Sep 152014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/12/07MANILA3947.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MANILA3947
2007-12-17 09:10
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9198
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 003947

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/17/2017
TAGS: KJUS MOPS PINS PTER RP
SUBJECT: ABU SAYYAF CONVICTIONS UNDERSCORE DETERMINATION TO FIGHT TERRORISM

REF: A. 3693 (SECURITY FORCES TAKE OUT TERRORISTS)
¶B. 3522 (SPECIAL OPS COMMAND SHOWCASES CAPABILITIES)
¶C. 3266 (POSITIVE CHANGES IN ARMED FORCES LEADERSHIP)
¶D. 2828 (MEASURED RESPONSE HELPING PEACE PROCESS)

Classified By: Amb. Kristie A. Kenney, reasons 1.4 b, d.

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: A Philippine judge handed out multiple
life sentences this month to 14 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
members convicted of kidnapping 20 persons, including U.S.
citizens Gracia and Martin Burnham and Guillermo Sobero, from
a resort in May 2001. The decision underscored the
government’s growing determination — and capability — to
combat terrorism on various fronts using the police and
military, the judicial system, peace negotiations and,
increasingly, development assistance. Far more than a legal
footnote, the decision is another important step forward in
the battle against terrorism in the Philippines. Working
closely with the U.S. and other governments, the Philippine
security forces have adopted the sophisticated use of many
tools and scored major successes against the ASG and Jemaah
Islamiyah (JI) terror groups in the six years since the
Burnham kidnapping — successes that have shifted the
landscape concretely in favor of the Philippine government.
With seven key terrorist leaders and over 200 other
terrorists captured or killed by Philippine forces since
August 2006 alone, the Philippine government has decimated
the leadership of the ASG and JI. Despite continued threats
and some setbacks, security forces are using their
capabilities in a coordinated fashion. Most recently, a
December 15 joint Philippine Navy and Marine operation on
Tawi Tawi killed senior Abu Sayyaf leader Mubin Abdurajak.
Although fighting between government forces and terrorist
elements continues in the Sulu archipelago, the combination
of military reform, carefully targeted and modulated security
actions, civil-military operations, infrastructure
development, and a steady commitment to peace talks with
Muslim insurgent groups has created an atmosphere in which it
is increasingly difficult for ASG and JI operatives to find
cover. END SUMMARY.

————————————
PHILIPPINE JUDICIARY SENDS A MESSAGE
————————————

¶2. (C) On December 6, 2007, a Philippine judge sentenced
14 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members convicted in the May 2001
kidnapping of 20 persons from the Palawan Dos Palmas resort
to 20 life sentences each (the Philippines abolished the
death penalty in 2006). Additionally, for U.S. missionariesQGraQa and Martin Burnham, the judge approved compensatory
damages of approximately USD 160,000 and USD 270,000
respectively. While it is unlikely the awards will be paid,
the amount of the damages, which are extremely large by
Philippine standards, underscores the weight the judge gave
to the case. The Burnhams were kidnapped by ASG members
while vacationing at the resort, with Martin Burnham being
killed in the subsequent 2002 rescue attempt. U.S. citizen
Guillermo Sobero was beheaded by the ASG during his
detention. The sentences, considered exceptionally harsh by
Philippine standards, came at the end of a four-year trial,
with some of the kidnappers convicted and sentenced in
absentia. Six years after the kidnapping, the court’s
decision was highlighted by the government as a signal that
terrorists will be punished for their acts. According to
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Chairman of the
Philippine Anti-Terrorism Council, 39 terrorists have been
convicted in the Philippines since 2003, the highest number
in the world.

—————————————–
STEADY PROGRESS IN NEUTRALIZING TERRORISTS
—————————————–

¶3. (C) When the Burnhams were kidnapped in 2001, the
Philippine military was mired in a mindset that responded to
terrorist threats in a disjointed fashion and hampered the
ability of the security forces to conduct effective combat
operations. Following a request by Philippine President
Gloria Arroyo to President Bush in 2001, U.S. Joint Task
Force 510, the predecessor to Joint Special Operations Task
Force-Philippines, was established in Mindanao and began to
work “by, with, and through” the Philippine armed forces to
identify, disrupt, and neutralize terrorists from the ASG and
Jemaah Islamiyah. The continuing presence of U.S. special
forces advisors, along with law enforcement and intelligence
agencies, in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago significantly
has improved the combat readiness and effectiveness of the

MANILA 00003947 002 OF 003

Philippine forces (ref B). In the last 16 months alone, and
acting frequently on information supplied by the U.S. and
other allies, Philippine security forces have killed or
captured seven key ASG leaders, including Khadaffy Janjalani,
Abu Sulaiman, Ismin Sahiron, and Abu Jandal. More than 200
ASG fighters have been killed or captured in the same period.
Since 2002, the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Council states
that 486 ASG members have been captured and 446 killed. This
success is reflected in greater security for public officials
in the Sulu Archipelago — although nine government officials
were killed in 2007, it is a dramatic reduction from the 196
killed in the previous six years.

