Oct 242014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2010-01-19 05:46
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #0093/01 0190546
O 190546Z JAN 10
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANILA 000093


E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/06/2020

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


¶1. (C) While several tumultuous events — a political
massacre in Mindanao, massive flooding in Luzon — created an
end-of-year sense of crisis in the Philippines, overall
political and security stability improved perceptibly over
the course of 2009. The year witnessed no significant
military or political efforts to unseat the president, and
insurgent Muslims in Mindanao returned to peace talks with
the government. President Arroyo also moved forcefully when
she imposed martial law for a brief period in areas of
Maguindanao province to respond to the worst act of clan
violence in recent years. Nonetheless, the Philippines faces
numerous challenges in 2010 that could divert attention from
issues of concern to the U.S., like counterterrorism and
regional leadership on democratization and human rights. The
country is intensely focused on May national elections, which
have already been marked by violence and fears that new
automated voting could lead to disarray. The elections could
also distract the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from
counterterrorism efforts in the South. While the government
has made meaningful progress in talks with the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF), the calendar may not permit this
administration to conclude a comprehensive peace compact.
U.S.-Philippine relations are likely to remain strong no
matter who wins the presidential election. Although some
Filipinos publicly criticized our Visiting Forces Agreement
(VFA) in 2009, our troops here won widespread acclaim for the
assistance they (and other USG agencies) provided in the
aftermath of natural disasters. We also have provided the
government recommendations for continued progress against
trafficking in persons. End Summary.


¶2. (C) The Philippines’ election season is now in full swing.
Although the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos ended in
1986, the Philippines has only had three presidential
elections since then, all marred by irregularities and
violence. The current election process has already been
badly scarred by conflict. Filipinos were stunned by the
heinous November 23 massacre of 57 unarmed people, many women
and journalists, by members of the powerful Ampatuan clan in
Maguindanao province. The Arroyo administration proved wrong
the widespread suspicion that the Ampatuans — political
allies of the President — would escape accountability for
this crime. Despite intense criticism from democracy
activists, the President imposed martial law in portions of
Maguindanao for eight days, during which the authorities
arrested leading clan members and disarmed the Ampatuans’
private army. The Ampatuans’ fate remains unclear; they are
widely presumed guilty, but the legal processes are only
beginning. The audacity of the crime exposed a provincial
political and justice system that was deeply dysfunctional
and susceptible to political influence.

¶3. (C) Despite widespread concerns throughout 2009 that
President Arroyo might seek to remain as chief executive
beyond the time the constitution allowed, we believe she
intends to step down as president in June when her term ends.
However, she has also taken the unprecedented step of
registering to run for a congressional seat. Many political
observers see this as continuation of Arroyo’s effort to
achieve a constitutional amendment to create a parliamentary
system of government, and perhaps allow her to return to
political preeminence in the near term. Some Filipinos are
also anxious about the use of automated ballot tabulation in
the May 2010 elections, fearing that computer systems will
facilitate distortion of election results, or that equipment
failures might render the entire election illegitimate and
create a constitutional crisis. The Mission is taking a
leading role with international and domestic NGOs and other
Embassies to craft an election monitoring effort to help
ensure a more fair and transparent voting process.

¶4. (C) Although it is too early to call the presidential
race, recent polls have given Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino
III front-runner status, but we do not rule out Senator
Manuel “Manny” Villar, a wealthy self-made businessman and
more experienced politician. Aquino, Villar, and the other
contenders are all well-disposed toward the United States,
and we are confident we can work well with whoever wins the

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presidential election. The greatest challenge for us is to
avoid becoming entangled in partisan politics, as many
Filipinos lack faith in U.S. neutrality.


¶5. (C) Military relations between the U.S and the Philippines
are robust and vibrant. A Philippine court of appeal’s
spring 2009 ruling that overturned the conviction of Lance
Corporal Daniel Smith, who spent years in detention on
Embassy grounds, removed an extraordinarily serious irritant
to military ties. Opponents of the close U.S.-Philippine
military relationship continued to focus attention on our
Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which became the subject of
legislative hearings late in the year. Public attention has
now shifted away from the VFA, but we remain watchful that
politically motivated critics may again focus on the
agreement, and we recognize it may become necessary for us to
clarify with the GRP the modalities for the incarceration of
certain persons covered by the VFA.

