
several times. A man who was listening in on the
conversation expressed his apparently hopeless perspective
by declaiming, "If I could sell the Philippines, I would,"
and walked away.
6. (SBU) Almost every person interviewed was dissatisfied
with President Arroyo and her administration. A few
vehemently accused her of corruption. By and large,
however, no one could suggest a suitable replacement -- a
person that they would prefer as president. Most felt that
there was no choice but Arroyo, even if they did not really
like her. "Can we borrow Bush for five years?" one man
asked, apparently referring to the roughly five years
remaining in Arroyo's term, which ends in 2010. Some of the
interviewees felt that Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and his
administration were doing an adequate job in delivering
7. (SBU) Residents were either indifferent to the proposals
for Constitutional change or felt that it would not make a
difference in national politics or in their day-to-day life.
(Note: Per Ref B, most of the Constitutional change
proposals seek to create a unicameral parliamentary system
with an executive prime minister, replacing the current
bicameral system and its executive president. End Note.)
Most did not really appear to understand what exactly the
proposals were, or how a parliamentary system of government
would differ from the current system. "Nothing will
change," said one person in reference to the proposals,
summing up the general mood of the interviewees.
Positive About the U.S.
8. (SBU) When asked what they thought about the U.S.,
everyone was upbeat. They viewed the U.S. as both a friend
and an ally, and felt the U.S. presence in the Philippines
was beneficial. One man specifically mentioned the
assistance provided through USAID. Another man was thankful
to the U.S. for fighting the Japanese during World War II.
"Make us one of your states," said another, only half in
jest, while another nodded vigorously in agreement. None
made any reference to the case of the U.S. Marines recently
accused of rape in the Subic Bay area (Ref A), which has
received much recent press coverage.
9. (SBU) The sample, while by no means representative,
highlighted a continued disconnect between citizens and
those in power in the Philippines which shows up in more
formal surveys (including in a report issued this month by
the Department's Office of Research entitled "Filipinos: All
Stressed Out and Nowhere to Go"). Despite the pessimism and
the cynicism, no one was inclined toward radicalism of any
sort; no one expressed support for the left, for example.
The views about the U.S. were heartening -- with these
Filipinos the U.S. was seen decidedly as a force for good in
the world, a view that in general also shows up in more
formal surveys of Filipinos.
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