JJ Domingo is the first one to see this cable, but shared it with Ellen T. He would have wanted Blogwatch to be the first to break the story, but Ms. Ellen beat him to the story . this will be posted in Blogwatch.ph
by JJ Domingo
Online whistle-blower WikiLeaks has uploaded yet another extremely interesting classified report from the US Embassy in Manila. It links ex-President Fidel V. Ramos and former Speaker Jose de Venecia to Col. Moammar Qadaffi, Libya’s embattled eccentric strongman.
Not that there’s nothing new with Filipino politicians being linked with the Libyan colonel, of course. Filipino leaders from the time of President Marcos had long sought Qadaffi’s “good offices” in trying to bring peace to Mindanao. The 1996 Peace Agreement creating the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that President Ramos signed with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had been possible largely due to the Libyan dictator’s prodding. Also, De Venecia’s friendship with Qadaffi dates back to the 1970s, when his Landoil Corporation started operating in North Africa and the Middle East. The former speaker is in fact a trustee of the Qadaffi International Charity and Development Foundation as well. But the latest WikiLeaks revelations regarding the links between Qadaffi on one hand and De Venecia and Ramos on the other are, to say the least, quite incriminating.
The leaked US Embassy cable, dated July 1994, reported a meeting between academic Joel de los Santos, a retired professor at the De La Salle University and ex-consultant to the then National Security Adviser Gen. Jose Almonte, and the Embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Raymond Burghardt. In the said meeting, De los Santos, an expert on Islamic affairs, thoroughly discussed with Burghardt the intricacies of the Islamic rebellion in Mindanao, and gave the American diplomat an original copy of an analysis on the Mindanao peace process that General Almonte asked him to write. De los Santos’ characterization of the actors in the Mindanao rebellion was superb, and his analysis of the prospect of the peace process—he predicted that a peace agreement between the government and the MNLF will not lead to lasting peace—was excellent. But all these were overshadowed by the highly interesting revelations De los Santos made about the two founding fathers of the Lakas party.
De los Santos asserted that De Venecia is “a demagogic politician” who had made money by being “engaged in shady dealings in both Libya and Iraq involving construction contracts for his firm.” To “repay” his “Libyan benefactors,” the Speaker allegedly acted as “their front man and errand boy” in Manila. The cable also mentioned that the Embassy at that time had already “reported extensively on De Venecia’s efforts on behalf of Col. Qadaffi.” Also, De los Santos claimed that it’s a “well-kept secret” that President Ramos had received a total of five million pesos from the Libyan dictator to finance his presidential campaign in 1992. Allegedly, Qadaffi had wanted to use Ramos, a West Point graduate with excellent contacts in high places in America, “as a wedge to help end Libya’s diplomatic isolation in the West.”
Obviously, these revelations have serious implications. On the part of De Venecia, whose intimate relationships with both Qaddafi and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein are not unknown, De los Santos’ allegation reinforces his image as a shrewd politician whose questionable dealings with foreign powers border on treason. Remember the tripartite Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU)in the West Philippine Sea that the former speaker lobbied hard for? It remains to be one of the biggest of Manila’s foreign policy bungles. On the part of Ramos, on the other hand, being a recipient, if indeed he was, of campaign contributions from a foreigner, especially a foreign dictator, is not only a violation of the Omnibus Election Code, as veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas has noted, but also a very grave act of discretion that has national security implications.
But how credible are Prof. De los Santos’ assertions? Well, they are all hearsay until De los Santos can provide proof, of course. Moreover, there has been no report suggesting that Ramos, during his presidency, ever tried to make representations in the United States on Qadaffi’s behalf. Indeed, Libya’s “diplomatic isolation in the West” only partially ended years after Ramos had stepped down, and only after Qadaffi had made great overtures—agreeing to finally compensate the families of the victims of the plane his agents had blown up, helping Europe stem the flow of illegal African immigrants, and offering himself to America as a secular ally against Islamic extremism—to the Western powers.
However, there’s an interesting anecdote about Ramos that, perhaps until this WikiLeaks revelation, had not been sufficiently explained. In the middle of the 1992 campaign, Ramos and De Veneciamysteriously disappeared, eliciting speculations in the media. The Ramos camp was time tight-lipped about his absence throughout the campaign. It was only four years later, when Ramos was already president, that he confirmed that he and De Venecia had in fact gone to Libya to meet with the Colonel.
Ostensibly, the agenda of the meeting was peace in Mindanao, which Qadaffi was said to have been trying to broker. “I kept the Libyan card up my sleeve so to speak,” Ramos, according to an article by Newsbreak, wrote in his 1996 book Break Not The Peace. “I was to divulge the details and purpose of my 1992 trip to the public only when the peace agreement was fairly sure of success.” Skeptics, however, find it difficult to understanding why Ramos would abandon, even temporarily, his campaign to secretly talk about the Mindanao peace process with Qadaffi, especially since he was still fighting an election that at that point was still too close to call; and why Qadaffi would propose brokering peace with a man whose ascension to the presidency was not yet certain.
Indeed, as Newbreak’s Glenda Ramos noted, even some political allies of Ramos at the time quietly believed that the two Lakas heavyweights went to Libya to solicit campaign funds; something that, of course, Ramos and De Venecia would staunchly deny.
It would be interesting to see journalists and historians pursue this story. They should interview Prof. De los Santos; perhaps he has more to say. And while they’re at it, perhaps they can also ask the professor what his business sharing a government paper commissioned by the National Security Adviser himself with a foreign diplomat was.
JJ Domingo blogs at The Nutbox (@the_nutbox on Twitter).