Oct 242014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2008-02-11 10:04
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #0360/01 0421004
O 111004Z FEB 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 000360




E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/22/2018

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: With the U.S.-Philippine Balikatan joint
military exercise set to begin February 18, all Embassy
elements, to include JSOTF-P personnel, have been moving
aggressively to counter negative publicity by a vocal
minority of political and social leaders, who in recent weeks
have sought to gain political capital by mischaracterizing
Balikatan as a hostile military exercise aimed at the people
of Mindanao. In response, the Ambassador and Mission
representatives have actively engaged key Muslim politicians,
community leaders, individuals involved in the peace process
between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front, and the leadership of the Armed Forces of
the Philippines to emphasize the humanitarian nature of the
exercise and prepare public affairs groundwork to ensure
Balikatan’s success. Mission representatives have
highlighted significant themes, including that no military
exercises will take place in Mindanao or the Sulu
Archipelago; that all activities in these regions will be
humanitarian in nature; and that the U.S. personnel who are
participating will work alongside their Philippine
counterparts at all times. In various meetings, Mission
representatives and JSOTF-P staff have encouraged political
leaders and the Philippine military to address concerns
head-on and to stress that Balikatan is part of the
multifaceted framework of cooperation that exists between our
respective countries. The outreach blitz appears to have
garnered the support of several Muslim decisionmakers, but we
will continue our efforts as we approach the February 18
opening date. END SUMMARY.

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¶2. (C) A variety of factors have conspired to create some
anti-Balikatan sentiment over the past several weeks. Chief
among these are almost complete turnover in local Muslim
political leadership after the May 2007 elections, combined
with several turnovers in Philippine Armed Forces commanders
in the Muslim Lanao region; lingering suspicions and
misunderstandings among Muslims at the grassroots level about
the presence of U.S. military troops in Mindanao; the agendas
of human rights activists, leftist political organizations,
religious groups, and local government leaders; and
continuing impasse in Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)
peace talks with the Philippine government. The local press
— prone to sensationalism and misquoting sources —
aggravated the situation, publicizing false allegations in
late December that U.S. troops ordered a hospital closed at
night in Panamao, Jolo. The hospital controversy came on the
heels of unsupported claims by two non-governmental
organizations and a leftist political party that the United
States was building a military base in Mindanao, which would
violate the Philippines Constitution.

¶3. (C) A series of rallies across Mindanao supporting a
resumption of government peace talks with the MILF took on an
anti-Balikatan dimension during a January 22 protest rally
organized by the Muslim Multisectoral Movement for Peace and
Development in Iligan, Lanao del Norte. In an eight-point
resolution later issued by over 200 Muslim religious leaders
(ulama) from throughout the Philippines at their Summit in
Manila January 28-30, the influential and respected ulama
“urged the National Government and concerned local government
units to review and stop the Balikatan exercises from taking
place in peaceful Muslim areas as such would create an
impression of intrusion upon peace and harmony in these

¶4. (C) Following a series of January 30 meetings between the
leaders of Muslim multi-sectoral groups, Lanao del Sur
Province Governor Mamintal “Bombit” Adiong, and Marawi Mayor
Fahad Pre Salic, these Muslim groups held an anti-Balikatan
rally in the Islamic City of Marawi February 5. Coinciding
with this rally was an anti-Balikatan speech that was
delivered to the House of Representatives by Lanao del Sur
Province Congressman Pangalian Balindong, and the passage of
an anti-Balikatan resolution by the Regional Legislative
Assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.


MANILA 00000360 002 OF 003

¶5. (C) Our response has been rapid and thorough, reaching
out to all levels of the political and military hierarchy.
Urged by the Ambassador to engage political leaders and the
public on Balikatan (“shoulder to shoulder” in Filipino),
Philippine Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon
briefed on January 29 the media on events associated with the
exercise in the Mindanao city of Cagayan de Oro. Despite
emphasizing that the vast majority of the 5,700 U.S. troops
would be positioned in Luzon, critics and fringe groups in
Mindanao quickly focused only on the numbers of troops
participating in the exercise and not on where troops would
be deployed or what types of activities would be occurring in
different areas. In response to queries from leading
politicians in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, the Embassy
(with input from JSOTF-P) produced a series of briefing
papers tailored to each province, so that the entire Mission
could provide specific information on Balikatan activities.

¶6. (C) Embassy political officers are engaging local and
national Muslim officials on the humanitarian aspects of
Balikatan. Despite the rallies and protests in the Lanao
areas, Lanao del Sur Congressman Pangalian Balindong welcomed
Balikatan’s humanitarian assistance, and viewed the U.S. role
in the Mindanao peace process as “critical.” In a February
7th letter, Lanao del Norte Congressman Abdullah Dimaporo and
his son, Governor Mohammad Khalid Dimaporo, expressed full
support and cooperation for the Balikatan exercises, and
requested the inclusion of additional municipalities from
their province in the humanitarian mission. ARMM Regional
Legislative Assemblyman Esmael Mangudadatu also expressed
full support for Balikatan’s “good works” in Muslim
communities within his native province of Maguindanao.


