Oct 242014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/08/09MANILA1843.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA1843
2009-08-28 09:51
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 001843

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/25/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS RP
SUBJECT: CONTENTIOUS VFA HEARING REVIVES CRITICISM OF U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE

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

SUMMARY
——-

¶1. (C) Critics of the U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces
Agreement (VFA) turned out in force for an August 27
oversight hearing chaired by one of the Philippines most
strident and thorny politicians, Senator Miriam Defensor
Santiago. The hearing came in response to a New York Times
article that stated that the U.S. Department of Defense had
decided to extend the deployment of the 600-member Joint
Special Operations Task Force Philippines (JSOTF-P). The
story received widespread negative coverage in the
Philippines, prompting Arroyo administration officials to
defend JSOTF-P’s mission in the face of questions from
legislators and other critics about the constitutionality of
the Task Force’s deployment and U.S. intentions. The
Ambassador and other Mission members worked closely with
Philippine government officials to help them craft a strong
defense of our bilateral security pact, and gave extensive
press interviews to counter misperceptions about U.S.
intentions fostered by leftist activists. These developments
have increased the unfortunate possibility that our military
engagement with the Philippines could become an issue in the
2010 elections. End Summary.

WAKING THE DRAGON
—————–

¶2. (SBU) The Philippine press has extensively covered an
August 20 New York Times article reporting that Defense
Secretary Gates had decided to continue the deployment of the
600-member Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines
(JSOTF-P). Several senior Philippine officials told Post
that the news of an extension of JSOTF-P’s deployment came as
a surprise because they had not been told the USG was
reviewing the deployment. Arroyo administration officials,
including Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Office of the
President Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, used the VFA
oversight hearing and press interviews to vigorously defend
the USG military presence in the southern Philippines and
explain JSOTF-P’s limited role. Other high-profile
politicians and media commentators skeptically questioned the
constitutionality of JSOTF-P’s multi-year deployment, the
scope and intentions of JSOTF-P activities, and the extent of
U.S. respect for Philippine sovereignty. The leftist umbrella
organization Bayan Muna staged a small anti-VFA demonstration
in front of the Embassy August 25.

CALLS FOR ABROGATION
——————–

¶3. (C) Philippine Senator Miriam Santiago, one of the
Philippines’ most vociferous and domineering politicians, was
among the leading skeptics. As co-chair of the bicameral
Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces
Agreement, Santiago previously threatened to hold hearings
that would air public criticism of the VFA. Philippine
government contacts had indicated that Santiago’s inclusion
in President Arroyo’s July visit to Washington had reduced
the likelihood of such hearings, as Santiago heard firsthand
of the importance of our security relationship during the
Oval Office meeting.

¶4. (SBU) Reacting to the New York Times article, however,
Santiago quickly scheduled a VFA oversight hearing on August
27, inviting top Philippine Government officials, academics,
and NGO activists, many of whom hold strong anti-American
views. Senator Santiago criticized the U.S. deployment,
charging that the U.S. aimed to use the Philippines for “a
defense ring against China” and was interested in Mindanao’s
petroleum and natural gas resources. She argued that the
“global war on terrorism is purely an American concern, and
is not part of the VFA,” and said the Philippines “should
just abrogate the (VFA) and then renegotiate something else.”

¶5. (SBU) Senator Santiago expressed disagreement with the
Supreme Court’s decisions holding that the VFA is
constitutional. Several academics shared Santiago’s
sentiment, and former Senate President Jovito Salonga, joined
by left-wing activist groups like Bayan Muna and Gabriela,
once again petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its
February decision that affirmed the constitutionality of the
VFA. At the oversight hearing, the leftist advocates alleged

MANILA 00001843 002 OF 003

that U.S. forces participated in Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) combat operations; they also characterized
U.S. facilities in Mindanao as permanent structures, if not
bases, and called for renegotiation or abrogation of the VFA.

