Oct 232014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/06/09MANILA1318.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA1318
2009-06-22 08:59
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO5543
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DE RUEHML #1318/01 1730859
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O 220859Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4449
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 001318

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/21/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER RP
SUBJECT: PHILIPPINES SEEKS BETTER FOOTING FOR REENGAGEMENT ON PEACE PROCESS

REF: A. MANILA 1049 (NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER SEEKS NEW
MALAYSIAN PEACE NEGOTIATOR)
¶B. MANILA 920 (FOREIGN SECRETARY ON PEACE PROCESS
ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION AND ASEAN)
¶C. MANILA 365 (NEW PEACE PROCESS ADVISER OPTIMISTIC
ABOUT FUTURE TALKS WITH REBELS)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The Philippine government continues to
commit publicly to a resumption of peace negotiations with
separatist Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines, but its
overtures have not elicited a clear response from the rebel
group. The government views peace as “tough, but not
impossible,” yet is struggling to transition from military
engagement to a ceasefire, as the military aggressively
pursues rogue rebel commanders who have evaded capture for 10
months in central Mindanao. Foreign Affairs Undersecretary
Rafael Seguis, who also heads the government’s peace panel,
acknowledged June 16 his government’s continued
dissatisfaction with the chief Malaysian peace facilitator;
Philippine efforts to coax the Malaysians into selecting a
new — more neutral, iin their view — chief facilitator have
been rebuffed, delaying progress in back-channel talks. Top
Philippine officials hope a ceasefire could open the door to
a renewal of other peace-reinforcing mechanisms, such as the
International Monitoring Team and a joint policing entity.
The government continues to seek observer status in the
Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), convinced that
it could use that status to better respond to rebel concerns,
but it left the OIC’s recent Damascus meeting empty-handed.
As the government mulls its options, a surge in fighting has
caused more displacement of Mindanao residents, leading to a
renewed focus by the government and donor countries on
sanitation and food distribution at evacuation camps, where
U.S. development aid continues to be directed to good effect.
END SUMMARY.

POSITIONING FOR PEACE TALKS
—————————

¶2. (C) Philippine Negotiating Panel Chairman Secretary
Rafael Seguis averred in a June 16 meeting with A/DCM his
government’s commitment to peace talks “without
preconditions, at any time” with separatist Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in the southern Philippines.
Achieving significant progress on a peace accord would be
“tough, but not impossible,” he said. Short-term government
efforts, he continued, were focused on obtaining a ceasefire
and revitalizing the International Monitoring Team (IMT),
still supported by Libya and Brunei but unable to fulfill its
mission without a ceasefire and new terms of reference. A
third backchannel meeting will take place June 22 in Manila
between Philippine peace panel members and Malaysian peace
facilitators under the leadership of Malaysian chief
facilitator, Othman Abdul Razak, whom Philippine officials
still regard as biased toward the interests of the MILF (ref
c). While Seguis said the government is unwilling to
renegotiate the territorial agreement invalidated by the
Supreme Court in 2008, it now envisioned an adjusted
arrangement granting the MILF six barangays in Lanao del Sur
province, but also asking the rebels to relinquish claims on
Palawan and the Sulu Sea’s vast resources. Seguis blamed his
predecessors for the earlier botched agreement, which had
reportedly been rushed so that President Arroyo could take
credit for the achievement in her July 28, 2008, State of the
Nation Address. Seguis lamented that Philippine proposals
for a new scope of discussion with the MILF had thus far
elicited no response from the MILF, or even from Malaysian
peace facilitators. At a separate diplomatic briefing on
June 15, Seguis criticized the MILF’s apparent
“foot-dragging.”

IMT AND OTHER MECHANISMS NOT OPERATING
————————————–

¶3. (C) Instituting a ceasefire and revitalizing the IMT are
the government’s priority, Seguis noted, but the continued
fighting in Mindanao affected the functioning of these and
other mechanisms established to support peace. The IMT, now
confined to Cotabato City, has diminished in size to only a
handful of observers from Libya and Brunei. With no
ceasefire and no new terms of reference for their mandate,
the monitors are idle. Seguis envisioned reinvigorating the
Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities,
the key ceasefire mechanism, and was looking at ways to
reconvene the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group, a joint
government-MILF policing and anti-terrorism entity. In the

MANILA 00001318 002 OF 003

meantime, Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process Avelino
Razon continues to advocate a
disarmament/demobilization/reintegration program, which the
MILF has outrightly declared is a non-starter. Rumors abound
that Razon intends to run for Mayor of Manila in the May 2010
elections and that he will soon resign from his position,
bringing his short (and largely ineffective) tenure as Peace
Process Advisor to an abrupt close.