¶7. (C) The Ambassador and DCM met with and/or spoke by
telephone with eight key governors in Mindanao, plus ARMM
Speaker Paisalin Tago, MILF Vice-Chairman Ghazali Jaafar,
Mindanao Congresswoman Darlene Custodio, and Cotabato City
Mayor Muslimin Sema. In each case, the Ambassador and DCM
allayed concerns of large-scale U.S. troop deployments and
emphasized that all Balikatan activities in the southern
Philippines would be humanitarian in nature and coordinated
with the AFP to provide health, educational, and economic
benefits to the population. Almost invariably, these
political leaders volunteered their strong support for USAID
development assistance over the last ten years, which has
clearly provided entree for their support for U.S. military
assistance such as in Balikatan. On February 8, the
Ambassador traveled to General Santos City in southern
Mindanao and met with local governors Miguel Dominguez of
Sarangani and Daisy Avance-Fuentes of South Cotabato. The
Ambassador addressed their concerns over Balikatan activities
in the Liguasan Marsh, a MILF stronghold, that in the past
has been area that has seen intense fighting between
Philippine government forces and Muslim insurgents.


¶8. (C) Mission outreach will continue the week of February
11 as Embassy Public Affairs staff, JSOTF-P and Joint U.S.
Military Assistance Group personnel, and the AFP Balikatan
commander travel to Mindanao to work with Philippine
commanders at Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga and
Eastern Mindanao Command in Davao on a combined public
affairs strategy for Balikatan. Embassy Public Affairs will
assist AFP Balikatan commander in preparing for meetings with
the Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities,
the MILF mechanism that is charged with deconflicting
misunderstandings between the AFP and the MILF.

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¶9. (C) Balikatan was first held in 1991 and has evolved over
the last 17 years into the premier U.S-Philippine military
exercise, involving approximately 5,700 U.S. troops and
thousands of members of the Philippine Armed Forces this
year. Balikatan offers U.S. and Philippine armed forces an
opportunity to work as partners in developing stronger

MANILA 00000360 003 OF 003

coordination and cooperation through field training
exercises, staffing exercises and civil-military operations.
This year, joint staff training simulation exercises in
Manila and Clark (on the island of Luzon) will focus on
disaster assistance planning and maritime security. All
field exercises will take place on Luzon as well and are held
in conjunction with community relations projects in the
localities where they will occur. In Mindanao and the Sulu
Archipelago, the focus will be on humanitarian exercises,
with only civil-military projects planned. Approximately 130
U.S. personnel will assist their Philippine counterparts in
conducting 23 medical, dental, and engineering assistance
projects in the region, which will bring much-needed care and
infrastructure to thousands of Muslim residents in some of
the poorest areas of the country. Additionally, for the
first time, there will be civil-military projects in southern
Palawan. The projects, conducted by the AFP and the U.S.
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, will take place in an area
where the Muslim population historically has not received
much economic support from the Philippine government and
welcomes U.S. assistance.


¶10. (C) The public and political skepticism of a minority
of inhabitants of Muslim Mindanao leading up to this year’s
Balikatan events, and the indifference or inaction of some
Manila- and Mindanao-based political elites, underscore the
importance of early outreach strategies on the part of the
Philippine and U.S. governments to inform local audiences
about the nature of events that will occur. As it is,
Balikatan 2008 stands to be the most robust U.S.-Philippine
military exercise in some time. Events in 2005 (the
southeast Asian tsunami) and 2006 (typhoon-caused landslides
in the central Philippines) perhaps deflected much of the
scrutiny that Balikatan would normally receive, as the
exercise was adapted to be heavily oriented towards relief
efforts. In 2007, controversy over the conviction of a U.S.
Marine on a rape charge generated opposition to events
planned in Luzon among left-leaning groups and certain
political elites, leading to a canceling of all field
training components. This year, we are reminded that while
the Muslim population and its political leadership are
effusive in their support for U.S. development and
humanitarian assistance, they remain wary of such assistance
when it is conducted by uniformed military personnel, whether
they be Philippine or U.S. troops. Our military activities,
while always AFP-led, can push the envelope of public
opinion. Persistent, proactive public diplomacy is essential
in maintaining support assistance involving U.S. military
throughout the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao and the
Sulu Archipelago, and the Embassy, together with JSOTF-P,
continue to work closely with our Philippine counterparts to
emphasize the need for a clear and continuous public message
on the benefits of U.S.-Philippine cooperation coming from




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