Oct 242014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/09/09MANILA2038.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA2038
2009-09-24 10:01
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 002038

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/24/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS EAID RP
SUBJECT: GRP PLANS FORMAL REVIEW OF VFA TO DEFUSE SENATE PRESSURE

REF: A. MANILA 2000 (CALL FOR VFA RENEGOTIATION)
¶B. MANILA 1909 (RESPONSE TO FERRY SINKING)
¶C. MANILA 1843 (VFA HEARING)

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

SUMMARY
——-

¶1. (C) The Philippine Senate is applying increasing pressure
on the Arroyo administration to renegotiate or abrogate the
U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). A
preliminary September 23 Philippine Senate voice vote on a
non-binding resolution calling for VFA renegotiation heralds
final passage on September 28. Meanwhile, a Philippine
Senator previously supportive of the VFA, responding to an
incident in which U.S. soldiers fired weapons in Jolo, has
introduced a second resolution calling for geographic limits
on U.S. deployments. The Ambassador and other key mission
members are continuing aggressive outreach both to key
supporters and to critics of the VFA. The Department of
Foreign Affairs told us it planned a comprehensive review of
the VFA, which could help to reduce the intensity of the
debate and allow further consideration to take place in a
less charged, post-election environment. End Summary.

BACKGROUND
———-

¶2. (SBU) THE SANTIAGO RESOLUTION: On September 14, seven
Philippine Senators, led by vociferous Senator Miriam
Defensor Santiago, introduced a resolution calling on the
Arroyo administration to renegotiate the U.S.-Philippine
Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) — or, if it cannot be
renegotiated, to abrogate it (ref A). The resolution
constitutes an expression of sentiment and does not impose
any binding obligation on the Philippine government. The
government has publicly supported the VFA since a
controversial article appeared in the New York Times in
August (ref C), but some in the administration have also
publicly expressed an openness to the idea of renegotiation.

¶3. (SBU) THE BIAZON RESOLUTION: On September 22, Senator
Rodolfo Biazon, a former Armed Forces of the Philippines
(AFP) chief of staff and generally a supporter of
U.S.-Philippine security ties, introduced a resolution
calling for U.S. forces participating in joint military
exercises to be “removed from conflict- or combat-prone
areas” and for the exercises to be conducted in “safe areas.”
In a press release, Biazon listed several locations where he
would like to see U.S. forces operate, including several
bases outside of Mindanao and one facility in the south, Camp
Malagatay in Zamboanga, but he pointedly ruled out having
U.S. troops on the islands of Jolo or Basilan, or in Central
Mindanao, where the Joint Special Operations Task Force –
Philippines (JSOTF-P) maintains a variety of task forces and
liaison elements.

¶4. (C) JOLO INCIDENT: On the night of September 14, an
explosive device detonated near a joint Philippine-U.S.
military convoy conducting a resupply mission at the main
pier on the island of Jolo. A senior DFA official who
investigated the incident told us the device was a concussion
grenade wrapped with nails. Philippine troops, and then
accompanying Americans, fired in the direction of the thrown
grenade. Five bullets hit the outer wall of a mosque, and
seven hit a facility of the Philippine Ports Authority. The
Mayor of Jolo, Hussin Amin, called for an investigation of
the incident in order to reduce the “ire of the Muslim
people.” The senior DFA official told us the Mayor was
especially upset that, when he appeared on the scene after
the incident, a U.S. soldier nearby had purportedly cocked
his weapon in the Mayor’s presence.

SENATE VFA RESOLUTION ADVANCES
——————————

¶5. (C) Late in the day on September 23, a plenary session of
the Senate approved by voice vote the Santiago resolution
after it received the endorsement of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee. Senate rules require one more final
plenary vote to formally pass the resolution, and this is
scheduled for Monday, September 28. Given Senate treatment
of the resolution so far, passage on September 28 appears to
be a foregone conclusion. Santiago continues to garner
significant media attention because of her attacks on the

MANILA 00002038 002 OF 003

VFA, which she has broadened to cover bilateral relations
generally. On September 23, local media quoted her complaint
that the USG extended far too little military aid to the
Philippines and “treats us like a shabby country cousin. In
return for the VFA, what we receive is paltry, mostly in the
form of Excess Defense Articles, in other words, U.S.
military junk.”

