Oct 232014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2008-02-21 11:02
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #0454/01 0521102
O 211102Z FEB 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000454



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/21/2018

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: In a lively and wide-ranging February 21
meeting with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, she exhibited
an especially keen interest in my February 19 trip to
Mindanao to visit Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader
Murad Ebrahim. I told President Arroyo that Chairman Murad
had asked me to convey to her that the MILF wants a peace
agreement as soon as possible; that — despite reports — the
MILF is united; and that they are concerned that political
“noise” in Manila might distract the administration’s focus
from negotiations. The President underscored her
administration’s enthusiasm for a peace agreement, and
responded positively to the idea that a face-to-face meeting
between herself and Murad might be helpful. Arroyo expressed
her frustration at ongoing political scandals, explaining her
plans to counter such negative publicity with a series of
public addresses. She offered appreciation for U.S.
assistance in intelligence-sharing and in publicizing the
advantages of free trade. END SUMMARY.

¶2. (C) At her request, I went to the Palace today to meet
with Philippine President Arroyo. President Arroyo, who was
joined by Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and National
Security Advisor Bert Gonzalez, eagerly sought details of my
meetings with Chairman Murad at the MILF’s Camp Darapanan
headquarters (septel). She was surprised to learn that the
MILF’s entire expanded Central Committee was present,
including MILF vice chairman Aleem Mimbanatas, whom she had
earlier told me was alienated from Murad. I outlined
Chairman Murad’s eagerness for a final peace agreement with
the government, his expression of the MILF’s willingness to
move together with the other main Muslim faction, the Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF), and how he had opined that
“time was not in his favor.” I related that Murad voiced
concern that Manila’s perennial political scandals might have
distracted the administration, as well as his worries over
rumors he had heard, during peace negotiations in Malaysia,
of division within Arroyo’s Cabinet over the peace process.
The President emphatically responded that her side was
equally eager to achieve a final peace agreement, and that
the only term with which the Cabinet was still struggling was
“self-determination.” Arroyo offered that the Malaysian
facilitator of the negotiations Datuk Othman was promoting
inaccurate ideas in the minds of MILF representatives and
raising issues that were irrelevant.

¶3. (C) I described how, in answer to a spur-of-the-moment
question of whether Murad had ever met President Arroyo,
Murad had pointed out a photograph on his table showing
himself with Arroyo during her term as Vice President, adding
that he would welcome the chance to talk directly in some
neutral venue. The President reacted immediately, turning to
NSA Gonzalez to ask how best to go about setting it up. I
went on to outline to the President how I had raised U.S.
concerns to Murad that terrorists were seeking refuge in
MILF-controlled territory; Arroyo agreed on the importance of
excluding rogue terrorist elements from the area. The
President acknowledged her gratification at the recent arrest
of Jemaah Islamiyah operative Latif, and inquired as to how
soon we might be able to confirm the identity of a body
recovered February 18 that is believed to be that of Bali
bomber Dulmitan. I explained that the FBI’s DNA analysis
might take a couple of weeks. Arroyo thanked me for U.S.
provision of additional information on threat streams
relating to recent threats against her and other targets.

¶4. (C) Turning to current political issues, President Arroyo
commented that she was “not distracted, but annoyed” at the
continuing controversy over last year’s failed NBN-ZTE deal
to create a digital broadband network. I asked Arroyo
whether further tit-for-tat public arguments over the matter
were helpful, suggesting that the administration might
instead be better served by drawing attention to its
accomplishments in other areas. Arroyo responded that she
planned to undertake a series of brief “state of the nation”
addresses in the near future in an effort to refocus on the
government’s overall success in moving the nation forward.
She also expressed appreciation for the Embassy’s having
organized a USTR-led video teleconference to discuss the
issue of free trade.

¶5. (C) Lastly, in response to the President’s inquiry as to
how bilateral Balikatan humanitarian military exercises were
proceeding thus far in Mindanao, I said that although the
exercises were moving ahead fine, several Mindanao leaders
had told me of their frustration at what they perceived as a
lack of consultation beforehand. Arroyo turned to Security
Advisor Gonzalez and said, “We need to fix that,” tacitly
acknowledging that the Philippine government and armed forces
had not adequately prepared the ground for the very sensitive

MANILA 00000454 002 OF 002

issue of deploying even a small number of U.S. forces in
Mindanao. I said we continued to be worried about force
protection for our troops on Jolo and were working closely
with the Philippine armed forces and police to keep our
forces safe. The President reacted strongly, saying, “We can
not have anything happen to the U.S. troops,” and instructed
NSA Gonzales to make this a priority.

¶6. (C) Comment: The President was strikingly eager for
information about my visit with Murad, a meeting she herself
had encouraged previously as a way to demonstrate
international commitment to stability in Mindanao. There was
no mistaking her staunch commitment to the peace process, and
her strong interest in exploring a meeting with the MILF
chairman herself, a move which could make a striking change
in both the tenor and pace of the so-far fitful negotiations.
Equally notable was her reaction to the continuing
corruption charges that afflict her administration. While
she is clearly bothered by the constant charges, she seemed
to determined to fight back, not give in.



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