Oct 252014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/03/09MANILA549.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA549
2009-03-12 08:24
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO7269
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #0549/01 0710824
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 120824Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3492
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000549

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/10/2019
TAGS: MARR MOPS PINS PREL RP
SUBJECT: PREPARATIONS FOR BALIKATAN 2009 ON TRACK

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: With strong public support from senior
Philippine officials and provincial leaders, preparations for
Balikatan 2009 continue as scheduled. Senior Embassy
officials traveled to the central Philippine region where the
majority of Balikatan humanitarian assistance projects will
be conducted. Meeting with local politicians, religious
leaders, and law enforcement officials, Mission personnel
briefed them on planned civil-military activities while
soliciting their views and perceptions. Despite the firm
public support of national and provincial leaders, fringe
left-wing organizations have held sporadic small-scale
protests to demonstrate against Balikatan and the presence of
U.S. troops. At the same time, the New People’s Army has
issued statements calling on the local population to reject
Balikatan civil-military projects in the Bicol region for
being “U.S. military intervention disguised as humanitarian
assistance.” In the run-up to Balikatan, scheduled April
16-30, the Mission will continue monitoring the security
situation and maintain proactive engagement with national and
local officials and the media to ensure a smooth and
productive event. END SUMMARY.

——————————————— ————
PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT AND U.S. OUTREACH PAYING DIVIDENDS
——————————————— ————

¶2. (C) Preparations for Balikatan 2009 (BK 09), an annual
bilateral exercise conducted to promote interoperability
between the U.S. and Philippine militaries, continue as
scheduled. Approximately 6,000 U.S. troops and 3,000
personnel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will
take part in the two-week exercise beginning April 16. The
three distinct components are a Staff/Command Exercise, Field
Training Exercise, and Civil Military projects. The
Staff/Command and Field Exercises will take place at various
locations in central and northern Luzon, to include Fort
Magsaysay, Crow Valley, Subic Bay, Clark Air Base, and
Ternate just outside of metro Manila. Civil-military
projects will occur in Albay, Sorsogon, and Masbate provinces
of the Bicol region in southern Luzon and will include 22
medical events and 6 engineering projects.

¶3. (C) Calling Balikatan a vital exercise for the
Philippine military, Philippine Secretary of National Defense
Gilberto Teodoro and AFP Chief of Staff General Alexander
Yano voiced their unqualified support for BK 09 during a
large press conference at Philippine military headquarters
February 9. In attendance at the press conference and
briefing were Embassy officials and the governors of the
three southern Luzon provinces of Bicol, where civil-military
operations will take place. The media briefing was
successful in countering negative press reports that combat
exercises and war games would be taking place in Bicol, an
allegation that had been fueled by anti-government critics
and propaganda from the New People’s Army (NPA), a communist
terrorist insurgency.

¶4. (C) In addition to continued engagement with senior
Philippine government leadership, senior Embassy officials
traveled to Bicol to brief local politicians, religious
leaders, and law enforcement officials from Albay, Sorsogon,
and Masbate on the strictly humanitarian nature of the
civil-military activities planned for the region. Mission
personnel rebutted allegations of large-scale military
exercises in Bicol during media appearances and solicited the
views of provincial leaders. At the conclusion of the
visits, provincial representatives who were briefed were
unanimous in their support of the humanitarian assistance
projects to be conducted in their respective areas. They
were grateful for Embassy consultations and said they would
make a strong effort to inform the local population of the
benefits that the joint U.S.-Philippine humanitarian missions
were bringing to their region.

————————————–
PROTESTS NOT A SIGN OF SECURITY THREAT
————————————–

¶5. (C) Despite the very public support by both national and
provincial leaders, fringe elements have held small-scale
sporadic protests in Manila and in the Bicol region against
the upcoming Balikatan exercise. During February, the
capitol city of Albay Province, Legaspi, was the site of
several anti-Balikatan protests. Led by local critics of the
government and the NPA, these demonstrations were peaceful,
with attendance at most events numbering in the range of
several dozen participants. A caravan rally and a civic

MANILA 00000549 002 OF 002

meeting in an auditorium each attracted approximately 1,000
participants, but there were no instances of violence. While
most of these protests or rallies questioned Balikatan
activities being conducted in the area, other demonstrations
were used to air anti-government sentiments or rail against
local issues.

¶6. (C) The protests to date have been largely nonviolent,
but recent reports by local law enforcement officials cite
veiled threats from a “low-level commander” of a local subset
of the NPA, who stated that Philippine government escorts of
a planned UNICEF visit to a remote area of southeastern
Masbate Province would be ambushed. The reports led United
Nations officials to issue a travel ban to Masbate for their
staff. Separate, but equally credible reports, stated that
the NPA intended to extort “taxes” from UNICEF. This
unsubstantiated threat, while not linked to Balikatan, is an
example that illustrates the difficulty in determining
whether NPA poses a legitimate security concern for U.S.
personnel participating in Balikatan activities in Bicol.
NPA propaganda has stated that AFP units providing force
protection for Balikatan activities in Bicol are a legitimate
target, a development the Embassy is closely monitoring, but
has not deemed credible at this time.

——-
COMMENT
——-

¶7. (C) In the run-up to the April 16-30 Balikatan exercise,
the Mission will continue its proactive engagement with
national and local officials, as well as with its various
media contacts, to encourage balanced reporting and public
support for Balikatan. We remain confident that with the
exception of a small minority of reflexive anti-American
leftists who protest any U.S.-related issue, we will continue
to receive full public support for Balikatan from civil and
political leadership. While anti-U.S. NPA rhetoric began in
January, assertive actions by the Philippine military and
police have mitigated much of the NPA’s propaganda in recent
weeks. A key element of the NPA’s anti-Balikatan message has
been that the Philippine government, by partnering with U.S.
military personnel, is not working in the Bicol population’s
best interest, a message that is not gaining traction as the
obvious benefits of medical and engineering projects are
being promoted by local elected officials and religious
leaders. Nevertheless, the Mission will continue working
with Philippine security forces to evaluate the security
situation in Bicol closely and put measures in place to
ensure U.S. personnel participating in Balikatan operate in a
safe environment.
KENNEY

   

 

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