Oct 282014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2009-05-22 07:53
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #1107/01 1420753
O 220753Z MAY 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANILA 001107



E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/19/2019

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Secretary Gates, we appreciate your
engagement with Philippine officials at Shangri-La and your
visit to the Philippines. The Philippines has undergone many
positive changes since the last visit of a U.S. Secretary of
Defense in September 2000; many as a result of sustained U.S.
assistance using coordinated hard and soft power approaches.
Our strong bilateral relationship has been tested in court
challenges to the Visiting Forces Agreement, but remains very
close. The Philippine Armed Forces have scored significant
successes against terrorists in the southern Philippines and
against the communist New People’s Army. Increased security
has allowed USAID and other USG agencies to implement
development projects in areas prone to terrorist recruitment.
While efforts towards a peace agreement between the
Philippine government and Muslim insurgents have stalled, the
military continues to press the fight against rogue elements
of the insurgency. Lieutenant General Victor Ibrado recently
became Chief of Staff of the Philippine Armed Forces and is
expected to maintain the momentum against terrorist and
insurgent groups. Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto
Teodoro, a likely candidate for president next year, has been
a strong leader and possesses a clear vision for the future
of the Philippine military. You will have an opportunity to
discuss key strategic issues — such as our shared
counterterrorism fight — with Secretary Teodoro and meet
U.S. military personnel serving in the field alongside their
Philippine counterparts. END SUMMARY.


¶2. (C) With a year left in office, President Gloria Macapagal
Arroyo continues to balance competing political interests
amidst economic challenges. A forceful politician who has
faced a series of challenges to her rule, including
unsuccessful impeachment efforts and low-level military coup
attempts, President Arroyo’s administration has been plagued
by allegations of corruption. As her term ends in 2010, her
Vice President and several senators have already announced
their intent to run for the presidency. President Arroyo’s
relationship with top security officials remains strong, and
military and police have kept out of political debates and
remained focused on their roles.


¶3. (U) The Philippine economy has averaged better than five
percent growth for the past eight years, but GDP growth may
slow to about half that in 2009 under the impact of the
global financial crisis. In recent months, many Philippine
businesses as well as several U.S. companies announced plant
closures and layoffs, signaling that the economic pain from
the world-wide economic slowdown is widening. Should the
global economic downturn be prolonged, the impact on poverty
in the Philippines, where more than 40 percent of the
population lives on less than two dollars per day, could have
a visible impact on domestic politics. On the positive side,
the Philippine banking system is relatively sound and not
heavily exposed to risks from current global financial
turmoil. The U.S. remains the Philippines’ largest trading
partner, with over $16 billion in two-way trade during 2008
and is one of the largest investors, with $6.7 billion in


¶4. (C) On the government’s fight against the communist and
Muslim insurgencies, Teodoro is a hawk. Teodoro sees ongoing
violence in central Mindanao as clan thuggery, and he
believes there can be no peace in the southern Philippines
without disarmament and has stressed that point with U.S.
officials. Teodoro has said he thinks more Philippine troops
in Mindanao are necessary in the near term to establish a
solid security environment. He has echoed the Arroyo
administration’s concern with the “safe haven” designation of
areas in the southern Philippines, as described in the 2008
U.S. Country Report on Terrorism, and is eager to explain to

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you why he believes it is incorrect. Teodoro said the
government will issue evaluations of the government’s efforts
against the New Peoples’ Army, the ASG, and rogue MILF groups
by the end of this year.

¶5. (C) Secretary Teodoro has stressed that the
U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty, which has been in
place since 1953, is vital in reinforcing the history shared
between our two countries and for providing a mechanism for
future engagement. Teodoro believes that the next phase of
the U.S.-Philippine military relationship should go beyond
combat training and focus on broader strategic objectives.
He was very pleased with joint Philippine-U.S. cooperation in
co-sponsoring the first-ever field exercise for the ASEAN
Regional Forum, a demonstration of disaster relief response
held in the Philippines last month that involved 25
countries. He has championed the successes of Philippine
Defense Reform with sustained U.S. assistance, and said that
with the program set to conclude in 2010, he wants to
complete two additional components in the next year: a study
of Philippine counterinsurgency doctrine based on current
practices; and a review of information and psychological
operations to determine the most effective way to build
support for government efforts.

——————————————— —

¶6. (C) With a new administration in Washington and Philippine
presidential elections set for May 2010, senior Philippine
defense officials believe now is the time to showcase the
depth of the U.S.- Philippine relationship in a variety of
areas, including counterterrorism operations, disaster
relief, and multilateral engagement. As such, these
officials have emphasized that continued U.S. military
assistance is essential and that expanded programs could
provide greater improvements in areas ranging from regional
security to human rights. Despite court challenges to the
Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and opposition from leftists
to U.S. military presence, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled
in February that the VFA is constitutional, and the Arroyo
administration continues to voice strong support for our
military partnership.