MODERATES WAVER
—————

¶6. (C) Even some more moderate politicians who have generally
supported the VFA appeared to waver. House of
Representatives member (and oversight committee co-chair)
Antonio Cuenco said the House was not ready to support
abrogation of the VFA but was open to renegotiating the
agreement. Senator Rodolfo Biazon, a former chief of staff
of the armed forces, acknowledged that the Senate lacked the
authority to abrogate the VFA, but said there was growing
public sentiment in favor of such a move. Biazon also
indicated the U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty might
warrant review. Senator Joker Arroyo called for all
presidential candidates in the 2010 election to disclose
their views on the VFA.

¶7. (SBU) The VFA has drawn additional public attention
because of well-publicized allegations by a former soldier,
Nancy Gadian, who claimed that American troops engaged in
combat operations in the Philippines. She admitted publicly
that she had no direct knowledge of this, but had heard the
claim from members of the Magdalo group, military officers
who carried out the abortive Oakwood mutiny in 2003. Gadian
also alleged that U.S. troops commonly availed of
prostitutes’ services. Senator Francis Pangilinan called for
abrogation of the VFA, saying that Americans were not only
“embedded in the AFP” but also were “in bed with Filipinas.”

STRONG DEFENSE OF THE VFA
————————-

¶8. (SBU) Weeks of active outreach by the Ambassador and other
Mission members to help prepare Philippine government
officials for the eventuality of a VFA hearing clearly had a
positive impact. Cabinet Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita,
Acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, Department of
Foreign Affairs Undersecretaries Enrique Manalo and Edilberto
Adan, and Department of National Defense (DND) Undersecretary
Alberto Valenzuela had well-rehearsed presentations bolstered
by numerous examples of tangible benefits brought by the VFA.
They stressed the importance of the U.S. as a partner
helping the government with counterterrorism efforts,
training of the AFP, and development of Mindanao and other
areas. U/S Adan emphasized that American soldiers were not
involved in combat operations and only advised and trained
their counterparts. He added that local governments have
expressed appreciation for the humanitarian assistance
accompanying U.S.-Philippine military exercises. Zamboanga
Mayor Celso Lobregat was a good case in point, as he spoke
supportively of the VFA and reminded legislators that they
had visited U.S. facilities and seen for themselves that they
were not bases.

¶9. (SBU) Devanadera and the DND U/S Valenzuela emphasized the
constitutionality of the VFA and the legality of U.S. forces’
activities. Summing up, Ermita said, “It is in the interest
of the Philippines that we have the VFA, an agreement falling
under the Mutual Defense Treaty. It provides the proper
security balance and stability in the Philippines.”

“OUT FOR LEFTIST VOTE”
———————-

¶10. (C) In a breakfast meeting with the Ambassador August 28
(septel), Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro
criticized Senator Santiago’s “obnoxious” statements, and
posited that the Senator had held the hearings to garner
left-wing support — both financing and votes — for her
anticipated Senate reelection bid next May. Teodoro said
that Santiago had found U.S.-bashing useful, as it brought
her money from the Left and face time with the media.
Teodoro also dismissed the accusations by Nancy Gadian,
saying that the military was weighing legal action against
her as she was not officially retired from the Navy and was
still subject to military discipline.

ACTIVE MEDIA ENGAGEMENT
———————–

¶11. (SBU) While the VFA hearing generated banner headlines

MANILA 00001843 003 OF 003

highlighting the calls for abrogation of the treaty and
featured pictures of heavily armed U.S. forces, proactive
press outreach by the Ambassador and senior Mission members
ensured that U.S. views were prominently featured as well.
The Ambassador stressed repeatedly that U.S. forces are here
at the invitation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and
that as long as the Philippine government believes the U.S.
is playing an important role, “We’re an ally and we’re
staying. We’ll not be in combat.”

COMMENT
——-

¶12. (C) The New York Times article was unfortunate, both in
prompting the August 27 hearings and in feeding a false
perception that the Philippine Government has little or no
input regarding JSOTF-P’s deployment. The hearing offered a
platform for opponents of the U.S. military presence to air
their views and increased the likelihood that our military
engagement with the Philippines will be a high-profile issue
in the 2010 election.
KENNEY

   

 

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