Oct 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/09/08MANILA2051.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA2051
2008-09-03 10:47
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO4185
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #2051/01 2471047
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 031047Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1725
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH IMMEDIATE 0760
RUEHJI/AMCONSUL JEDDAH IMMEDIATE 0369
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 002051

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/02/2018
TAGS: PGOV EAID PINR PREL PHUM KISL RP
SUBJECT: PEACE PROCESS AT A CROSSROADS

REF: A. MANILA 2022 (PRESIDENT DETERMINED TO STOP
ATTACKS BUT COMMITTED TO PEACE)
¶B. MANILA 1997 (GOVERNMENT PURSUES NEW PEACE
PROCESS STRATEGY)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The events of the last few weeks — the
Supreme Court’s cancellation of the signing of the Memorandum
of Agreement (MOA) on territory, the fighting in various
parts of central Mindanao, the government’s declaration that
it would no longer sign the MOA irrespective of the Supreme
Court’s decision — have dramatically altered relations
between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF). President Arroyo took a key step
toward reshaping the negotiating process September 3,
dissolving the panel of government negotiators who worked out
the MOA and instructing Peace Process Advisor Hermogenes
Esperon to undertake a thorough review of all peace
negotiations — with the MILF, the communist New People’s
Army and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). At the
same time, top government officials and commentators have
continued their harsh criticism of the MILF’s recent attacks
and called into question its legitimacy as a negotiating
partner. For its part, the MILF has suffered setbacks, both
on the battlefield and among its adherents, having failed to
bring back a viable territorial agreement despite key
concessions. The coming weeks will tell whether the MILF’s
time as a central player in Mindanao has passed. END
SUMMARY.

MILF CLEARLY DIMINISHED
———————–

¶2. (C) The MILF has emerged from events of recent weeks
clearly diminished — both militarily and politically. While
the MILF leadership negotiated in good faith with the
Philippine government on the MOA on territory and resource
sharing and made significant concessions, particularly with
regard to additional territory to be included in a new Muslim
political entity (from over 3000 neighborhoods to just over
700), in the end the leadership had no agreement to show its
rank and file members. In addition, the MILF suffered severe
military setbacks with the rout of two of its commanders, who
may or may not have been operating under the full control of
the central leadership. The MILF also failed miserably in
the public eye, in the aftermath of the bloody fighting, both
by declaring itself a “revolutionary” organization and by
refusing to turn over the two military commanders who incited
violence. There are now strong hints that the Philippine
government perceives the MILF as a spent force with which it
cannot do business, and indications that the government may
be considering as one possible peace track a comprehensive
agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), an
organization from which the MILF splintered in the wake of
the government-MNLF agreement in 1996.

IS THE MILF A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION?
————————————-

¶3. (C) Also lurking in the background is the difficult
discussion by some in the government about whether to label
the MILF a terrorist organization because of the unprovoked
attacks. There are a couple of issues on this front. It is
unclear whether the MILF meets the requirements to be
designated a terrorist organization. Many of their
ill-advised actions fall more readily under the rubric of
civil war/insurgency than purely terrorist actions.
Commander Kato, one of the rogue MILF commanders, for
example, reportedly seized villages that he thought would
fall within his purview under the new MOA. While the MILF
central committee exercises general military control over
subcommands and has the authority to carry out peace
negotiations with the government, its authority over certain
MILF commanders is limited to persuasion and influence rather
than direct control. It does appear to have firm control of
the MILF Special Operations Groups (SOGs), special forces
trained in weapons, demolition, and urban terrorism
considered the real muscle of the organization. Information
suggests that the SOGs have carried out bombings the past few
weeks.

¶4. (C) From the international perspective, it would be
difficult to brand the MILF a terrorist organization, since

MANILA 00002051 002 OF 003

the MILF has focused on Philippine targets and has not
targeted either U.S. or other foreign citizens or property.
The MILF has repeatedly assured U.S. officials that it has no
ties with terrorist organizations, such as the Abu Sayyaff
Group (ASG) or the Jemmah Islamiyah (JI), and there is no
strong evidence to suggest there exists an institutional link
between the central leadership and any terrorist
organization. That said, Mindanao is a clan-based society
that is heavily influenced by tribal relationships. There is
no doubt that there are common familial ties between members
of the MILF and the ASG or JI — some JI members are known to
reside in MILF-controlled areas — but these are personal
ties that have thus far not metamorphosed into clear
organizational or institutional ties.

