Sep 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/12/08MANILA2724.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA2724
2008-12-15 08:26
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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DE RUEHML #2724/01 3500826
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 150826Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2685
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 002724

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/12/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER ECON EAID MOPS PHUM RP
SUBJECT: PROGRESS IN 2008 AS PHILIPPINES LOOKS TOWARD 2010 ELECTIONS

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

¶1. (C) The past year was normally tumultuous for the
Philippines. President Gloria Arroyo withstood serious
domestic challenges, including an impeachment attempt and
corruption allegations, and weathered global energy and
financial crises. Human rights remained an area of deep
concern, with activists and journalists facing threats to
their lives, even as incremental progress was evident in
prosecuting extrajudicial killings. The peace process with
Muslim insurgents suffered a major setback when the Supreme
Court struck down a key peace deal, but the clear
determination of both President Arroyo and Muslim insurgent
leaders to achieve a settlement left open the promise of
reviving the talks in the New Year. The Philippines suffered
no major terrorist incidents, and was again successful in
neutralizing key terrorist suspects. Manila also remained a
strong regional collaborator, braving dismay from Southeast
Asian partners with continued vocal support for democratic
values, particularly in Burma. Many of the year’s successes
owed a debt to U.S. efforts, as the Mission pressed to
strengthen democratic institutions, instill respect for human
rights and the rule of law, and help keep alive the drive for
a peaceful, prosperous Mindanao. But our nation’s most
exemplary contribution may have been our own fair,
transparent presidential election that Filipinos at all
levels viewed as a model to strive for as the 2010 Philippine
presidential campaign begins in earnest in 2009.

¶2. (C) Comment: While the Philippines did not backslide on
key issues of concern — prosperity, peace, good governance
— forward momentum clearly faltered, and will face continued
pressure in 2009, as political leaders and the public shift
their focus to Philippine national elections. The campaign
could well exacerbate underlying flaws — potent nationalism,
political violence, appearing hawkish on insurgents — and
the U.S. and international community must be prepared to
exert increased influence to ensure Philippine leaders do not
sacrifice hard-won progress toward a more peaceful and just
society in favor of short-term political needs. Continued
successful collaboration on terrorism, defense reform, and
law enforcement will need to be accompanied by thoughtful
public and private messages on reviving the peace process,
halting extrajudicial killings, and reining in corruption.
End Summary and Comment.

PHILIPPINE DEMOCRACY: IMPERFECT BUT DEEPLY ROOTED
——————————————— —-

¶3. (C) The past year witnessed the kind of unruliness common
to Philippine democracy. President Arroyo fended off another
impeachment attempt from a disorganized opposition, weathered
high-profile corruption hearings over a soured broadband deal
and an old bribery scandal, and shepherded a worried public
through global energy, food and financial crises. The
reasons for her political survival were no mystery: Support
from an overwhelming majority in the House of
Representatives, where her two sons wield strong influence,
and a preponderance of governors and mayors. Equally
important, senior leaders of the armed forces and national
police maintained respect for the constitutional order, and
refrained from dallying in politics despite feelers from some
Arroyo opponents.

¶4. (C) The steady drumbeat of political discord belied a
deeply rooted, though clearly imperfect, democracy that
recognized fundamental rights. The press freely — if
sometimes irresponsibly — reported on a bewildering array of
social and political concerns. Religious leaders spoke out
routinely without fear, arguing against efforts to amend the
constitution or loosen family planning laws, and joining in
the outcry against corruption. A vibrant civil society,
including domestic and international NGOs of every stripe,
pressed for progress on ending political killings and
disappearances, greater economic justice, and an end to human
trafficking.

HUMAN RIGHTS: INITIAL GAINS, BUT MORE NEEDED
——————————————–

¶5. (C) Targeted assistance programs and blunt counsel from
the U.S. and the international community helped ensure the
Philippines continued to make incremental progress on an
array of human rights concerns, including human trafficking,
extrajudicial killings and disappearances, and flawed
judicial and law enforcement systems. U.S. assistance helped
fund several new shelters and safe houses for human

MANILA 00002724 002 OF 003

trafficking victims, and provided Philippine legal advocates
with the resources to secure the conviction of traffickers,
as the Philippine government focused additional prosecutors
and investigators on the problem. Under sustained
international scrutiny, even government critics were able to
acknowledge that the number of extrajudicial killings
remained historically low for a second year, and the
government successfully prosecuted two military officers for
extrajudicial killings — winning life sentences against both
— and convicted a civilian for killing a journalist.

