Oct 242014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/04/08MANILA893.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA893
2008-04-15 02:26
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO7470
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #0893/01 1060226
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 150226Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0372
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 000893

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/15/2018
TAGS: MARR MOPS PINS PTER RP
SUBJECT: HURDLES OVERCOME IN BALIKATAN 2008, CHALLENGES REMAIN

REF: A. MANILA 691 (DCM VISIT TO PALAWAN PROFILES U.S.
ASSISTANCE)
¶B. MANILA 651 (AMBASSADOR FORGES KEY RELATIONSHIPS
IN MARAWI)
¶C. MANILA 515 (ADMIRAL KEATING EMPHASIZES STRONG
TIES)
¶D. MANILA 360 (EMBASSY KEEPS BALIKATAN EXERCISE ON
TRACK)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: This year’s Balikatan U.S.-Philippine joint
annual military exercise was a solid success but was not
without controversy, as insufficient public affairs
coordination on the part of Philippine authorities led some
local leaders, principally in central Mindanao, to complain
that they were not consulted adequately about the exercise. A
public diplomacy push prior to and during Balikatan 2008 by
Embassy and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines
(JSOTF-P) personnel did much to counter erroneous impressions
of why and how the exercise would be conducted, allaying
misperceptions by the Muslim community. While the value of
this year’s exercise was unquestioned, the Mission is
carefully reviewing options to avoid protests against
humanitarian activities next year and to ensure that our
Philippine counterparts take a more proactive stance in
developing and implementing public outreach prior to future
Balikatan and other joint U.S.- Philippine military efforts.
END SUMMARY.

FOCUS ON CIVIL-MILITARY OPERATIONS
———————————–

¶2. (SBU) First conducted in 1991, Balikatan has evolved over
the past 17 years into the premier joint U.S.-Philippine
military exercise, allowing the U.S. and Philippine military
to improve individual capacity and interoperability. While
field training and combat exercises have been an integral
part of Balikatan, at the Embassy’s suggestion, greater
emphasis was placed this year on strengthening cooperation on
disaster assistance, maritime security, and conducting
civil-military operations. Overall, more than 8,000 U.S. and
Philippine military personnel participated, with a small
contingent of U.S. troops taking part in medical and
engineering civil affairs projects in Mindanao, the Sulu
Archipelago, and on the remote island of Balabac in southern
Palawan. Between February 15 and March 3, U.S. and
Philippine personnel treated more than 18,000 patients at 37
temporary medical and dental clinics. At the Embassy’s
urging, local Muslim NGOs played a more prominent role in the
humanitarian activities than in the past.

COUNTERING MISPERCEPTIONS
————————-
¶3. (C) Despite the success of the civil-military projects
conducted throughout the southern Philippines, concerns cited
by local leaders in the predominately Muslim areas of central
Mindanao focused on their perception that they were not
consulted adequately or far enough in advance by either
Philippine or U.S. authorities about planned activities in
their areas. Troublesome allegations arose from some sectors
of the Muslim leadership that Balikatan was a purely
combat-focused military exercise directed at the Muslim
population. Some argued that Balikatan was not only a
pretext for military action directed against the local Muslim
population, but also a cover to appropriate by force the
region’s mineral and mining assets.

¶4. (C) Philippine authorities did not reach out to the
Muslim leadership in Mindanao sufficiently in advance.
Elections in May 2007 had, in some places, produced new local
leaders unfamiliar with Balikatan’s humanitarian activities
in 2007 and 2006. Early public statements emphasizing the
influx of thousands of U.S. soldiers created opportunities
for leftists to ignite fears of large military maneuvers in
Mindanao. Anti-Balikatan demonstrations in Marawi, Cagayan
de Oro, and other cities prompted local officials to make
public statements criticizing Balikatan, or insufficient
consultations, even while telling us privately they supported
the humanitarian assistance.

¶5. (C) To counter the misperception among critics that
Balikatan was solely about combat exercises, Mission
representatives undertook a thorough public diplomacy
campaign to inform congressional, provincial, and local
leaders that no military exercises would take place in

MANILA 00000893 002 OF 003

Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago; that all activities in
these regions would be humanitarian in nature; and that the
U.S. personnel who participated would work alongside their
Philippine counterparts at all times. In various meetings,
Mission representatives and JSOTF-P staff stressed to
political leaders that Balikatan is part of the multifaceted
framework of cooperation and development assistance that
exists between our respective countries (ref D).

