Sep 162014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MANILA835 2005-02-23 08:40 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Manila
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000835



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/23/2015

¶B. MANILA 630
¶C. 04 MANILA 5628

Classified By: Political Officer Joseph Saus
for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary. Fighting has subsided on Jolo Island but
intermittent skirmishes continue. The military continues
pursuit operations against enemy forces now employing
guerrilla tactics by squad-sized units. The fighting has so
far displaced over 32,000 people. Often impassable roads —
susceptible to hostile fire — and inadequate infrastructure
have hobbled relief efforts. Local and international
humanitarian organizations have called for combatants on both
sides to respect the humanitarian needs of the civilians
affected by the fighting. A cease-fire appears unlikely.
The GRP appointed a new judge for the rebellion case against
former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur
Misuari, but only his release or immediate trial in Jolo
might placate those said to be fighting on his behalf. More
low-level fighting and continued problems for IDPs are
likely, further damaging prospects for development and
investment in this already poor area. End Summary.

A Shift In Military Operations

¶2. (C) The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) succeeded
on February 16 in taking control of Misuari Renegade (or
Breakaway) Group leader Ustadz Haber Malik’s stronghold,
renaming it “Camp LTC Dennis Villanueva” in memory of the
53rd Infantry Battalion Commander killed in action on
February 10. Sulu Provincial Administrator Don Loong told
poloff on February 22 that troops found the stronghold
largely empty, likely a result of the AFP’s aerial attacks.
He added that the militants have faded into the mountains and
jungles to engage in guerrilla warfare — their specialty and
of particular challenge to the AFP (ref B). Despite a
deployment of about 5,000 AFP troops to Jolo Island, the AFP
has a history of minimal success in search and destroy
missions. Malik’s fighters have dispersed into squad-sized
units to conserve ammunition and supplies, and will likely
continue to employ sniping and hit-and-run operations further
to harass and inflict casualties upon the AFP. However, the
militants are increasingly resorting to “desperate” options
that include extortion of money from local village chiefs,
according to Loong.

The Humanitarian Consequences

¶3. (C) The fighting in Jolo Island of Sulu Province, which
began on February 7, has so far resulted in an estimated
32,300 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Many are in
far-flung villages outside the provincial capital of Jolo
Town. Some have left the province entirely, escaping to the
adjacent island provinces of Basilan and Tawi Tawi. Food and
medicine are in short supply. Loong noted that the current
average ration is five cans of sardines and five kilograms of
rice per family per week. The Department of Social Welfare
and Development has the lead on the humanitarian response,
aided by the Philippine Red Cross. Hostile fire and Sulu’s
already inadequate road system have slowed relief efforts.
According to Amina Rasul of the Philippine Council on Islam
and Democracy, unexploded ordinance also poses a threat to
relief operations. Loong told poloff that Sulu Province had
convened a Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC)
and set up an Area Coordination Center, based in the Office
of Sulu Governor Benjamin Loong. PDCC officials have
lamented so-far inadequate amounts of relief goods, including
food, medicine, and non-food items.

¶4. (U) The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
released a statement on February 21 calling for both sides to
respect humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions and
associated protocols and treaties. The statement emphasized
humanitarian laws prohibiting: violence directed against
civilians aimed at spreading terror; murder, summary
killings, torture, rape, and cruel treatment of hostages; use
of minors under 18 in hostilities; and inhumane treatment of
wounded or sick fighters or those captured or surrendered.
The statement also called for care of the wounded and sick
without delay and distinction and urged both parties also
mutually to respect medical personnel, units, facilities, and
vehicles as well as those of the ICRC and Philippine Red

Calls For Cease-fire Fall On Deaf Ears

¶5. (SBU) In a press release on February 23, the Philippine
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) expressed concern about
“risk in the lives of individuals caught in the melee,”
called for respect for human rights including “health and
education especially for the youth,” and vowed to keep a
“close watch” on the situation through its regional office.
Amina Rasul (a 2004 opposition candidate for Senate) accused
the GRP of catering to hawks within the administration.
Senator Ramon Magsaysay told Pol/C on February 22 that he
planned to introduce a Senate resolution urging a “cessation
of hostilities,” which he believed might be more acceptable
to the GRP than a “cease-fire.” Others have advocated the
involvement of ASEAN or the Organization of Islamic
Conference — due to its role as signed witnesses of the 1996
GRP/MNLF Final Peace Agreement — in brokering a cease-fire.
However, Malacanang Palace and the AFP senior leadership at
this time still appear steadfast in calling for Malik’s
surrender and in opposing a cease-fire.

Some Movement On Misuari

¶6. (C) On February 22, the Philippine Supreme Court
appointed a new judge (Makati Regional Trial Court Judge
Ricardo Rosario) in the three-year old Nur Misuari rebellion
case, after the Calamba Regional Trial Court judge handling
the case (Judge Estella Cabuco Andres) retired. Judge Andres
had consistently denied Misuari bail, and many commentators
had expressed concern that her retirement presented the
possibility of further delays in hearings of the case.
Misuari on February 22 told a visiting Congressional
delegation from the special Committee on Peace,
Reconciliation, and Unity that he would appeal for a
cease-fire only if the GRP requested him to do so. According
to Congressman Satur Ocampo, Misuari “absolutely denied”
having ordered his supporters to attack government targets,
denied links between the MNLF and the Abu Sayyaf Group, and
warned that fighting could spread to other provinces.

Comment: More fighting, less development

¶7. (C) Some commentators have expressed worry that, by
overtaking Malik,s stronghold, the AFP could find itself in
a situation similar to its year-long occupation of the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front’s “Buliok Complex,” from which it
then had to redeploy in mid-2004 as one of the conditions for
resumption of peace talks. The major difference is that the
MBG does not fall under the terms of the 1996 GRP/MNLF Peace
Agreement, and the GRP has not sought negotiations with it.
With tactical and numerical superiority, the AFP will likely
continue at least low level assaults, with the MBG again
engaging into protracted and sometimes lethal guerrilla
attacks. This situation is clearly unfortunate for the
existing and potential IDPs, as well as the overall prospects
for even cautious development work and investment in the
Philippines’ already poorest province (ref C). End Comment.

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