Oct 262014

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
2008-12-16 06:27
2011-08-30 01:44
Embassy Manila

DE RUEHML #2730/01 3510627
O 160627Z DEC 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANILA 002730



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/05/2018
Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

¶1. (C) SUMMARY AND COMMENT: U.S.-Philippine military ties
have burgeoned since 2002, moving from tentative
re-engagement after a decade of limited U.S. military
presence to a vigorous alliance making significant progress
toward our priorities of defeating terrorists and fostering
peace. That positive trajectory was evident this past year,
as U.S. expertise helped the Philippine military make
important strategic and tactical gains, despite an ongoing
scarcity of financial resources. At the national level, a
comprehensive Philippine defense reform program continued to
revamp the Philippines’ outmoded planning, budgeting, and
acquisition practices, while growing military professionalism
was evident in the armed forces’ refusal to be drawn into
political debates and its incremental progress in prosecuting
human rights violators. On the battlefield, the military
scored additional successes against terrorist targets and
used improved tactics to quell an outbreak of Muslim
insurgent violence sparked by failed peace talks. In its
roles as a regional and global partner, the Philippines
contributed to eight United Nations peacekeeping operations
and provided humanitarian assistance to neighboring
countries, including Burma. Sixty years of shared military
history and recent U.S.-Philippine cooperation on
counterterrorism successes in Mindanao, coupled with over 120
visits by U.S. Naval ships and dozens of bilateral exercises
and exchanges in 2008, has produced this very deep
military-military relationship in Southeast Asia.

COMMENT: As our five year partnership on defense reform nears
conclusion in 2010, and as the Philippine military
increasingly disrupts terrorist organizations with U.S.
assistance, 2009 is an opportune time to consider an in-depth
discussion on the future of our military relationship.
Capitalizing on sustained U.S. assistance, the Philippines
has made important strides in a short time toward a more
modern, professional military that is increasingly capable of
conducting effective internal security operations. Still,
significant deficits remain, including adequate air- and
sealift, intelligence capabilities, and logistics. Our
challenge is to determine what key tactical components
require continued support in the short-term, while moving
towards a more mature long-term bilateral relationship that
sees the Philippine military focusing on security challenges,
taking greater responsibility for its budgetary needs, and
leaving police actions to Philippine law enforcement

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¶2. (C) After a decade of significantly reduced presence in
the Philippines, the U.S. military re-engaged in a definitive
way in 2002, with a focus on defeating terrorist threats from
the Al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Jemaah
Islamiyah (JI) operating in the southern Philippines. The
past year saw a continuation of this cooperation, with
approximately 600 U.S. military personnel temporarily in
conflict areas of the southern Philippines as part of the
Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, working side
by side with Philippine forces. Employing a combination of
civil-military operations and support to Philippine units in
the form of intelligence sharing and tactical training, the
U.S. has promoted a counterterrorism/counterinsurgency
strategy focused on improving the capabilities of the
Philippine forces, while denying safe haven to ASG and JI
terrorists, both U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist

¶3. (C) Military forces in the Philippines have achieved
important successes in counterterrorism efforts, with nine
key terrorist leaders and over 250 other suspected terrorists
killed or captured since August 2006, including several this
year. Potentially deadly terrorist attacks were also
prevented by keeping high-value individuals under constant
pressure from Philippine security forces. In 2008, the U.S.
supported surgical strikes by the AFP that destroyed known
terrorist camps and intelligence operations that disrupted
terrorist networks. Nevertheless, a relatively small number
of valuable terrorists still operate in the southern
Philippines. Separately, U.S. assistance has had long-term
applicability in strengthening core skills of the Philippine

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military as it addressed continuing threats from the
5,000-strong Communist New People’s Army, also a U.S.
designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, whose attacks have
disrupted public security and business operations throughout
the Philippines for 40 years. Progress in Philippine
military effectiveness has pointed up the need for increasing
the capabilities of Philippine law enforcement, which should
assure day-to-day security responsibilities in conflict
areas. USG assistance to police training is best delivered
through USG civilian law enforcement agencies, which are
well-represented, if underfunded, in the Philippines.


¶4. (C) In addition to supporting Philippine operations
against international terrorists, U.S. military engagement
included expanded bilateral exercises and a steady increase
in ship visits over the last three years. Apart from the
largest annual exercise — Balikatan (“shoulder to
shoulder”), U.S. and Philippine forces also conduct the Talon
Vision/PHIBLEX and the Combined Afloat Readiness and Training
joint exercises, involving thousands of troops. From 11 port
calls in 2002, the U.S. Navy’s number of ship visits to the
Philippines surpassed 120 in 2008, including a short-notice
humanitarian relief mission by the USS REAGAN carrier strike
group in the wake of Typhoon Frank in June 2008. The
diversity of the ports visited in recent years, and the
community relations and humanitarian assistance projects
conducted — highlighted by two missions of the hospital ship
USNS MERCY in 2006 and 2008 that treated more than 75,000
Philippine patients — have opened remote areas to U.S. ships
and U.S. influence. At the same time, the port calls
contributed millions of dollars to the local Philippine
economy, often in some of the poorest areas of the country.
These port calls are very popular and carefully managed to
avoid incidents that could undermine their positive impact.

