Oct 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/09/08MANILA2178.html#them with others. See also the FAQs
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA2178
2008-09-19 08:23
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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DE RUEHML #2178/01 2630823
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 190823Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1872
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH IMMEDIATE 0766
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH IMMEDIATE 0375
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 002178

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/18/2018
TAGS: PGOV EAID PINR PREL PHUM KISL RP
SUBJECT: MINDANAO PEACE PROCESS: SEEKING A WAY FORWARD

REF: A. MANILA 02171 (DEFENSE SECRETARY DISCUSSES
MINDANAO WITH AMBASSADOR)
¶B. MANILA 02072 (PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR DISCUSSES
PEACE PROCESS

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The Philippine government continues to
grapple for an appropriate way to address the ailing peace
process, even as it awaits the Supreme Court decision on the
constitutionality of the stalled Memorandum of Agreement on
territory with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
While the government fully expects to resume peace talks once
the Supreme Court issues a decision and the security
situation is stabilized, exactly what form that process will
take is fluid. Meanwhile, after several weeks of intensive
fighting in central Mindanao, the military still is engaged
in the hunt for the two MILF commanders who unleashed attacks
on civilians and government forces in Mindanao, following the
breakdown of peace talks in August. The Philippine Armed
Forces has had success in containing the fighting, which is
generally limited to Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao provinces
in central Mindanao. President Arroyo had made the conflict
in Mindanao a top priority and traveled there September 18 to
meet with military commanders to assess firsthand the
government’s handling of internally displaced persons. In
meetings with senior officials, including President Arroyo
and key members of the Cabinet, the Ambassador has stressed
our strong belief that the resumption of peace negotiations
remains the only hope for achieving long-term stability and
prosperity in the southern Philippines. President Arroyo is
resolute in pursuing the peace process, but the political
opposition appears just as determined to fight her efforts.
The Supreme Court decision could dictate whether there are
enough salvageable elements in the agreement to bring the
parties back to the negotiating table soon. END SUMMARY.

RESUMING PEACE TALKS
——————–

¶2. (C) The Philippine government continues to grapple for an
appropriate way to address the ailing peace process, even as
it awaits the Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality
of the stalled Memorandum of Agreement on territory with the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). While President Arroyo
clearly announced that the Administration would not sign the
Agreement in any form, irrespective of the Supreme Court
decision, some government officials indicated that the
ruling, expected in late September, would help guide the form
and substance of future negotiations. Government officials
have also unambiguously stated that the peace process cannot
move forward until the security situation on the ground in
the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao has been stabilized
and “rogue” MILF commanders have been captured, two areas in
which the government has made progress.

UNRESOLVED FACTORS
——————

¶3. (C) While the government fully expects to resume peace
talks once the Supreme Court issues a decision and the
security situation is stabilized, exactly what form that
process will take is undetermined. Although the government
announced that it would appoint two peace panels — one to
address disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration, the
other to focus on political and economic concerns — after
the dissolution of the peace panel, it has not yet done so,
nor have possible candidates to integrate the panels been
mentioned. It is similarly unclear whether Malaysia will
continue to play a role as facilitator, as there appears to
be a considerable level of dissatisfaction within the
Philippine government with their role. Officials have also
made clear that disarming and demobilizing Muslim insurgents
is not a precondition for returning to the negotiating table,
but would be undertaken concurrently with the negotiations.

PUNO OUTLINES STRATEGY
———————-

¶4. (C) During a private breakfast meeting September 18 with
the Ambassador, Department of Interior and Local Government
Secretary Ronaldo Puno said that resumption of negotiations
would have to wait until the three rogue MILF leaders who
were the instigators of violence have been apprehended,

MANILA 00002178 002 OF 003

although he opined that decisive action to contain them by
the MILF leadership might also be acceptable. While Puno
acknowledged that further progress with the MILF might not be
possible during President Arroyo’s term, he said that Arroyo
still held out hope for a return to negotiations. Secretary
Puno stressed that much depended on the Supreme Court’s
ruling on the Memorandum of Agreement, and that if the Court
found that the agreement was unconstitutional, that could
result in yet another move to impeach President Arroyo, which
would put the peace process on hold indefinitely.

