Oct 262014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/11/08MANILA2596.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA2596
2008-11-25 05:59
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 002596

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/20/2018
TAGS: MARR MOPS PINS PREL PTER RP
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR LTG FRASER’S VISIT TO THE PHILIPPINES

Classified By: Amb. Kristie A. Kenney, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Welcome to the Philippines! You are coming
to the Philippines at an important time. Our bilateral
engagement remains strong with the Talon Vision/PHIBLEX
exercise having recently concluded and planning for Balikatan
2009 in full swing. With U.S. assistance, the Philippine
military continues to score successes against terrorists in
the southern Philippines, while still focusing on
modernization and reform. The Philippine government remains
committed to a peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation
Front (MILF), despite the Supreme Court’s ruling October 14
that a proposed territorial agreement was unconstitutional
and attacks by rogue MILF commanders on civilians in August,
which led to the current fighting in central Mindanao. The
Philippine Armed Forces have driven rogue MILF fighters from
villages they had illegally occupied, but thousands of
villagers remain in internally displaced persons camps. The
Mission continues to urge both sides to end the skirmishing,
return villagers to their homes, and re-engage in peace
talks. Human rights remains a concern. We press the
government to fully investigate and prosecute any involvement
of security forces, while providing training and assistance
in this area. During your visit, you will be briefed by the
Mission Country Team and meet with Philippine officials. You
will fly to Zamboanga and spend two days with U.S. Joint
Special Operations Task Force-Philippines personnel in
Zamboanga and the Sulu Archipelago, and also visit the
American Cemetery in Manila. END SUMMARY.

——————–
PHILIPPINES POLITICS
——————–

¶2. (C) President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is a forceful
politician who has faced a series of challenges to her rule,
including unsuccessful impeachment efforts and low-level
military coup attempts. She continues to attempt to initiate
her political reform agenda while battling economic
challenges. The President’s political position improved last
year after elections gave her allies a large majority in the
House of Representatives, decreasing any real impeachment
threat. However, opponents continue to agitate in the
Congress and filed yet another impeachment complaint against
Arroyo — the fourth in as many years — on October 13.
Arroyo’s term ends in 2010, and while several senators
actively seek to weaken Arroyo, most are loath to have her
impeached, lest it strengthen the hand of Vice President Noli
de Castro, who has made his intent to run for the presidency
no secret.

———————
PEACE PROCESS ON HOLD
———————

¶3. (C) President Arroyo’s determined efforts to achieve
peace in Mindanao suffered a major setback October 14, when
the Supreme Court found the proposed memorandum of agreement
on ancestral domain between the Philippine government and
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) unconstitutional. The
Supreme Court had issued a temporary restraining order
against the signing of the agreement on August 4, sparking a
series of attacks — in violation of the ceasefire agreement
— by rogue MILF elements in several communities in central
Mindanao in August. The attacks, and subsequent fighting
with the military, have killed over 100 and displaced tens of
thousands of civilians. The Philippine military has
responded decisively but with discipline. The effectiveness
of the Philippine forces has degraded the MILF’s military
capability, but the search for the MILF rogue commanders has
not resulted in their capture. Meanwhile, thousands of
civilians remain in inadequate temporary camps.

¶4. (C) The peace process remains stalled, but our wide
soundings indicate that the government and top MILF
leadership are committed to restarting negotiations —
perhaps as early as the new year — if unsure of the exact
way forward. Current government efforts are focused on
carrying out basic discussions with key stakeholders in
Mindanao, including Muslim and Christian religious leaders
and groups, key national and provincial political figures,
and civic and peace organizations. Embassy officials
continue to underscore that a peaceful Mindanao is essential
for a prosperous, unified Philippines, and that it is vital
for the Philippine government and MILF to return as quickly
as possible to the negotiating table, but that it is for

MANILA 00002596 002 OF 003

Filipinos to determine the shape and terms of the peace
accord.

————————–
COUNTERTERRORISM SUCCESSES
————————–

¶5. (C) Military forces and law enforcement officials
continue to achieve important successes in counterterrorism
efforts, with eight key terrorist leaders and over 200 other
terrorism suspects killed or captured in the Philippines
since August 2006. Most recently, top Jemaah Islamiyah
facilitator Hajiruddin Dansalan was captured November 2 in
Mindanao as the result of a combined Philippine operation
supported by U.S. personnel. The operation was a clear
example of the gains the Philippine forces have made over the
last six years in utilizing the various assets of different
security agencies to interdict terrorists.

¶6. (C) The U.S. is promoting a counterterrorism strategy
that focuses on offering development opportunities in areas
where the population is prone to terrorist recruitment, while
separating the small numbers of terrorists primarily
associated with the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah
from Muslim insurgents in the southern Philippines.
Separately, the 5,000-strong Communist New People’s Army
(NPA) continues to disrupt public security and business
operations with intermittent attacks throughout the
Philippines, targeting local and foreign companies,
communications networks, and transportation infrastructures.
While the NPA continues to decline in personnel and
effectiveness, it remains steadfast in its refusal to accept
President Arroyo’s broad amnesty overtures, turning down
offers to negotiate unless its U.S. and international
designation as a terrorist organization is rescinded.

