Oct 212014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/06/08MANILA1352.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA1352
2008-06-04 09:54
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO0793
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1352/01 1560954
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 040954Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0905
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 001352

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/04/2018
TAGS: PTER MOPS PINS RP
SUBJECT: BASILAN UNREST MIRRORS UNSETTLED PEACE PROCESS

REF: A. MANILA 1192 (FORMER MILITARY CHIEF TO HEAD PEACE
TALKS)
¶B. MANILA 1091 (CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE REMAINS KEY
ISSUE FOR MILF PEACE TALKS)
¶C. MANILA 0912 (KEY PEACE DOCUMENT UNDER LEGAL
REVIEW)
¶D. 2007 MANILA 3693 (SECURITY FORCES TAKE OUT
TERRORISTS SUSPECTED IN CONGRESSMAN’S
MURDER)
¶E. 2007 MANILA 2369 (ARROYO ORDERS RULE OF LAW FOR
PERPETRATORS OF BEHEADINGS)
¶F. 2007 MANILA 2503 (PRESERVING PEACE PROCESS IN
WAKE OF BEHEADINGS ON BASILAN)
¶G. 2007 MANILA 2344 (NEW MILF-AFP ENCOUNTER LEADS
TO BEHEADINGS

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: While the Philippine government continues to
reiterate its commitment to the Mindanao peace process, and a
ceasefire is largely holding in conflict-affected areas of
Mindanao, Malaysian-facilitated peace talks between
government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have
been on hold since December and elements on both sides appear
to be getting restive. Reminiscent of violence that flared
in July 2007 when Philippine Marines were ambushed and
mutilated in Basilan, there has been an uptick in
confrontations between Muslim insurgent groups and Marines
who have taken over command on the island, where complex
tribal and familial ties run deep between insurgent and
terrorist bands. Discussions in Kuala Lumpur appear unlikely
to resume before the end of the month at the earliest, as
newly named government Peace Advisor Hermogenes Esperon
remains on leave until mid-June and the Philippine Cabinet
continues to seek a workable constitutional formula for the
proposed Muslim autonomous region. The Ambassador and senior
USG visitors, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman
and the PACOM commander, have underscored to government and
military officials the need for moving negotiations forward.
END SUMMARY.

—————–
At the Crossroads
—————–

¶2. (C) Tipo Tipo, on the island of Basilan, lies at the
crossroads of the Mindanao peace process. The municipality
remains a sanctuary for members of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf
Group (ASG), and the sole location in the Sulu Archipelago
where the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) maintains a
significant presence. Tribal and familial ties often run
deep between ASG and MILF personalities within this
conflict-affected area. Moreover, the MILF communities there
hold a political significance out of proportion to their
size, as central Mindanao-based MILF leaders hope to use this
small MILF presence as the basis for including Basilan and
the rest of the Sulu Archipelago in a new Muslim political
entity.

—————
Gruesome Symbol
—————

¶3. (C) This same area of Basilan holds powerful symbolic
meaning for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), as the
site of the bloody armed clash on July 10, 2007, that killed
14 Philippine Marines — 10 of whom were beheaded, presumably
by ASG members, though that has never been conclusively
determined (ref g). In the immediate aftermath of the July
10 incident, then-AFP Chief of Staff General Hermogenes
Esperon and National Security Advisor Norberto Gonzales
planned sweep operations against those suspected of
committing the beheadings, but their plan was overruled by
President Gloria Arroyo to preserve the MILF peace process
(ref e). Frustrated over their inability to quickly and
decisively eliminate all of the suspected perpetrators, the
Philippine Marines were restricted to conducting periodic
“surgical operations” against specific targets, including ASG
Commander Furuji Indama.