¶6. (C) The Philippines, named a Major Non-NATO Ally in 2003,
remains a committed bilateral and regional partner in
fighting terrorism. In 2009, the Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) conducted numerous successful raids against
high-value targets associated with the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist organizations, as well as
against the communist New People’s Army (NPA — also a
terrorist organization) and rogue elements of the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Incurring inevitable
casualties, the AFP nevertheless continued to aggressively
engage and pursue terrorist elements in Basilan and Jolo.
Thanks to close cooperation with the Joint Special Operations
Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P), which is working to
enhance the AFP’s capabilities to engage terrorists, the AFP
recorded 10 ASG members it killed in 2009, leaving the ASG
approximately 390 strong. (Separately, the police claimed it
killed seven ASG members.) The AFP also claimed 165 NPA
members killed in action during 2009, with the police adding
13 to that number.


¶7. (C) While kinetic operations are essential to the
Philippine military’s strategy against terrorism, recent use
of humanitarian assistance programs involving medical,
dental, engineering, and veterinary clinics have done much to
alleviate the local populace’s unease toward the AFP and
mitigate support given to terrorists in isolated areas. The
AFP continued to emphasize the role of civil-military
operations (CMOs), in part through the growing role of the
National Development Support Command and establishment of a
civil military operations school. Tragically, U.S. servicemen
Sergeant First Class Christopher D. Shaw and Staff Sergeant
Jack Mayfield Martin III — and one AFP counterpart — died
on Jolo island on September 29, 2009, when their vehicle
detonated an improvised explosive device. Shaw and Martin
were engaged in a CMO that entailed construction of a school.
The Embassy is working with Philippine authorities as they
conduct a criminal investigation.

¶8. (C) The AFP may be increasingly distracted from its CT
mission, however, as elections approach. Not only did the
Department of National Defense undergo a leadership
transition as Secretary Gilberto Teodoro resigned in order to
begin his presidential campaign, but the AFP is also turning
to focus on its traditional mission of providing a secure
environment for elections. Teodoro’s resignation may weaken
support for the Philippine Defense Reform (PDR) program,
intended to introduce comprehensive systemic reforms in the
defense establishment. The PDR’s initial phase is scheduled
to conclude in 2010, as the program transitions from a focus
on internal defense to territorial defense.

¶9. (U) The AFP in 2009 demonstrated its ability to respond to
multiple natural disasters in a prompt and professional
manner. Responding to the extensive damage from a
devastating series of typhoons and floods, the Philippine
military was instrumental in rescuing stranded civilians,
providing medical services, and using their engineering
assets to rebuild roads and homes destroyed by these natural
disasters. U.S. forces worked closely with the AFP and
civilian authorities in these efforts, receiving substantial
positive publicity, and the superb coordination between U.S.

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and Philippine forces demonstrated the growing
interoperability of our two militaries, due in large measure
to intensive bilateral training efforts. The Philippines
also established itself as a regional leader in disaster
response by hosting the first ASEAN Regional Forum disaster
relief exercise — the Voluntary Demonstration of Response
(VDR) — in May 2009.

¶10. (U) Coupled with its recent success at home, overseas the
Philippine military continues to excel as a much sought after
partner in United Nations Peacekeeping Missions (UNPK). The
late-2009 dispatch of an AFP battalion to replace a Polish
unit in the Golan Heights boosted the total Philippine
deployment in peacekeeping operations to approximately 1,000
Philippine soldiers, police officers or other experts in nine
UNPK missions worldwide.

¶11. (C) The AFP, due in no small part to numerous regular
bilateral training exercises with the U.S. military,
continues to improve slowly, but challenges remain. While
the Philippine military’s senior promotions have become less
politicized, chronic budgetary shortfalls have left the AFP
woefully under-equipped and understaffed. Severe budgetary
constraints have made it difficult for the AFP to purchase
badly needed equipment ranging from aircraft to ammunition.
Budget constraints also reduce reliable maintenance for the
Philippines’ rapidly aging C-130s and Huey helicopters.


¶12. (C) It seemed like a distant hope in early 2009 that the
government could revive peace talks between the government
and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The two
parties reached a ceasefire agreement just days before
President Arroyo’s July visit to Washington, however, ending
a year of intense fighting in central Mindanao, and laying
the groundwork for a full resuscitation of peace talks.
Still intact, the ceasefire has enabled thousands of
internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return to their homes.
We continue to provide emergency assistance to IDPs across
central Mindanao, including food aid, shelter, and health and
sanitation services.