ROUTING ROGUE MILF ELEMENTS
—————————

¶5. (C) One of the most striking aspects of fighting in recent
weeks has been the success of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) in fighting MILF elements. Using a
combination of rapid airlift, aerial bombardment, heavy
artillery, and ground tactics, the AFP effectively routed
MILF forces, inflicting serious casualties, though hard
numbers are difficult to ascertain. There are signs that the
MILF leadership itself considers the swift defeat a
considerable military setback, particularly its reaching out
to Malaysian and other foreign officials to urge the
Philippine government to stop the AFP counteroffensive.
Similarly, there has been an increase in kidnap for ransom of
doctors in Mindanao, a traditional telltale sign that MILF
fighters are in need of medical attention.

¶6. (C) For its part, the AFP appears to have been successful
in its well calibrated and modulated offensive in response to
MILF incursions. The Philippine government has made clear
that the current AFP offensive is not intended to be an all
out conflict but an effort to quash certain insurgent
commanders. The AFP’s combined tactics represent a step
forward, and suggest that the training they have received
from U.S. advisors has taken root and produced positive
results.

PEACE PROCESS AT CROSSROADS
—————————

¶7. (C) The peace process is clearly at a crossroads, with
both the Philippine government and the MILF groping for the
future. In a sign that the peace process is not fatally
injured, Philippine government and MILF negotiators traveled
to Kuala Lumpur under the auspices of the Malaysian
facilitator and agreed to extend the mandate of the
International Monitoring Team (IMT), which had been
instrumental in keeping a cease-fire since their arrival in
2004, for another three months. The parties agreed to
increase the number of Malaysian participants by 15, helping
to overcome a withdrawal of 25 since last spring.

THE WAY FORWARD
—————

¶8. (C) Beyond that, the way forward remains murky. For all
its angry public statements, the MILF has not given up on the
peace process. In addition to its willingness to extend the
mandate of the IMT, the MILF also did not use the
cancellation of the signing of the MOA as a pretext for
ending the cease-fire and engaging in all out war. Indeed,
in all likelihood, even the actions of the two commanders
were not under the full control of the central leadership of
the MILF. While it is hard to conceive they were truly
“rogue” commanders, as widely portrayed by the press, the
MILF is not a monolithic organization. Instead, it is one
based on personal loyalty to, and inspiration from, local
commanders, who maintain significant influence over their own
fighters and autonomy over how they are deployed.

¶9. (C) For its part, the government awaits the Supreme
Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the MOA. In a
confused performance during oral arguments before the Supreme
Court, the Solicitor General failed to defend the MOA and
appeared to junk it outright. However, the Solicitor
General’s arguments were so contradictory that it is
currently unclear whether all elements of the MOA will be
dropped. The Philippine government is outraged by the bloody
attacks perpetrated by the MILF, and there are some

MANILA 00002051 003 OF 003

government officials arguing that the MILF is no longer a
viable organization with which to negotiate. Indeed, some
officials argue that it is time for the government to focus
its Mindanao efforts on the Moro National Liberation Front
(MNLF). Nur Misuari, the MNLF’s sometimes erratic leader,
was recently inducted into the ruling KAMPI, the President’s
party. In addition, some government officials are beginning
to look at Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema, a well known
and widely respected MNLF leader, as someone with whom the
government can do business.

THE U.S. ROLE
————-

¶10. (C) It will clearly take several weeks for the outlines
of the government’s and MILF’s next steps to take shape and
there will likely be many false starts before they pick up
the pieces and reformulate. In the meantime, post believes
that the current U.S. posture remains appropriate. A very
limited number of U.S. special forces in Mindanao maintains a
low profile but provides tactical and strategic guidance to
AFP counterparts. The AFP’s success against the MILF is a
clear sign that U.S. efforts are bearing fruit, both on the
military and policy side. Our low-key military posture in
Mindanao is best paired with a lowering of our profile on the
diplomatic front. In the days immediately following the
cancellation of the signing of the MOA, commentators and
politicians suggested the U.S. had ulterior motives in
Mindanao and questioned the U.S.’s forward leaning stance in
the peace process. In private meetings with government
officials at all levels, including with President Arroyo, and
during public events, the Ambassador and senior officers have
strongly rebutted suggestions that the U.S. has ulterior
motives in promoting peace in Mindanao. We have also
highlighted our long-term support and commitment to
development cooperation and have reached out to an array of
public and private groups, including human rights advocates,
development organizations, Muslim civic organizations, and
others with an interest in peace. By stressing our strong
belief that a stable and peaceful Mindanao is key for a more
prosperous and unified Philippines, we have helped stanch the
flow of negative commentary on television and the press and
begun to reach voices of reason, who will hopefully help
bring the parties back to the peace process.
KENNEY

   

 

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