SEEKING OIC MEMBERSHIP AND A NEW FACILITATOR
——————————————–

¶4. (C) Seguis noted the Philippines lobbied intensively for
observer status with the Organisation of the Islamic
Conference (OIC) at the group’s May meeting in Damascus, but
continued to face obstacles, as a handful of OIC member
states and Mindanao’s other main Muslim grouping, the Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF), already an OIC observer,
repelled Philippine appeals to OIC member states for their
support. Observer status, Seguis believed, would give the
Philippines more tools to address the development challenges
faced by Mindanao’s Muslims. Still, he conceded, the
government was no longer seeking OIC member countries to
become adjunct peace facilitators, prompted by concern about
these countries’ religious influence in the Philippines. Nor
would the OIC — with its dozens of members — be an
appropriate forum to settle a sovereign issue like peace in
Mindanao. While Seguis admitted that the U.S., due to its
level of acceptance in Mindanao, would be the best peace
facilitator, the Philippines might instead seek an EU country
to fill the role. Seguis suggested that, with presidential
elections scheduled for May 2010, a lower profile for U.S.
involvement in the peace process remains advisable as the
country moves into campaign season. Indonesia would be a
good alternate facilitator, but Seguis suspected that
Malaysia would disapprove, given political tensions between
the two countries.

CONCERN ABOUT IDP SITUATION
—————————

¶5. (C) At a separate June 15 briefing for the diplomatic
community and international development agencies, Seguis
noted that the government remains concerned about the effects
of ongoing hostilities on internally displaced persons (IDP),
whose numbers in central Mindanao have risen by 50,000 since
May to approximately 270,000 this month. In his early June
tour of IDP camps near Cotabato City, Seguis said he observed
a need for better sanitation and improved coordination
between local government units and line agencies. He urged
foreign donors to continue to coordinate their material and
logistical support through UN offices. Earlier, at a May
donors’ forum attended by the USAID Mission Director, donors
expressed concern about the impact of ongoing fighting on
food deliveries, particularly to Muslim communities. World
Food Programme (WFP) officials noted that while fighting may
have impacted the timing of food deliveries, food was still
being delivered unencumbered to communities through close
coordination with the Philippine military, who granted WFP
safe access to affected areas. Civil society groups
continued to express concern about access to affected
communities. One NGO operating in Mindanao received reports
of discrimination against IDPs by local government officials
aligned with the regional governor; officials in the town of
Aleosan reportedly refused the IDPs access to a storage depot
containing food and other supplies because of the IDP’s
alleged affiliation with the MILF.

U.S. DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE PLAYS IMPORTANT ROLE
——————————————— —

¶6. (C) Philippine officials and other observers unanimously
agree that U.S. development assistance in Mindanao, now
targeted to conflict-affected areas of central Mindanao,
remains a vital ingredient in the pursuit of a peace accord
and in providing relief for IDPs. In his meeting with the
DCM, Seguis expressed hope that as incremental progress in
the peace talks was achieved, perhaps through the
reinvigoration of existing peace mechanisms, the U.S. would
fund additional discreet development projects to help MILF
fighters disarm and to support IDPs in camps around central
Mindanao’s Liguasan Marsh, the site of some of the worst
fighting and an epicenter of MILF recruitment. Development
assistance, Seguis continued, provided not only an obvious
benefit for the people of Mindanao, but also for the image of
the U.S., which, according to a December 2008 survey, enjoys
high trust ratings among Mindanao residents, both Muslims and
Christians.

MANILA 00001318 003 OF 003

POLITICAL OBSTACLES TO TALKS
—————————-

¶7. (C) Obstacles in the relationship between the Philippine
government and the Malaysian facilitators appear to be
contributing to the delay in restarting peace talks.
According to a Malaysian Embassy political officer, the
Philippines committed a diplomatic faux pas when President
Arroyo dispatched National Security Advisor Norberto Gonzales
to negotiate with Malaysia’s recently elected Prime Minister
Najib Razak (ref A). The visit annoyed Malaysian officials,
and they resented the Philippines’ request to find a
replacement for chief facilitator Othman, which the Malaysian
government considered to be an internal personnel decision.
Seguis noted that a power struggle between Othman and a rival
could be contributing to the Malaysians’ sensitivities on
peace process issues. Meanwhile, within the Philippines,
Seguis noted the onset of election season poses its own
challenges to the peace process. With less than one year to
go before the general elections, presidential aspirants are
turning their attention to other issues; Mindanao rarely
figures into national discourse, and positions of some
candidates toward the rebels could harden as fighting drags
on.

COMMENT
——-

¶8. (C) Distinctly different factors are delaying a return to
the negotiating table: an ongoing military operation to track
down a rogue MILF leader; lack of organized political will on
either the government or rebel side to push for a ceasefire;
mistrust between the Philippines and the Malaysian peace
facilitators; and the rebels’ tacit disapproval of
negotiating terms that do not include the territorial
agreement declared unconstitutional last year. The
Philippine government has publicly encouraged the MILF to
“take bold steps to return to the negotiating table,” and has
declared itself open to negotiations “without preconditions.”
However, by insisting on a reduced scope for a new
territorial agreement and a
disarmament/demobilization/reintegration process, the
government appears to have established its own de facto
preconditions. The MILF leadership, splintered and
factionalized, is likely unable to take bold moves on its
own, meaning the government will have to make a larger
concession, if only as a gesture to entice the rebels back to
the negotiating table. It remains to be seen what the
government is willing to offer.
KENNEY

   

 

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