Oct 272014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/03/08MANILA691.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA691
2008-03-17 08:56
2011-08-30 01:44
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO6596
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #0691/01 0770856
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 170856Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0179
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000691

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR EAP/MTS
PASS TO PEACE CORPS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: MOPS PINS PTER RP
SUBJECT: DCM’S VISIT TO STRATEGIC PALAWAN PROFILES RANGE OF U.S. ASSISTANCE

¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The DCM’s March 3-4 visit to Palawan, a
island province stretching to Malaysia, showcased a wide
range of U.S. activities, including construction of a new
schoolhouse by U.S. and Philippine militaries on a remote
island prone to terrorist recruitment; Peace Corps
engagement; USAID environmental programs; and a new
initiative to dramatically improve the capability of
Philippine maritime police. Local elected officials, the
Philippine National Police, and the Philippine Armed Forces
all welcomed growing U.S. assistance in this strategic
province. During media interviews that received wide
regional coverage, the DCM reinforced the U.S. commitment to
help communities throughout the Philippines achieve better
governance, public security, and prosperity. END SUMMARY.

PALAWAN: THE PHILIPPINES’ LAST FRONTIER
—————————————–

¶2. (SBU) Palawan is the Philippines’ largest province in
land area and has a population of approximately 800,000.
With its pristine waters and lush forests, Palawan has been
called the Philippines’ “last frontier” and is renowned for
its physical beauty. International organizations have
recognized its environmental significance, designating two
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the province. With a young
and fast growing population, large mineral reserves, and a
growing tourism sector, balancing economic growth with
environmental protection is a priority for its political
leadership and residents.

LOCAL LEADERSHIP LAUDS BALABAC BALIKATAN PROJECT
——————————————— —

¶3. (SBU) On March 3, the DCM made a trip to the island of
Balabac at the southern tip of Palawan Province to inaugurate
a school building constructed during the annual Balikatan
joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise, which took place
February 14 to March 3. Balabac is home to a population of
35,000 and is one of the most remote areas of the
Philippines, with no airport, bridges, or regular ferry
service connecting the island to the rest of Palawan. The
majority of the residents are Muslim, many of whom have fled
fighting in other parts of the southern Philippines over the
years. Balabac’s economy is based on trade with neighboring
Malaysia and the nearby Balabac Strait is a key waterway for
smugglers and illegal trafficking of all types, as well as
significant legitimate shipping. Its strategic location was
what made the Philippine government select Balabac as the
site for a radar station under the Coast Watch South network,
designed to boost maritime security in the southern
Philippines. The U.S. is assisting in this initiative with
funding for radar stations and other assets. Balikatan
planners recognized the strategic value of conducting
humanitarian operations in this isolated location and used
the unique amphibious capabilities of the U.S. 31st Marine
Expeditionary Unit to deliver supplies and personnel to the
island via air cushion landing craft and helicopter.

¶4. (SBU) The Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit
and the sailors of the USS HARPERS FERRY worked closely with
their Philippine counterparts and the local political
leadership to provide medical services to over 2,500 Balabac
residents and build a new building for the high school. The
admiral in charge of the Philippine Western Command in Puerto
Princesa, along with 31st MEU Commander Colonel John Mayer,
attended the inauguration of the new schoolhouse, during
which the DCM and the Balabac mayor spoke to over 300
children and residents. The DCM emphasized the importance of
the U.S.-Philippine partnership, noting that medical outreach
and the school construction project were a “visible reminder
of what our militaries can do when they work together.” The
Balabac mayor was effusive in his praise for U.S. troops,
marveling at how they worked through days of constant rain
and into the evening hours to finish the project in just six
days. The mayor gave a moving speech, during which he asked
for blessings on the American people, hoped that this would
not be the last time they would see U.S. troops, and looked
forward to a strong relationship with the United States in
the future. After the ceremony concluded, the commander of
the HARPERS FERRY invited the DCM and the mayor aboard for a
tour. Addressing the entire crew of the ship, the mayor
again thanked them for their hard work and assistance,
praising their professionalism.

MANILA 00000691 002 OF 002

ADDRESSING ENVIRONMENTAL AND POLICE CONCERNS
——————————————–

¶5. (SBU) The DCM returned to Puerto Princesa, the capital
of Palawan, for a series of meetings focusing on non-military
assistance that included U.S. Peace Corps volunteers,
environmental activists working with USAID, and funding for a
new Philippine Maritime Police Unit to be based in Puerto
Princesa. Peace Corps volunteers are active in northern
Palawan and the Puerto Princesa area, helping local
communities with education (English and information
technology), stewardship of natural resources, and youth
programs. USAID is funding programs that train marine park
rangers in the Tubbataha Reef area, one of the UNESCO sites,
and has several other environmental projects that are helping
government promote effective conservation programs. One of
the goals of these programs is to help Philippine authorities
address a key concern of environmental activists —
exploitation of Palawan’s fishing grounds by foreign
commercial vessels that bribe poorly paid officials to ignore
catches outside the legal limit.

U.S. BOLSTERING MARITIME SECURITY
———————————

¶6. (SBU) To strengthen the Philippine maritime security
capability, a U.S. interagency project will help establish a
Philippine Maritime Police Unit in Puerto Princesa. The
program will provide five or six high-speed patrol boats,
train and equip 100 Maritime Police personnel, and build a
headquarters building for the unit in Puerto Princesa.
Philippine officials have begun basic training of police
personnel, a U.S. adviser is arriving in March, and
construction of the headquarters building by JIATF-West is
expected to commence this summer. The Puerto Princesa mayor
as well as leaders of the Philippine Provincial and Regional
Police and Philippine Armed Forces Western Command (WESCOM),
voiced their strong support for the program. While
describing a productive working relationship between military
and police, WESCOM commander Admiral Borromeo welcomed the
establishment of an effective Maritime Police Unit, which he
said would help relieve his command of law enforcement
duties.

¶7. (SBU) In his meeting with the DCM, Puerto Princesa Mayor
Edward Hagedorn talked proudly of the city’s low crime rate
and stressed the importance of security in building Palawan’s
tourism industry. He cited the location of the Maritime
Police Unit headquarters as one of the reasons the city had
been anxious to get the project underway — the unit will be
located at the pier from which tourists embark for many of
Palawan’s resorts, a fact the mayor said could only help
boost the confidence of travelers coming to Palawan for a
safe vacation. Hagedorn committed to personally overseeing
the reclamation of land donated by the city for the site
headquarters and assured the DCM the project would stay on
schedule.

COMMENT
——-

¶8. (SBU) USG engagement is steadily increasing in Palawan
through a broad range of projects, and the warm reception the
DCM received during his trip showed that the people and
leadership of the province are comfortable with our growing
interaction. Straddling strategic sea lanes and encompassing
part of the disputed Spratly Islands, Palawan province
presents an opportunity for integrated U.S. assistance, where
we can give equal value to security, promoting U.S. values in
a diverse population (including Muslim communities who have
frequent contact with Malaysia), protecting the environment,
and developing sustainable economic options. As we move
forward with planning for future assistance, we will study
how to build on our positive experiences and how we can
utilize the specialized abilities of units such as the 31st
Marine Expeditionary Unit during military exercises to reach
remote and underserved populations with humanitarian projects.
JONES

   

 

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