Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1845/01 2401112
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 281112Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5050
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001845
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/28/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR PTER MOPS RP
SUBJECT: DEFENSE SECRETARY DISCUSSES VFA, WASHINGTON VISIT AND ELECTION PROSPECTS WITH AMBASSADOR
Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, reason: 1.4 (b and d).
¶1. (C) In a one-on-one breakfast August 28, Secretary of
National Defense Gilberto Teodoro told the Ambassador that
Senator Miriam Santiago was exploiting recent media attention
to the U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement in an effort
to win left-wing backing for her Senate run. Teodoro voiced
concern about President Arroyo’s failure to anoint her
party’s candidate for the presidency in 2010, noting this was
causing him to maintain political support at his own expense,
even though he did not know whether he would be a candidate.
He expressed his hope for excellent consultations during his
early September visit to the U.S., including with Secretaries
Gates and Clinton, CIA Director Panetta and former President
Bush. Teodoro discussed the jockeying of Marine Corps
Commandant Juancho Sabban for a higher position and worried
that the upcoming election would complicate counterterrorism
operations on Jolo island. The Ambassador explained U.S.
interest in supporting the Philippine government’s peace
process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Teodoro also explained his recent visit to Syria was an
outgrowth of growing Philippine-Syrian ties, while he noted
the Syrians appeared to want to use the Philippines to
strengthen relations with the U.S. End Summary.
¶2. (C) In a four-eyes breakfast hosted by Secretary of
National Defense Gilberto Teodoro August 28, the Ambassador
asked Teodoro’s view of the controversy over the
U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) (septel).
Teodoro opined that Senator Miriam Santiago, who convened an
August 27 hearing on the VFA, had taken up the issue with an
eye toward her 2010 run for reelection. Santiago aimed to
garner both media exposure and financial/political support
from Philippine leftists. Teodoro noted that he had not
attended the VFA hearing out of concern that he would become
the administration’s main representative, a prospect he
clearly did not relish.
¶3. (C) Teodoro also rejected the public allegations by Nancy
Gadian that U.S. troops engaged in combat and other
inappropriate acts (septel). Teodoro said that Gadian, who
has been reported by the media to be no longer in the Armed
Forces of the Philippines (AFP), in fact remained subject to
military discipline. The AFP was examining its options for
legal action against Gadian.
¶4. (C) The Ambassador asked Teodoro’s view of the maneuvering
by candidates in advance of the 2010 presidential election.
Teodoro, appearing agitated, expressed frustration with
President Arroyo’s failure to anoint the candidate of her
Lakas-Kampi-CMD party. Teodoro, who is widely considered in
the running for the Lakas nomination despite low ratings in
public opinion polls, said he felt he was being kept in the
dark and strung along. Arroyo might rely instead on Vice
President Noli de Castro, or she might seek to form an
alliance with Senator Manny Villar. Meanwhile, Teodoro was
expending his own funds to keep himself in the running, and
the uncertainty was stressful for himself and his family. He
added that his wife, Representative Monica Prieto-Teodoro,
had come in for increasing criticism from the media. The
Ambassador acknowledged the difficulties of running for
office while simultaneously holding a critical Cabinet job.
She said it was important to keep the military out of
politics; Teodoro nodded in agreement.
¶5. (C) Teodoro expressed his appreciation for recent U.S.
help, including efforts to advance Philippine Defense Reform
and resolve problems with malfunctioning mortar shells. He
spoke enthusiastically of his upcoming visit to the U.S. He
said he hoped to thank Secretary Gates for his support, and
hoped to meet also with Secretary Clinton and CIA Director
Panetta. He hoped to call on former President Bush in Texas
(although the Philippine Embassy in Washington had informed
him that Bush was not receiving foreign officials). Aside
MANILA 00001845 002 OF 002
from meetings, he hoped to deliver some speeches and lay a
wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.
MINDANAO PEACE AND COUNTERTERRORISM
¶6. (C) The Ambassador explained USG support for the peace
process between the Philippine government and the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), expressing hope that both
sides would demonstrate the flexibility and will to make
substantial progress. Teodoro, who has repeatedly expressed
more hawkish views on Mindanao than President Arroyo, did not
appear enthusiastic, remarking that he could not imagine a
legal solution that would make peace possible.
¶7. (C) Teodoro added that he was currently focusing his
counterterrorism efforts on the island of Basilan, the scene
of recent heavy fighting between Philippine troops and the
terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). He said the 2010 election
would complicate counterterrorism operations, making specific
reference to Jolo island. He voiced very negative comments
regarding Marine Corps Commandant Juancho Sabban, who most
recently headed the Western Mindanao Command, saying Sabban
had managed to profit personally from deals made in
connection with the recent ASG kidnapping of International
Committee of the Red Cross workers. Sabban was
overwhelmingly ambitious, Teodoro said, aiming to become AFP
Chief of Staff. Sabban reportedly was working through
Senator Rodolfo Biazon, a former Marine and one-time Armed
Forces chief of staff, to undercut potential rivals Major
General Ben Dolorfino and Rear Admiral Alexander Pama. Also,
Sabban worried he might be upstaged by Brigadier General
Rustico Guerrero, commanding officer of the First Marine
Brigade in Basilan, soon moving to take command of Task Force
Comet in Jolo.
SYRIA REACHING OUT
¶8. (C) Teodoro also mentioned his early August visit to
Syria, saying this reflected the Philippines’ increasingly
close ties to Syria. He also acknowledged, though, that the
Syrians clearly hoped Manila could help them to build a
better relationship with the U.S. He mentioned in
frustration, however, that although President Arroyo had
directed that he make that trip, she had said after his
return to Manila that he ought instead to have spent his time
in rural areas of the Philippines, to build grassroots
support for his potential presidential candidacy.
¶9. (C) Teodoro was clearly discouraged about his unclear
political standing; he even mentioned he might hope to move
on to an academic position at a U.S. university. While he
has many strong qualities — keen intellect, excellent
speaking skills, strong grasp of policy — that could make
him a capable President, at this moment his standing in
opinion polls (currently low single digits) make it hard to
see how he could become a viable candidate. Oblique comments
from senior advisors to President Arroyo, such as Executive
Secretary Eduardo Ermita, suggest President Arroyo may be
looking for a stronger standard-bearer.