Oct 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/05/08MANILA1192.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA1192
2008-05-19 10:15
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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O 191015Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0738
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001192

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/19/2018
TAGS: MARR MASS MCAP PREL PINS KISL RP
SUBJECT: FORMER MILITARY CHIEF TO HEAD PEACE PROCESS

REF: A. MANILA 1177 (CALL ON NEW ARMED FORCES CHIEF OF
STAFF)
¶B. MANILA 1144 (NEW ARMED FORCES CHIEF SHUNS
POLITICS)
¶C. MANILA 1091 (CONSTITUTIONAL PROCESS REMAINS KEY
ISSUE FOR MILF PEACE TALKS)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Following weeks of widespread speculation
about a cabinet reshuffle, President Gloria Arroyo named
former Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon as her
new presidential advisor on the peace process, replacing
Jesus Dureza, who was named press secretary. Esperon, who
retired from the military May 12 after serving two years as
head of the Armed Forces, brings to the position considerable
operational military experience in Mindanao. Moreover, given
his close relationship with President Arroyo, his excellent
working relationship with key – conservative – Cabinet
members, and the respect he commands with military top brass,
he brings a unique combination of access, influence and
background that could help the government reach a peace
agreement. While leftist politicians and NGOs have raised
sharp concerns regarding Esperon’s previous record in the
military, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front expressed a
willingness to work with any government officials. Our
relationships and access to Esperon and Dureza are excellent.
END SUMMARY.

¶2. (SBU) President Arroyo announced May 18 that former Chief
of the Armed Forces (AFP) General Hermogenes Esperon would be
the new Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, effective
June 16. The announcement came less than a week after
General Esperon retired from the military after an extended
tour of duty that ended when he reached the mandatory
retirement age of 56. As Peace Process Advisor, Esperon will
direct the government’s peace negotiations with the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front and the Communist New People’s Army,
as well as implementation of the 1996 agreement with the Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF). Esperon reportedly
embraced his new role as peacemaker, stating that his new job
was “an incentive and the inspiration.” He said the
appointment filled a desire to continue to work in the Arroyo
administration in the areas of peace, security, and
development.

—————————–
SMALL-SCALE CABINET RESHUFFLE
—————————–

¶3. (SBU) Since late April, President Arroyo had hinted that
there would be changes in her Administration, generating
speculation about which Secretaries’ jobs were on the
chopping block. In the end, the cabinet reshuffle was
relatively minor, with General Esperon replacing former Peace
Adviser Jesus Dureza, who was named Presidential
Spokesperson, a post vacated by spokesman Ignacio Bunye, who
will join the Monetary Board of the Central Bank. The
government’s former chairman for negotiations with the
communist insurgent National Democratic Front, Silvestre
Bello, was named secretary to the Cabinet, replacing Ricardo
Saludo, who now heads the Civil Service Commission. With the
Cabinet revamp completed, other sub-cabinet level
appointments are expected to follow.

—————————–
EXTENSIVE MINDANAO EXPERIENCE
—————————–

¶4. (SBU) General Esperon’s military service in Mindanao has
been extensive, having served there in various capacities
throughout his 38-year army career. As a second lieutenant
in 1974, he served as an infantry platoon leader in Lamitan,
Basilan, followed by a two-year stint as Strike Force
Commander in Sulu, Basilan, and Zamboanga in 1975 and 1976.
He returned to Mindanao almost two decades later, commanding
an infantry battalion in Augusan del Norte Province in
northern Mindanao as a lieutenant colonel in 1992. Because
of that experience, he was handpicked in 2001 to command an
infantry brigade in Cotabato and led several operations
against Moro Islamic Liberation Front camps in the Liguasan
Marsh area. He has also had significant experience dealing
with terrorist groups and in 2001 was responsible for
recovering hostages taken by the Abu Sayyaf Group during the
Dos Palmas incident. Finally, as head of the Armed Forces of
the Philippines, he was directly responsible for military
operations in Mindanao, and for the restraint exercised by

MANILA 00001192 002 OF 002

the Philippine military following the beheading of several
marines last July by insurgent groups. The AFP’s renewed
emphasis on civil military operations — humanitarian and
engineering projects — is largely due to Esperon’s
leadership.

——————————————— –
APPOINTMENT ELICITED STRONG REACTION FROM LEFT
——————————————— –

¶5. (C) Esperon’s appointment drew strong criticism from the
“legal left” and other Esperon opponents. Bayan Muna party
list Congressional Representative Satur Ocampo saw Esperon’s
appointment as a manifestation of the government’s “lack of
sincerity” in its peace efforts with the left. Ocampo
pointed out Esperon’s hardline condition for a three-year
ceasefire before peace negotiations with the Communist Party
of the Philippines – National Democratic Front could resume,
a conditions that is unacceptable to the communists. Citing
a surge in political killings and enforced disappearances
during Esperon’s watch, Bayan Muna secretary general Renato
Reyes called Esperon an “antithesis to the peace process” and
a “liability” to the peace effort. Senator Jamby Madrigal,
chair of the Senate committee on peace, unification and
reconciliation, said the appointment was “sheer political
accommodation” that makes a mockery of all attempts to forge
genuine peace in the country. Fugitive Captain Nicanor
Faeldon, a junior officer facing rebellion charges for two
failed coup attempts, has accused President Arroyo of “making
guard dogs out of military generals.” Esperon strongly
opposed military adventurism and defended the Arroyo
administration during the political crisis in 2005 and 2006.

———————————–
MILF: “PERSONALITIES ARE SECONDARY”
———————————–

¶6. (C) Taking a significantly more accepting tone regarding
Esperon’s appointment, Moro Islamic Liberation Front Peace
Panel Chairman Mohaqher Iqbal said “personalities are
secondary to government policy.” However, while careful not
to specifically criticize the appointment, Iqbal nonetheless
took the opportunity to express concerns about current
government policy, adding that it “appears focused on
counter-insurgency and not peaceful negotiated settlement.”
In addition, in a clear reference to Esperon, Iqbal noted the
“growing militarization of government bureaucracy, which now
encompasses the peace process.”

——-
COMMENT
——-

¶7. (C) While few could have predicted Esperon’s appointment
and some have harshly criticized it, Esperon has the
political profile and loyalty to President Arroyo to sell a
peace deal, both within the government and to a skeptical
Manila elite. Having spent years fighting in Mindanao,
Esperon may bring credibility to the cause of peace. In a
country where personal relationships and loyalty are
paramount, Esperon has close ties to President Arroyo and the
respect of members of the Cabinet, including hardline members
skeptical of peace negotiations. Esperon could bring along
top- and mid-level military leaders and, unlike his
predecessor, he has no business interests in Mindanao that
could undermine his appearance of objectivity. Still,
jumpstarting the stalled peace process could turn out to be
the toughest assignment of Esperon’s career, as the
government tries to balance constitutional concerns against
insurgent demands for greater autonomy and a larger share of
resources and revenues. We know Esperon very well and will
discuss his new assignment with him after he returns from
vacation abroad.

Visit Embassy Manila’s Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/manila/index. cfm

You can also access this site through the State Department’s
Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/
KENNEY

   

 

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