————–
Latest Clashes
————–

¶4. (C) On May 15, fighting erupted between Philippine troops
and MILF forces near Tipo Tipo. While there were no
casualties, MILF Peace Panel Chairman Mohagher Iqbal charged
that Philippine forces risked renewed hostilities —
including a possible repeat of the July 10 incident —

MANILA 00001352 002 OF 003

because of what he called the failure of Philippine military
forces to coordinate their troop movements through MILF
communities. In a more deadly clash, the ASG fought May 25
with a detachment of Philippine Marines, leaving 17 Marines
wounded and two Muslim rebels dead, including ASG Commander
Indama’s first cousin. Several days later, the AFP fired
howitzer rounds at Muslim rebel camps near Tipo Tipo further
escalating tensions with the MILF. The AFP and MILF have
since filed protests with the Coordinating Committee for the
Cessation of Hostilities for ceasefire violations. Over 400
families were displaced from their homes during the fighting,
and tensions remain high in the area.

—————–
A Deadly Backdrop
—————–

¶5. (C) The political backdrop for the instability that
continues to plague the Tipo-tipo area is a bitter conflict
between two powerful political interests, the formidable
Akbar family and former Basilan Congressman Gerry Salapuddin.
The Akbar clan emerged victorious in hotly contested
national and regional elections on Basilan last year, as clan
leader Wahab Akbar took Salapuddin’s former congressional
seat and his wife, Jum Akbar, dealt a humiliating defeat to
Salapuddin in the gubernatorial election. The Akbar clan was
quick to tag Salapuddin as the mastermind behind the November
13, 2007, bombing at the Philippine Congress that killed
Wahab Akbar (ref d), and alleged that ASG members in the Tipo
Tipo area were among Salapuddin’s co-conspirators.

————————–
MILF Peace Process Stalled
————————–

¶6. (C) Meanwhile, peace talks between the Philippine
government and MILF remain stalled, and no date has been set
for resumption of negotiations in Kuala Lumpur. Manila is
having difficulty in balancing concerns about the
constitutionality of a proposed peace deal with the
insurgents’ demands for greater autonomy and a larger share
of resources and revenues. Government negotiators have told
us for many weeks that the government’s legal review of a
draft territorial agreement is nearly complete. They now say
provisions related to territory, natural resources, and
governance will require constitutional amendments. An
official commented that, “The MILF will just have to
understand and accept the constitutional process with which
the government must comply,” but acknowledged that breaking
the stalemate with the MILF over the constitutional issue
will be difficult.

¶7. (C) Separately, a MILF peace panel member told us the
MILF remains firmly opposed to a constitutional process and
will not compromise on this issue, based on the Tripoli
Agreement of 2001, in which the MILF and Philippine
government agreed not to raise the issues of Moro
independence nor constitutional processes in the peace talks.
Our MILF contact suggested that while President Arroyo may
be sincere in wanting to reach a peace agreement before her
term ends in 2010, she was hamstrung by impeachment concerns,
hardline Cabinet members, and special interests, and might
leave a peace agreement to her successor.

——-
Comment
——-

¶8. (C) Basilan’s volatile mix of military, political and
social tension does not always end in conflict. In the
aftermath of last year’s Marine beheadings, President Arroyo
chose not to react with overwhelming force, as some in the
military and government advocated, but employ a more
sophisticated mix of judicial action, economic aid and more
targeted military action to resolve the situation. We will
continue to impress upon senior-most Philippine officials —
as well as MILF leadership — the fundamental importance of
reaching a comprehensive, workable peace agreement that
brings stability to Mindanao. In the past few weeks, the
Ambassador has pressed this point home with all of President
Arroyo’s closest advisors. Recent high-level U.S. visitors,
including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mullen and
PACOM Commander Admiral Keating, have also reiterated the
importance of a balanced strategy of negotiation, economic
assistance and targeted military action in resolving the
insurgencies — and ending terrorism — in Mindanao. The
negotiating ball has been in the government’s court since
February, and the lack of progress has already led to an
uptick in violence. We will continue to press for forward
movement so that the Armed Forces of the Philippines can stay

MANILA 00001352 003 OF 003

focused on high value terrorists while maintaining peace with
the Muslim insurgents.

KENNEY

   

 

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