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¶5. (C) As the U.S. began rebuilding the military-military
relationship with the Philippines through counterterrorism
operations, a broader security assistance program took shape.
Joint assessments in 2001 and 2003 outlined a strategy of
U.S. assistance to help the Philippine military reform all
major functions, from personnel to acquisitions. The
resulting Philippine Defense Reform (PDR) and modernization
program, supported by U.S. foreign military financing,
foreign military sales, and 1206 funds, has made substantial
progress, professionalizing a force that, for many years, was
accused of playing politics and supporting
extra-constitutional changes of government. Despite
persistent pressure from opposition groups, the Philippine
military has stayed on the sidelines of recent political
debates, firmly committed to supporting the President and the

¶6. (C) Conceived as a multi-year plan, championed by
Philippine President Arroyo, and having survived changes in
Philippine Department of Defense leadership, defense reform
is ready to move into its next phase and is under close
review from the Filipino government. Secretary of National
Defense Gilberto Teodoro is a staunch advocate of the program
(the Philippines spent nearly $250 million on PDR in 2008),
and has taken a hands-on approach to managing modernization.
Philippine defense purchases from the U.S. include more than
8,000 radios, upgrades to existing helicopters, radar
stations, patrol boats, weapons, and night-vision devices.
In addition to prioritizing the ongoing retraining of 82
battalions, the Armed Forces has undertaken a comprehensive
restructuring of personnel, logistics, and administration
systems. Teodoro is keen to conclude the existing defense
reform initiative by April 2010, when President Arroyo is
scheduled to leave office.

¶7. (C) Despite these advances in reform and modernization,
the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) still faces
significant budget challenges in their efforts to overcome
decades of inadequate funding. The Philippines allocates
less than one percent of national budget to defense spending,
and in an archipelagic nation of more than 7,000 islands,

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airlift and maritime logistical transport stand out as two of
the most significant deficits in the Philippine military
inventory. U.S. assistance has augmented the Philippine
efforts, particularly in border security initiatives and
counterterrorism operations, but the AFP still lacks an array
of modern capabilities, including sufficient logistical
support, intelligence platforms, and consistent casualty
evacuation capability.


¶8. (C) In addition to its responsibilities for internal
security, the AFP is the primary support agency for disaster
relief operations. With more than two dozen typhoons a year
and numerous other natural catastrophes in the form of
earthquakes, floods, volcanic activity, and landslides, the
AFP’s limited logistical capacity is frequently tapped by the
national government to provide humanitarian assistance.
Currently, the AFP possesses only one operational C-130
aircraft, which is in full-time use supporting ongoing
military operations and disaster relief activities. Maritime
transport is similarly in short supply, constraining the
military’s ability to conduct expeditionary operations and
ferry the requisite supplies to areas affected by natural


¶9. (C) Despite a lack of adequate equipment and trained
personnel, the Philippines has made a firm commitment to
regional disaster assistance operations and global security
initiatives. When Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in May 2008, the
Philippines was one of the first countries to transport
relief supplies and medical teams to the ravaged country,
using its C-130. Working with Malaysia and Indonesia, the
USG has dedicated 1206 funds to assist the Philippines in
implementing a maritime border security strategy to interdict
terrorists and illegal trafficking in the porous tri-border
region between the three countries. On the global front, the
Philippines contributes troops to eight United Nations
peacekeeping operations worldwide, and became a participant
in the Global Peace Operations Initiative in 2008, for which
it is awaiting funding. In 2009, the Philippines will host
the first ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) multilateral event
involving civilian and military components from — a disaster
relief exercise expected to involve a dozen nations that will
lay the groundwork for future ARF multilateral cooperation.


¶10. (C) Allegations of human rights abuses have plagued the
Philippine military for years. Under President Arroyo, the
military consistently has expressed a commitment to resolving
the complex and long-standing problem of extrajudicial
killings and has taken some positive steps in this direction,
including the first conviction of a soldier for human rights
violations in 2008. 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 USG 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, corrupt, and strained beyond its capacity.

¶11. (C) A combination of improved military training within
the Philippine military as part of the reform program,
regular contact with U.S. personnel, and broader governmental
attention to the human rights has contributed to the
reduction in civilian casualties during clashes with
terrorist and insurgent groups throughout the Philippines.
Several recent complex AFP offensives against enemy targets
in the southern Philippines have been executed successfully

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with no loss of civilian life, an impressive achievement
given that many ASG and JI members have sought refuge among
villagers in difficult terrain.


¶12. (C) The United States enjoys strong military-military
relations with the Philippines, but our presence here is not
without scrutiny. Opposition groups question our Visiting
Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines and the ongoing,
albeit temporary, presence of U.S. troops in the southern
Philippines. The focus on the VFA, along with media articles
that routinely contend the U.S. seeks a permanent military
presence here — or even an independent Mindanao —
underscore the sensitivity surrounding the U.S.-Philippine
military relationship, and these issues will continue to
resurface at regular intervals.

¶13. (C) As the Philippine government looks beyond defense
reform as the strategic framework for U.S-Philippine
military-military relations and prepares for its own
government transition with 2010 presidential elections, 2009
is an opportune time to examine the future of the
U.S.-Philippine military relationship, perhaps through a
strategic dialogue or another general assessment.
Capitalizing on sustained U.S. assistance, the Philippines
has made great strides in a short time towards a more modern,
professional military that is increasingly capable of
conducting effective internal security operations. Our
challenge is to determine what key tactical components
require continued support in the short-term, while
encouraging progress towards a more mature long-term
bilateral relationship in which the Philippine government
provides larger budget allocations to its Armed Forces,
allowing it to respond effectively to security challenges
without becoming consumed with police actions in Mindanao
that are more appropriately suited to better funded
Philippine law enforcement agencies.



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