¶6. (C) Serious human rights abuses continued, however,
particularly in areas outside Manila, where the law
enforcement and judicial systems are most starved for funds
and training. Advocates asserted that seven journalists were
murdered in the past year. Human rights activists rightly
criticized the government for its failure to effectively
prosecute hundreds of unresolved killings, and the Ambassador
and senior Mission members bluntly warned top Philippine
government officials of potential negative consequences of
failure to improve the human rights climate. In the coming
year, Mission will further expand its substantial efforts to
improve the capabilities of both the police and the justice
system, targeting significant resources on police training in
Mindanao and implementing an aggressive outreach program to
prosecutors and judges to improve their ability to prosecute
and win convictions in extrajudicial killings.

PUSHING TOWARD PEACE
——————–

¶7. (C) Events of the summer dealt a severe blow to one of
President Arroyo’s most prized policy goals — concluding a
comprehensive peace deal with the insurgent Moro Islamic
Liberation Front by 2010. The Supreme Court struck down an
arduously negotiated territorial agreement that would have
granted Muslims unprecedented political and financial
autonomy. This sparked savage attacks by rogue MILF elements
in Central Mindanao, leading to a months-long campaign by
Philippine armed forces to hunt down the attackers. Yet
while the fighting created a humanitarian crisis for tens of
thousands of displaced villagers, it did not spell an end to
the peace process. Indeed, Arroyo wants to announce a return
to the negotiating table before year’s end, underscoring the
abiding interest of most senior leaders in both the
government and MILF in finding a negotiated settlement to a
debilitating insurgency that has sapped national resources
and contributed to Mindanao’s widespread impoverishment.

¶8. (C) The peace process faces serious hurdles, however, and
both sides will need persistent encouragement and the
prospect of continued international support to return to
talks. While it is unclear whether Malaysia will continue in
its role as facilitator for the talks — the Philippine
government does not view Kuala Lumpur as a neutral arbiter —
there are key areas where the United States can continue to
play a unique role, short of active involvement in
negotiations. The Ambassador and other senior Mission
members have pressed consistent themes with both sides since
the breakdown in negotiations: reestablish the ceasefire in
Central Mindanao, return displaced villagers to their homes,
and restart talks. We underscored our concern for displaced
persons with high-profile visits and increased aid donations
to displaced persons camps. Along with key EU partners,
Japan, Australia and New Zealand, we have stressed the
willingness of the international community to provide
livelihood training and other assistance to help support a
peace deal and offer combatants an alternative to taking up
arms.

LOOKING BEYOND ARROYO
———————

¶9. (C) The recent U.S. elections had a profound impact on
Filipinos at every level of society. More than just which
presidential candidate would carry the day, there was intense
interest in the fact that polling could be fair, transparent,
and nonviolent, producing both a clear-cut victor and a
gracious concession and pledge of support from the losing
candidate. Campaigning for the Philippines’ national and
local election in May 2010 will begin in earnest by spring
2009, bringing both calming and discomfiting effects. With
the end of President Arroyo’s contentious presidency more
clearly in sight, efforts to unseat her are likely to find
fewer advocates in coming months. But past elections have
been marred by widespread violence and fraud, though with
incremental declines in deaths and cheating in recent polls.
And candidates are likely to appeal to voters’ strong sense

MANILA 00002724 003 OF 003

of nationalism in an effort to win support, possibly posing
difficulties for efforts to craft a peace accord with Muslim
insurgents, and making the United States, which has the most
prominent security and trade relationship with the
Philippines, a possible target of criticism.

¶10. (C) Still, the outcome of the upcoming Philippine
elections is unlikely to alter the basic strength of our
bilateral relationship. With the exception of former
President Estrada, who was convicted of plunder in 2007 and
may run again in 2010, the Mission has well-cultivated
relationships with the known contenders, all of whom are
well-disposed to the U.S. And the Mission will continue its
long-standing efforts to help reduce election fraud,
assisting Philippine election officials with efforts to
automate the polling process for thousands of national,
provincial and local officials, and helping to set up an
effective system of election observers.

STRONGER REGIONAL PARTNER
————————-

¶11. (C) The Philippines continued its outspoken support for
greater adherence to democratic principles and human rights
in Southeast Asia. President Arroyo and other key political
figures called repeatedly on Burma’s military junta to
release pro-democracy activists, especially opposition leader
Aung San Suu Kyi, and engage in open dialogue on a more
inclusive political process. The Philippines underscored its
commitment to Burma by sending a C-130 aircraft and a medical
team to assist the victims of Cyclone Nargis. Manila also
played a central role in incorporating a commitment to human
rights into the new ASEAN charter that has since been
ratified by almost all ASEAN member states. On North Korea,
the Philippines has consistently supported the Six-Party
Talks, and the Philippine Foreign Secretary consulted A/S
Hill before traveling to Pyongyang in mid-2008. The
Philippines has the potential to play a more active, pro-U.S.
role in the region and globally, as it overcomes its internal
challenges.
KENNEY

   

 

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