AMBASSADOR DISCUSSES NEW RESOLUTION
———————————–

¶6. (C) The Ambassador met on September 23 with Senator
Biazon, to discuss his proposed resolution on the VFA
(above). The Ambassador explained the benefits the AFP
received from U.S. troops’ co-location with units outside of
Zamboanga, including casualty evacuation and intelligence
support. Biazon acknowledged these benefits but remained
adamant that he wanted U.S. troops out of what he termed
“combat zones.” He specifically cited Jolo, Basilan,
Tawi-Tawi, and central Mindanao. Biazon worried about the
possibility of U.S. troops being injured, or accidentally
causing injuries to civilians. He raised the Jolo event
(above) as an example of the type of incident that he wished
to prevent. He claimed that both Secretary of National
Defense Teodoro and AFP Chief of Staff Ibrado had privately
concurred with the substance of his resolution. The
Ambassador emphasized that U.S. troops could not be as
effective if they remained only in Zamboanga, but Biazon
remained unmoved.

¶7. (C) In a conversation with the Ambassador September 24,
Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro said he was
disappointed with Senator Biazon’s stance and was opposed to
the proposal to pull U.S. forces in Central Mindanao and the
Sulu Archipelago back to Zamboanga. Teodoro said he was very
pleased with the success and scope of our ongoing
collaboration on counterterrorism issues in Mindanao, and
thought it should continue. He also voiced approval of the
civil military operations (CMO) carried out by the AFP and
JSOTF, which had a significant beneficial impact on the local
population.

DFA PLAN: BURY IT IN BUREAUCRACY
——————————–

¶8. (C) DFA Assistant Secretary for American Affairs Lori
Yparraguirre told us on September 24 that, following the
expected passage of the Santiago resolution, the DFA would
announce that same day a comprehensive review of the VFA.
Yparraguire said the review would likely take several months
and could continue past the May 2010 election. The DFA
believes that an exhaustive review is appropriate, as a
required annual VFA review has never been carried out in the
agreement’s 10-year history. DFA also hopes the review will
defuse some of the current tension and allow any further
debate to take place in a less politically charged
environment. Secretary Teodoro told the Ambassador that
while he did not personally feel the need for a review, it
was mandated under Philippine regulations and could lower the
public profile of the issue. In a separate public relations
effort, the GRP on September 23 touted the benefits of the
VFA in two nearly full-page advertisements in a daily
newspaper. One ad highlighted the benefits Filipino soldiers
received from bomb disposal training; the second depicted
American personnel rescuing a Filipina victim of the recent
Superferry disaster (ref B).

COMMENT
——-

¶9. (C) Senator Santiago’s proposal for a hasty, unilateral
abrogation of the VFA — likely aimed at winning left-wing
support for her likely reelection effort next May — would
have a significant harmful impact on a wide range of U.S.
activities, including counterterrorism, military training,
and our ability to deliver assistance vital to the peace
process in Mindanao. We believe the Department of Foreign
Affairs’ announced VFA review will prove helpful in moving
the VFA issue off the front pages, though we will observe the
process closely to ensure that it does not lead to an
unwanted effort to renegotiate the agreement. Even with the
support of the Executive branch, however, the VFA will remain
a lightning rod for criticism throughout the coming election
period, and beyond. We remain concerned that Senate action
could push a public and GRP response that would be
detrimental to U.S. interests. We will continue to work this

MANILA 00002038 003 OF 003

issue intensely both publicly and privately.
KENNEY

   

 

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