Oct 262014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/11/08MANILA2488.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA2488
2008-11-04 09:37
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO2448
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DE RUEHML #2488/01 3090937
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 040937Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2293
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 002488

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/04/2018
TAGS: PGOV EAID PINR PREL PHUM KISL RP
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR URGES RAPID RESOLUTION TO MINDANAO MILITARY OPERATIONS

REF: MANILA 2365 – PEACE PROCESS BATTERED BUT NOT
BURIED

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney,
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: Philippine Peace Process Advisor Hermogenes
Esperon emphasized to the Ambassador over a private breakfast
November 3 that President Arroyo remained committed to
achieving a durable peace deal with the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF) before her term ends in 2010, or at a
minimum, making significant progress that her successor could
build on. Esperon said that he maintained backchannel
dialogue with the Moslem insurgents, and that he had almost
wrapped up consultations with local government officials whom
the President had vowed to reach out to as a first step in
reviving the stalled peace talks. The Ambassador pressed hard
on the difficult humanitarian situation facing civilians
displaced from their homes by the ongoing military operations
to capture rogue insurgent commanders suspected in savage
attacks in August. She stressed the need to return displaced
persons to their homes before sanitation problems and disease
broke out in their temporary camps, and urged that the
government consolidate its battlefield successes by
undertaking increased civil-military operations, or risk the
ire of the displaced population. Esperon took note of these
comments, and acknowledged that the prolonged search for the
rogue commanders would have a corrosive effect on government
budgets, military morale, civilian trust and international
opinion. End Summary.

FIRST STEPS BACK TO NEGOTIATING TABLE
————————————-

¶2. (C) In a private November 3 breakfast conversation with
Ambassador, Presidential Peace Advisor Hermogenes Esperon
stressed that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo remained
firmly committed to attaining significant progress toward a
peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and
was not content to let the current hiatus last until the end
of her term in 2010. Even if a “100 percent” deal could not
be achieved, President Arroyo wanted to ensure there was
clear progress toward peace that could be handed on to her
successor. Esperon’s assessment of the MILF’s position was
less positive, saying that the MILF still took as the
starting point for any renewed talks the aborted memorandum
of agreement on territory that the Supreme Court recently
declared unconstitutional (reftel). This was unworkable for
the government, Esperon said, but communication had not
broken down completely, as he maintained some backchannel
discussions with the MILF, which was still interested in
ensuring that assistance projects such as clinics and roads
continued in their areas.

¶3. (C) Esperon outlined progress in attaining some key goals
set by the President as important steps toward restarting
peace talks. He explained that he had recently finished
discussions with local government leaders, who had complained
that they were not previously consulted about the abortive
territorial agreement. President Arroyo was also considering
whether to name Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as the head of
the government’s peace panel, which represents the government
in the peace negotiations. Esperon voiced optimism that he
could wrap up by December all the consultations promised by
the President with NGOs, church leaders and other interested
parties.

OPERATIONS SAP BUDGETS, EVENTUALLY MORALE
—————————————–

¶4. (C) Ending the ongoing military operations in Central
Mindanao and returning the tens of thousands of persons
displaced by the fighting was an important task, Esperon
acknowledged, but hardliners in the military and the
government continued to see the current military effort as a
way to diminish the military capacity of the MILF and keep
the insurgents off balance. President Arroyo had set as a
clear goal the capture of the rogue MILF commanders who had
carried out savage attacks in early August when the
memorandum of agreement began to unravel. The military
leadership was determined to continue the hunt for the
commanders, even if it no longer served a broader strategic
purpose. Esperon went on to suggest that the situation of
internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mindanao was not as
bad as some painted, but insisted that he had stressed to his
former colleagues at the top of the military hierarchy that
the continued operations were costing the military and the

MANILA 00002488 002 OF 002

nation significant sums, and that anger against the military
was building among the IDPs. The military operations in
Mindanao had also depleted troops and resources in other
parts of the country, giving the communist New People’s Army
openings to make mischief, particularly in the Visayas.
Troop morale would likely begin to suffer if they continued
their hunt for the rogue MILF commanders into the Christmas
season.

PRESSING ON WORSENING IDP SITUATION
———————————–

¶5. (C) The Ambassador pressed Esperon hard on the continued
fighting in central Mindanao, saying that while the
Philippine military had made progress in its efforts to
weaken the rogue MILF military commands, continuing to focus
on the tactical goal of capturing the commanders risked a
larger strategic failure if the military alienated the tens
of thousands of civilians who had been driven from their
homes by the fighting. While the Philippine armed forces had
successfully driven MILF fighters from key areas, they had
not consolidated those gains by returning civilians to their
villages and carrying out civil-military projects to help
them rebuild their lives and livelihoods. With this upper
hand, the armed forces could declare a ceasefire and end the
fighting, enabling the government to move forward with peace
talks. Otherwise, the military risked losing their
credibility with the local population if they failed to
follow up on their battlefield successes. Moreover, the
international community was increasingly concerned by
continued reports of displaced civilians and the potential
for sanitation and health problems in several of the crowded
IDP camps. The U.S. recently approved an additional $300,000
in emergency aid to help alleviate such problems, but this
was not a viable long-term situation, the Ambassador
stressed.

¶6. (C) Esperon suggested weakly that there was a “defacto”
ceasefire in Mindanao, “except for a few areas,” but also
acknowledged the importance of having the Philippine military
undertake more civil-military projects to help displaced
persons. He made a note for himself to discuss this further
with General Alexander Yano, his successor as armed forces
chief of staff. Esperon said that the government was seeking
advice from outside experts with experience in the Aceh and
Northern Ireland peace processes. While agreeing that
learning about other situations was useful, Ambassador
cautioned Esperon not to rely too much on these two examples,
since the situations were different in each case. She warned
against getting distracted away from the goal of achieving
peace with a detailed study of other conflicts.
KENNEY

   

 

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