¶7. (C) We have a robust military presence in the
Philippines — a joint U.S. Military Assistance Group
(JUSMAG), Defense Attache Office, and approximately 550 Joint
Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P)
personnel. Such depth allows us to have a broad and
far-reaching impact on the Philippine military. U.S.
military leadership is integrated into the Country Team and
provides input that shapes decisions and policy. Apart from
JUSMAG’s traditional role of training and military sales, we
have focused on assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines
(AFP) with revising their doctrine to promote ethics and
human rights. The Philippines is an active provider of
peacekeeping troops around the world, contributing to eight
United Nations operations, and last year they became members
of the Global Peace Operations Initiative. This year, three
Philippine nominees were accepted to U.S. service academies,
one at each institution. Members of JSOTF-P work
side-by-side with Philippine troops in Mindanao and the Sulu
Archipelago, advising and assisting them in counterterrorism
operations. At the same time, our military closely
cooperates with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence
agencies to achieve important successes in counterterrorism

¶8. (C) Several large-scale bilateral exercises are conducted
each year between U.S. and Philippine troops, along with
dozens of other training activities and exchanges.
Humanitarian projects associated with the exercises have been
welcomed by the Philippine government and population. More
than 28,000 people received medical and dental care as part
of the civil-military component of the Balikatan exercise
that concluded at the end of April. Thousands more receive
assistance each year through projects that JSOTF-P conducts
in the southern Philippines with their AFP counterparts and
through the more than 130 visits by U.S. ships.


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¶9. (C) The United States and the Philippines have scored
important successes on the security cooperation and
counterterrorism fronts. This alliance has resulted in the
death or capture of a dozen key terrorist leaders and over
250 other terrorism suspects in the last three years.
Secretary Teodoro recently emphasized that the Philippine
government’s success against key high-value individuals of
the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)
terrorist organizations was achieved despite persistent
shortfalls in logistical assets, and he values the
contributions of U.S. military personnel in improving combat
capability of Philippine forces. While the overall security
situation in the southern Philippines has improved
significantly over the past three years, partly as a result
of U.S. military assistance, the brazen January kidnapping on
Jolo island by the ASG of three members of the International
Committee of the Red Cross, one of whom remains a hostage,
highlights the continuing challenges that face the Philippine
military and police in securing these volatile areas.


¶10. (C) Although peace talks with separatist Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF) insurgents have remained stalled
since fighting broke out in August 2008, there is still a
possibility the government will make a push to reach a
settlement in President Arroyo’s last year — a promise that
the government has pledged to keep. Groundwork already
proceeding includes a reconstituted government peace panel, a
newly-appointed chief negotiator, grass roots consultations
with communities across Minadano to address the public’s
concerns, back-channel communications with Muslim rebels, and
overtures to Malaysia and other nations to play an active
role as mediators in facilitating renewed talks. A firmly
re-established cease-fire and renewed peace talks would
create a more positive atmosphere for talks and allow tens of
thousands of displaced people to return home. Earlier this
year, President Arroyo publicly stated that 2009 would be a
“comeback year for peace” and that she would emphasize to all
stakeholders that a robust peace process between the
Philippine government and the MILF would encourage stability
in the region and enhance economic development.


¶11. (C) President Arroyo continues to express her unwavering
commitment to making greater progress on the long-standing
problem of extrajudicial killings, and has taken concrete
steps in this direction. Partly due to increased attention
by the Philippine government, the number of extrajudicial
killings decreased dramatically through 2007 and 2008. While
many execution-style slayings among politicians and others
are likely a result of local disputes and long-standing feuds
among rival clans, the government acknowledges the need to do
more to ensure that all such crimes — whether or not linked
to security forces — are fully investigated, and that those
responsible are brought to justice. The Embassy continues to
press the issue at the highest levels of the Philippine
government, and has implemented a comprehensive plan of
public outreach activities, training, and
institution-building to make further progress in addressing
the problem.


¶12. (C) Since the mid-1990s, USAID has implemented a sizable
and highly effective program throughout the island of
Mindanao and the neighboring Sulu Archipelago provinces of
Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi-Tawi. During this period,
approximately two-thirds of USAID resources for the
Philippines have been committed to these areas, complemented
by 1207 funds, JSOTF-P activities (since 2002), and
humanitarian missions such as the USNS Mercy.
USAID-sponsored activities in these areas include
infrastructure development, school computerization, health
and education improvement, environmental management, former
combatant reintegration, and governance. USAID financed the

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construction of more than 800 community-level and over 40
regional-impact infrastructure projects throughout the
conflict-affected communities of the southern Philippines.
The primary objective has been to encourage economic growth
and demonstrate sustained commitment by the Philippine and
U.S. governments to establishing security.



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