SEARCHING FOR ROGUE COMMANDERS
——————————

¶5. (C) After several weeks of intensive fighting, the
Philippine military still is engaged in the hunt for the two
MILF commanders — Commanders Bravo and Kato — who unleashed
a series of attacks on civilians and government forces in
Mindanao following the breakdown of peace talks in August.
Although initially more widespread, the fighting is generally
now limited to Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao provinces in
central Mindanao. Initial battles between large numbers of
MILF and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) forces
have given way to smaller, guerrilla-style engagements after
the MILF suffered heavy casualties from AFP bombing and
artillery. The MILF is using its knowledge of the terrain
and support from locals to keep the AFP at bay, preferring to
employ ambushes when they have the advantage. In recent
days, such engagements have resulted in AFP casualties as
Philippine troops press further into MILF territory in
Mindanao. While the MILF commanders are still on the run,
there have been reports that Commander Kato was injured
during the fighting and that Commander Bravo is closing ranks
and dismissing bodyguards out of fear of betrayal.
Meanwhile, on Jolo, the local MILF commander has signed an
agreement with the Philippine AFP commander, pledging to
maintain the ceasefire and stability on the island. We have
not seen MILF forces moving from the Sulu Archipelago to
Mindanao in support of the rogue MILF commanders.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS A TOP PRIORITY
——————————————-

¶6. (C) The Philippine government has told us that they expect
fighting to continue on a limited scale for the near term.
President Arroyo had made the conflict in Mindanao a top
priority and traveled there September 18 to meet with
military commanders to assess firsthand the government’s
handling of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The
Philippine National Disaster Coordinating Council estimates
approximately 105,000 families (500,000 people) have been
displaced in Mindanao from January through early September.
The majority of the IDPs are located in Lanao del Norte,
North Cotabato, and Maguindanao. Approximately one-third of
those were displaced in the fighting that has occurred in the
last month. Although government shelters are overcrowded,
many families have begun to return to their homes or are
staying with relatives. The total assistance being provided
by all government and NGO partners (including the UN) is
about USD 13 million. USAID is supplying an additional USD
100,000 in assistance to Save the Children, an international
NGO. The Philippine government believes that in order to
protect the civilian population from both Christian vigilante
forces and rogue MILF insurgents, a more robust police
presence — coupled with stronger cooperation between law
enforcement and the military — will be necessary in Mindanao.

FORCES STRETCHED THIN
———————

¶7. (C) Although the AFP had performed very well to date in
moving their forces and managing the conflict — including
minimizing civilian involvement — in the aftermath of losing
one of their C-130 aircraft on August 25, the Philippine
government is concerned about the military’s ability to
sustain operations from a resupply standpoint. The loss of
the aircraft and the focus on Mindanao had temporarily
stretched the ability of the AFP to respond to other demands.
Should the Philippines suffer another large natural disaster
in the next few months, the government has emphasized that it
might have to call on the USG for assistance.

MISSION DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS
————————–

MANILA 00002178 003 OF 003

¶8. (C) In meetings with senior government officials,
including President Arroyo, Foreign Secretary Romulo, Defense
Secretary Teodoro, Interior Secretary Puno, and other key
members of the Cabinet, the Ambassador and senior Mission
officials have stressed our strong belief that the resumption
of peace negotiations remains the only hope for achieving
long-term stability and prosperity in the southern
Philippines. Noting the cost in human life and displacement
of hundreds of thousands of people, the Ambassador has
repeatedly underscored the need to limit hostilities and not
permit the conflict to spread to other areas of Mindanao.
Similarly, the Ambassador has highlighted the importance of
respecting the human rights of civilians and captured
combatants alike. Philippine officials have uniformly
stressed their intention to limit the conflict and seek a way
back to the negotiating table. Since the conflict began last
month, the Ambassador has also been in regular contact with
other members of the diplomatic community, including the
Australian, British, and Japanese ambassadors to ensure that
the international community stays engaged.

COMMENT
——-

¶9. (C) While President Arroyo appears determined to pursue
the peace process, she faces continued challenges, both from
Muslim insurgents and from her vociferous political
opponents. The political opposition appears determined to
fight her efforts, not necessarily because they oppose peace,
but because they perceive a political vulnerability they can
exploit. Some Senators and other key members of the
opposition appear intent on denying her the legacy of peace
she has announced she seeks, and instead see the potential
for yet another run at impeachment. The MILF faces a similar
dilemma. While the MILF leadership clearly wants a peace
agreement, they are hard pressed to turn over the “rogue”
commanders who instigated the current violence, as such
action could be seen by some as tantamount to treason in this
clan-based society. In addition, the MILF leadership cannot
easily abandon the stalled agreement, as it represents the
fruit of several years of negotiations. Beginning the
process from scratch would be an admission of failure that
could cost the MILF leadership their positions. The wild
card here is the Supreme Court decision, which could well
find that while the agreement is unconstitutional in its
present form, there are enough salvageable elements to bring
the parties back to the negotiating table.
KENNEY

   

 

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