¶4. (C) This success of the Philippine military in the Sulu
Archipelago may be forcing terrorist groups into alliances
that blur the lines of identity and allegiance between some
criminal and terrorist organizations — alliances that
require better coordination between Philippine police and
military units. In the aftermath of the bombing
assassination of Basilan Congressman Wahab Akbar in Manila,
an attack that Philippine security experts describe as a
local political grudge being settled in the capital, ASG
operatives and other criminal and political elements were
implicated in the plot. During a lightning-quick operation,
Philippine police and military elements cooperated seamlessly
to corner the bombers in Manila (ref A), resulting in the
capture of two suspects and the killing of two ASG members,
including Basilan sub-commander Abu Jandal.

¶5. (C) Such coordination between security forces was largely
unknown just three years ago, but firm political directives
from President Arroyo on down to integrate law enforcement
and military capabilities coupled with the appointment of
senior security officials who believe in putting aside turf
battles to achieve successes against terrorists, appear to be
paying dividends (ref C). In a separate incident, Philippine
police and military efforts disrupted an ASG cell operating
in Palawan that had planned to bomb targets in Puerto
Princesa in September 2007 and resulted in the arrest of all
seven Abu Sayyaf members involved with no casualties. Most
recently, a December 15 joint interagency operation involving
Philippine forces killed senior ASG leader Mobin Abdurajak
(a.k.a. Abdulmubin Sakandal) in a raid on Tawi Tawi island.
Sakandal was wanted by U.S. and Philippine authorities for
his role in the kidnapping of 21 people from a resort in
Sipadan, Malaysia, in 2000. Both Philippine and U.S.
authorities had offered a reward for information leading to
his capture.

————————–
COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH KEY
————————–

¶6. (C) Fighting between government forces and terrorist
elements continues in the Sulu archipelago — 55 Philippine
troops have been killed in 2007 — but Philippine forces have
shown increased discipline in the face of adversity. When 10
Philippine Marines were beheaded in July 2007 following a
firefight with the Abu Sayyaf on Basilan island, many feared
a campaign of reprisal with little regard for civilian
casualties would ensue (ref A). Instead, the armed forces
conducted a series of modulated offensives that targeted
terrorists involved in the atrocity but largely spared
civilians from the fighting. This restrained response in
combination with civil-military activities, infrastructure
development, and a steady commitment to a peace agreement
with Muslim insurgent groups has made it increasingly
difficult for Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah members to
operate and is hindering terrorist recruitment.

¶7. (C) At the same time, in a clear acknowledgement of the
success of U.S. military and USAID assistance programs, the
government has put new emphasis on humanitarian assistance
and established the National Development Support Command in
October (septel), a functional unit that will implement
civil-military operations throughout the Philippines as part
of the government’s more sophisticated approach to fighting
terrorism. Meanwhile, increased security in strife-torn
Mindanao has allowed the Philippine government more
flexibility in pursuing a peace process with the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF), Muslim separatists who have been
engaged in a bloody struggle against the government. In
Central Mindanao, for example, there have been no armed
engagements between the Philippine government and MILF forces
since June 2007, a development MILF officials attribute to
the increased use of “soft power” by the military and a
greater sensitivity to the impact military operations may
have on the peace process.

MANILA 00003947 003 OF 003

¶8. (C) COMMENT: The Philippines has made important
progress in the War on Terror, thanks in large part to
sustained and proactive U.S. involvement. Still, the
Philippine government has ground to cover in its fight to
eliminate terrorism and restore peace and security to
Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Public security remains a
challenge in that region — in 2007, 140 bombings occurred
throughout the country, which Philippine police categorized
as a mixture of terrorism, extortion, clan violence, and
political attacks. Despite extensive U.S involvement and
assistance, allegations of corruption and mismanagement
continue to plague the military, and the Philippine forces
periodically suffer high losses in combat with the ASG.
Nevertheless, continuing U.S. visibility in the form of
visits by the Ambassador, DCM, and high-ranking outside
visitors, along with the long-term presence of JUSMAG,
JSOTF-P, USAID, and other U.S. agencies is demonstrating the
U.S. government’s confidence in the Philippine approach. The
increased “jointness” of Philippine operations, a national
commitment to implement President Arroyo’s “humanitarian
offensive” to mitigate the conditions that breed terrorism,
and the realization that all roads should lead to a durable
peace are signs that a perceptible shift has occurred in the
Philippine philosophy to counterterrorism activities in the
last six years. We have witnessed tangible, meaningful
change in the Philippine resolve to restore peace and order
to the country. The challenge will be sustaining the
momentum. END COMMENT.
KENNEY

   

 

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