Oct 262014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2009-08-06 04:02
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #1653/01 2180402
O 060402Z AUG 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANILA 001653



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/05/2019

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Admiral Keating, we look forward to
welcoming you back to Manila for the 2009 Mutual Defense
Board/Security Engagement Board (MDB/SEB). The robust
U.S.-Philippines bilateral relationship has recently
withstood court challenges to the Visiting Forces Agreement,
but remains very close, as evidenced by President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo’s July 30 visit to the Oval Office. Renewed
efforts are underway to restart formal peace talks between
the Philippine government and Muslim insurgents; a July 23
ceasefire between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) appears to be
holding, as plans for formal talks move ahead. Using
coordinated hard and soft power approaches, the AFP continues
to score significant successes against terrorists in the
southern Philippines and against the communist New People’s
Army; Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado, appointed AFP Chief of Staff in
May, 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. Increased security has allowed
USAID and other USG agencies to implement development
projects in areas prone to terrorist recruitment. The
Mission continues close cooperation with the Philippine
government in working to protect human rights in
conflict-affected areas, and in putting an end to
extrajudicial killings. You will have an opportunity to
discuss key strategic issues — such as our shared
counterterrorism fight — and future military-to-military
plans with key Philippine interlocutors and U.S. military
personnel. END SUMMARY.


¶2. (C) With less than a year left in office, President
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo continues to balance competing
political interests amidst economic challenges. President
Arroyo has weathered numerous unsuccessful impeachment
efforts and low-level military coup attempts. Her
administration has been plagued by allegations of serious
corruption, as well as charges her supporters are attempting
to juggle the Philippine Constitution to extend legal
protection for Arroyo and her family after her term ends next
year. With national elections scheduled for May 2010, nearly
20 cabinet members have announced their intention to seek
office. Some presumed candidates have attempted to
politicize aspects of our security relationship, such as the
Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), but none of the likely
presidential contenders would represent a radical departure
from the status quo. President Arroyo met with President
Obama in the Oval Office July 30, and following additional
meetings with key U.S. cabinet members, returned to Manila
earlier than scheduled due to the August 1 death of former
President Corazon Aquino, a much-beloved icon of democracy.


¶3. (C) President Arroyo continues to express her 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.


¶4. (U) The Philippine economy has averaged better than five
percent growth for the past eight years, but under the impact
of the global financial crisis, GDP growth may be outpaced by

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the country’s annual 2.04 percent population growth. 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 tangible impact on domestic politics. Poverty is
especially severe in the Muslim areas of the southern
Philippines. 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 $17 billion
in two-way trade during 2008, and is one of the largest
investors, with $6.7 billion in equity.


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

¶6. (C) Secretary Teodoro has stressed that the 1953
U.S.-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty 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. With the program set to conclude in 2010,
Teodoro 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.

——————————————— —

¶7. (C) 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. 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 1998 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. During their July 30 Oval Office meeting
with President Obama and in a later separate meeting with
Secretary Clinton, Arroyo and cabinet members voiced strong
support for the VFA and our military partnership. Agreement
was also reached on a memorandum to increase cooperation
against high-seas piracy — a subject of special interest to
the Philippines, given the nation’s status as a major origin
of the world’s commercial seamen.

¶8. (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

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around the world, contributing to eight United Nations
operations. 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 efforts.

¶9. (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.


¶10. (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. He greatly values the
contributions of U.S. military personnel in improving combat
capability of Philippine forces. The brazen January
kidnapping on Jolo island by the ASG of three members of the
International Committee of the Red Cross highlights the
continuing challenges that face the Philippine military and
police in securing volatile areas.


¶11. (C) In recent weeks, the Philippine government and
members of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front
(MILF) have established a new ceasefire and taken steps
toward restarting formal peace talks, demonstrating that both
sides share a mutually-reinforcing commitment to peace. On
July 23, the Philippine government announced a suspension of
military operations, a move reciprocated by the MILF on July
25, ending the year of fighting that followed the Philippine
Supreme Court,s August 2008 decision to block the
government,s precursor peace agreement with the MILF. On
July 29, following informal talks in Kuala Lumpur, the
Philippine government and MILF peace panels released a joint
statement with the support of the Malaysian peace
facilitators, noting their mutual intentions to maintain only
defensive military postures, to work toward a new framework
for engagement, and to aid the return of hundreds of
thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by
the conflict. The U.S. Mission is initiating new programs
and reinforcing existing ones to support the return of IDPs
to their homes and their livelihoods, in cooperation with
local Philippine authorities and military. U.S. support
through development assistance will be an important component
of a successful peace process, for which many are now
cautiously optimistic.


¶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. 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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