GIVING A BOOST TO BALIKATAN EVENTS
———————————-

¶6. (C) The Ambassador and the DCM visited several medical and
engineering project sites to promote the cooperation between
the U.S. and Philippine governments in carrying out
Balikatan. On February 19, the Ambassador visited Jolo
Island, where a regional health clinic was being constructed.
The next week, on February 26, the Ambassador, accompanied
by PACOM Commander Admiral Keating, visited a Balikatan
engineering project in Cavite where a high school was being
rebuilt (ref C). On March 1, the Ambassador attended a
medical event conducted at a local clinic in the Marawi area
in central Mindanao (ref B). The DCM visited the remote
island of Balabac off the southern coast of Palawan on March
3, observing the construction of high school classrooms as
part of an engineering project being conducted jointly by the
Philippine military and the U.S. 31st Marine Expeditionary
Unit. During the event in Balabac, the mayor of the
primarily Muslim population heaped praise on the U.S. Marines
for their hard work, stating, “We hope this is the beginning
of a strong relationship with the United States” (ref A).
During these visits, the Ambassador and DCM described the
joint benefits to the Filipino people in media appearances
that received widespread coverage.

REACHING DIFFICULT AUDIENCES
—————————-

¶7. (C) While some critics harshly criticized U.S. presence in
the southern Philippines associated with Balikatan, the field
exercises in Luzon did not generate controversy. Ironically,
what should have been non-controversial–the humanitarian
activities–became a lighting rod for critics of U.S.-
Philippine military cooperation, due to sensitivities where
they were held and misperceptions about their intent.
However, the gratitude expressed by Filipinos assisted by the
various civil-military projects clearly demonstrated how
these projects can have a positive impact on skeptical
audiences. Candid observations made by local officials
illustrated the effectiveness of humanitarian projects in
reaching areas prone to terrorist recruitment and activity.
One local official in central Mindanao said that some of the
demonstrators protesting Balikatan activities in his area had
not only cheerfully admitted they had been paid to carry
anti-Balikatan posters, but that they had also received free
medical care during a Balikatan activity after the
demonstration. By the end of this year’s exercise, positive
coverage from a wide spectrum of Philippine media outlets
outweighed negative reporting that attempted to
mischaracterize Balikatan.

RETHINKING MIX OF BALIKATAN ACTIVITIES
————————————–

¶8. (C) At the conclusion of this year’s Balikatan exercise,
the Embassy team discussed several ideas to improve future
Balikatan exercises. One idea is to decouple humanitarian
activities in Central Mindanao from the Balikatan military
exercise and, instead, spread the humanitarian assistance in
the most sensitive regions across the year. Another idea is
to focus humanitarian assistance under Balikatan on remote
regions new to U.S. assistance, such as Balabac, and leave
more traditionally sensitive areas of Central Mindanao to
other times of the year. The Philippine military leadership
proposed that next year’s Balikatan include military
personnel from Singapore, Malaysia, and the United States.
All four militaries would participate in integrated field
training exercises and humanitarian assistance projects
conducted across the Philippines. While some options
examined the possibility of downsizing the number of field
training exercises and increasing the number of
civil-military projects, others discussed future Balikatan
exercises being more closely coordinated with community
relations activities and medical assistance projects
conducted by the USNS MERCY and other vessels during their
visits to the Philippines. Future Balikatan and other joint

MANILA 00000893 003 OF 003

exercises will need to adapt to the changing priorities of
the host nation.

COMMENT
——-

¶9. (C) This year’s Balikatan exercise was a success, despite
the efforts of a small but vocal group of critics to obstruct
the exercise. Thousands of U.S. and Philippine soldiers
conducted field exercises without incident, and in the
largely Muslim areas of the southern Philippines, U.S. forces
benefited from the force protection provided by their
Philippine counterparts and, together, safely conducted
humanitarian assistance activities to populations in need of
assistance. Cognizant that the complaints associated with
Balikatan may surface again in relation to future activities
such as the USNS MERCY visit in May, the Embassy is examining
ways to better involve Philippine authorities in establishing
improved communications with known skeptics of U.S.
assistance before future activities occur. We are carefully
reviewing various options to ensure that our Philippine
counterparts, while realizing the benefits of these future
exercises, are willing to play a stronger role in developing
the agenda and outcomes of the events. Planning for
Balikatan 2009 and other U.S.-Philippine joint military
activities must consider the range of strategic effects we
are seeking to accomplish and the potential perceptions —
public and private — of the various elements of the exercise
on different key audiences in the Philippines.
KENNEY

   

 

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