——————————————— –
CONTINUED ENGAGEMENT, AFP STAFFING A CHALLENGE
——————————————— –

¶7. (C) Defense Secretary Teodoro and the other senior AFP
officials remain strong allies on bilateral military
cooperation, and we expect you will have very positive
discussions here regarding our excellent cooperation on
Philippine defense reform and JSOTF’s superb support for
their AFP counterparts. The demands on the Philippine
military led Secretary Teodoro to scale back some bilateral
activities earlier this year. Talon Vision/Phiblex exercises
were very successful, and U.S.-Philippine planners are
working closely on Balikatan 2009 and the ASEAN Regional
Forum Disaster Relief Exercise, scheduled to take place in
the Philippines in April and May next year, respectively. We
expect a continued increase in joint exercises and ship
visits, and currently, the list of activities approved by our
two governments consists of more than 200 bilateral military
events. The demands on the AFP brought on by the fighting in
Mindanao coupled with the increase in bilateral exercises
over the last two years have strained the Philippine defense
establishment’s internal staffing, and we continue to work
with them to help streamline diplomatic clearance approvals
and other administrative processes.

¶8. (C) Secretary Teodoro is a staunch advocate of rapid
reform (the Philippines spent nearly $250 million on
Philippine Defense Reform last year), and in his hands-on
style, he postponed the annual Philippine Defense Reform
review slated for October, as he was dissatisfied with the
level of preparation by his team. Philippine defense
purchases from the U.S. include more than 8,000 Harris
radios, upgrades to existing helicopters, and radar stations
as part of the Coast Watch South initiative in the southern
Philippines. Nevertheless, the fighting in Mindanao has
drained Philippine stocks of ammunition, weapons, and other
equipment, prompting Teodoro to request that a portion of
funds allocated for modernization this year be diverted
towards logistics and materiel replenishment.

——————————————— —-
CONTINUED SENSITIVITY OVER U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE
——————————————— —-

¶9. (C) The United States enjoys strong military-military
relations with the Philippines, but our presence here is
under constant scrutiny. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)
was the subject of a joint hearing by the Congressional VFA
oversight committee in September to investigate allegations

MANILA 00002596 003 OF 003

that U.S. military forces in Mindanao were violating the VFA.
At the September hearing and during an October follow-up
visit to talk with U.S. forces in Zamboanga, key Philippine
officials from every branch of government strongly rebutted
the allegations and underscored the value of significant U.S.
security and development assistance their areas receive. The
intense focus on the VFA, along with media articles that
routinely surface and contend that the U.S. seeks a permanent
military presence here — or even an independent Mindanao —
underscore the sensitivity surrounding the U.S.-Philippine
military relationship at this time, and these issues will
continue to resurface at regular intervals. All Mission
elements continue to emphasize both in high-level discussions
and public comments that the U.S. has no interest in bases or
a permanent military presence in the Philippines.

——————————————— —
HUMAN RIGHTS: COMBATING EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS
——————————————— —

¶10. (C) President Arroyo consistently has expressed her
commitment to resolving the complex and longstanding problem
of extrajudicial killings and has taken steps in this
direction. With increased domestic and international
pressure, the number of extrajudicial killings decreased
dramatically in 2007 and 2008, but more still needs to be
done, and the Embassy continues to press the issue at the
highest levels of the Philippine government. While many of
these deaths and disappearances are more likely attributable
to local disputes than to military or police action, it is
clear that the government needs to do more to ensure that
these crimes are fully investigated and that responsible
parties — whether or not they are connected to military or
police — are brought to justice. The problem is closely
related to frustration with a judicial system that is
inefficient and strained beyond its capacity.

¶11. (C) The government has responded with a police task
force to investigate the killings, and the government also
rejuvenated the Presidential Committee on Human Rights,
established an Armed Forces Human Rights office to
investigate allegations, and allocated additional funding for
the Commission on Human Rights. The Embassy has supported
all of these activities with training, assistance, and expert
exchanges and is looking to broaden our support to
confronting extrajudicial killings with both Philippine
military and police personnel.

——————-
ECONOMICS AND TRADE
——————-

¶12. (SBU) The U.S. is the Philippines’ largest trading
partner, with over $17 billion in two-way trade in 2007. The
U.S. is also the largest investor here, with $6.6 billion in
equity. After topping 7 percent in 2007, Philippine gross
domestic product growth is expected to slow in 2008, to
around 5 percent. The Philippine banking system is
relatively sound and not heavily exposed to risks from
current global financial turmoil. Nevertheless, Philippine
companies already are announcing layoffs and economic pain
from recession is mounting. If the global downturn is
prolonged, the impact on poverty in the Philippines, where
about half the population live on $2/day or less, will be
very important and could have serious implications for
security policy.
KENNEY

   

 

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