¶13. (C) Arroyo has made additional meaningful progress toward
a peace settlement with the MILF in the second half of the
year. The government and MILF concluded a September
agreement creating an international contact group to support
the peace process, and then agreed in October to form a
civilian protection component within the International
Monitoring Team. Formal peace talks resumed December 8 in
Kuala Lumpur. Both sides continue to work toward a
comprehensive compact, although a Philippine government
official recently acknowledged privately to us that there is
insufficient time before the elections to sign one. Arroyo
ultimately seeks to secure the legacy of having moved the
Philippines closer to ending one of its most intractable
conflicts, while the MILF leadership hopes to reduce the
uncertainties associated with the upcoming change of

¶14. (C) Throughout 2009, we used our extensive development
assistance and consistent high-level engagement to encourage
the parties to advance the peace process. USAID development
assistance supports education, health, economic growth, and
governance programs across Mindanao, while Joint Special
Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P) humanitarian
projects, executed jointly with the Philippine military,
assisted communities susceptible to violence and terrorist
influence. The USG programs not only tangibly improved the
lives of Mindanao’s people, but they also helped focus the
Philippine government on the needs of its people. These
initiatives are bolstered by regular high-level engagement
between senior Mission officials and Philippine government
cabinet members, in addition to our contact with the MILF.
The Charge d’Affaires met on October 16 with the MILF’s top
leadership at MILF headquarters to affirm our support for the
peace process, and visiting DAS Marciel on November 6
delivered a letter from EAP A/S Campbell to MILF Chairman
Murad Ebrahim, reiterating our unchanged policy of support
for peaceful solution to the longstanding conflict.


¶15. (C) A member of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Philippines

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does not always agree with us in foreign affairs and
frequently does not vote the same way that we do in
international fora. The Philippines in 2009 continued to
pursue observer status with the Organization of the Islamic
Conference, hopeful that this would facilitate its peace
process with the MILF and provide the government more
influence for the protection of the millions of overseas
Filipino workers in OIC countries. Nevertheless, the
Philippines has been a valuable partner on high-priority
regional issues. The Philippines remained a vocal supporter
of Aung San Suu Kyi and others working for democracy and
human rights in Burma. The Philippines also has been a
strong ally in condemning provocative and destabilizing acts
by North Korea. (Usefully, the Philippines has pressed ASEAN
to take a stronger line on both Burma and North Korea.)

¶16. (C) The Philippines has also welcomed close coordination
with us in advance of its May 2010 chairing of the
Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference (Revcon). While
the Revcon’s coinciding with national elections implies that
it will be difficult for policymakers to remain focused on
nonproliferation, we believe we can use our engagement with
the Philippines in the coming months to lay the foundation
for a productive event.


¶17. (C) Following the Philippines Tier Two Watch List
placement in the 2009 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report,
the Philippine government inventoried cases and pressed
judges for decisions on cases that could be solved quickly.
Progress is slow, but there have been clear, noticeable
improvements. The Philippines has engaged more closely with
Singapore and Malaysia on transnational TIP cases that could
help Philippine law enforcement crack down on powerful
trafficking rings. The government obtained four convictions
in the current TIP report cycle, including the conviction of
a police officer — the first conviction ever of a public
official for human trafficking. Although resource shortages
continue to hamper government training efforts, some law
enforcement agencies are becoming more aggressive in
preventing and investigating human trafficking. We have
urged the government at senior levels to do more against
trafficking and have approached officials at the working
level with boththe G/TIP Action Plan and Post’s own specific

¶18. (C) More generally, judicial eform programs are helping
Philippine prosecutor and courts become more effective
partners of lawenforcement and more responsive to citizens’
nees. The introduction of small claims courts and ou
ongoing support for improed case and courtroom management
training, judicial investigations, and broadening citizens’
access to justice are strengthening the judicial system.
Small claims courts, to be rolled out nationwide in 2010,
have the potential over time to unburden the judicial system
of its sizable case backlog.

¶19. (C) Post began preparations to invite two federal
prosecutors through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of
Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT) to
train Philippine prosecutors and law enforcement personnel on
professional best practices and police-prosecutor
cooperation, among other areas. One of the prosecutors will
focus exclusively on human trafficking prosecutions and be
augmented by a victim witness coordinator. Our hope is to
help prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement personnel
improve cooperation and break through inefficiencies that
stymie success in criminal trials.



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