Sep 172014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/08/08MANILA1999.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA1999
2008-08-22 09:42
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO6389
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1999/01 2350942
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 220942Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1675
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 001999

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/21/2018
TAGS: MARR MCAP PREL PTER RP MASS
SUBJECT: VIOLENCE IN MINDANAO CONTINUES BUT NOT “ALL OUT WAR”

REF: A. MANILA 1962 (NEW CLASHES IN MINDANAO)
¶B. MANILA 1922 (PHILIPPINE FORCES SEEK TO ENFORCE
RULE OF LAW)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: As fighting between Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF) forces and the Philippine military
enters its second week, the Philippine Armed Forces continue
to score successes against the MILF, and the MILF insurgents
appear to have miscalculated their own military capabilities
and the fallout from their attack. Muslim and Christian
political leaders have questioned publicly the legitimacy of
the MILF’s actions in central Mindanao and voiced support for
the military. While some local Mindanao politicians
criticized the military for allowing the attacks to happen,
national lawmakers and the Philippine Commission on Human
Rights slammed the MILF attacks as “terrorism” and argued
that the MILF leadership needed to show it could control its
forces and demonstrate its commitment to peace. President
Arroyo and Philippine Armed Forces Chief General Alexander
Yano have pledged to restore order and said the attacks could
lead to a broader government campaign to neutralize MILF
forces in several Mindanao provinces. Despite these
warnings, the Philippine military has continued to adhere to
an operations plan bent on isolating the three MILF commands
conducting hostilities and avoiding an “all-out war.” Key
politicians are legitimately upset by the MILF attacks and
have lined up behind the armed forces, but critics have also
used the situation in Mindanao to as a pretext for critizing
the Arroyo government for having taken too lax a security
position in the peace negotiations, and the with the MILF
more broadly. The impact of the widely negative reaction to
the MILF’s actions is still unclear, although it may weaken
the MILF’s position in future peace negotiations. END
SUMMARY.

——————————————— –
AFP HITS HARD, MILF SUFFERS POLITICAL BACKLASH
——————————————— –

¶2. (C) With the outbreak of violence in central Mindanao
between Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Armed Forces
of the Philippines (AFP) entering a second week, the Armed
Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has demonstrated clear
military superiority over the MILF in several engagements,
pounding MILF positions with over 1000 rounds of 105 mm
howitzer rounds and scoring direct hits in multiple air
strikes. The AFP has reported over 300 MILF fighters killed
to U.S. military observers, much of that coming as a result
of the MILF forces massing in locations, rather than
utilizing hit-and-run tactics. AFP Chief of Staff Alexander
Yano emphasized to the Ambassador that he was very pleased
with the military’s ability to contain the violence, avoiding
all out war. The military’s response has been effective, in
part, because of its ability to mobilize quickly and
reinforce troops in the field with units from central and
northern Philippine commands, even though the AFP only has
two operational C-130 aircraft and limited logistical support.

¶3. (C) While some local Mindanao politicians have
criticized the AFP for allowing the MILF to initiate the
attacks, the AFP emphasized that they could not preempt MILF
attacks because of the government’s commitment to uphold the
ceasefire agreement. As MILF attacks have continued, there
has been political backlash among Muslim and Christian
political leaders against the MILF, who are accusing the MILF
of “highly condemnable acts” and the MILF leadership of
“having lost control over their forces.” The MILF attacks
that have killed dozens of soldiers and civilians in central
Mindanao began after the peace process stalled on August 4,
but instead of intimidating the government with a MILF show
of force, the negative reaction by a number of political
figures indicates a miscalculation on the part of the MILF.
Both the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and a group of
top lawmakers from several parties slammed the MILF for the
attacks, saying the rebel group had committed “acts of
terrorism” and called on the government to restore law and
order in Mindanao. Senate President Manuel Villar said the
Senate is considering providing a supplemental budget to
augment military operations against the MILF and Chairman of
the House Defense Committee Arthur Celeste assured the
Philippine armed forces of full support in their operations

MANILA 00001999 002 OF 003

against MILF attackers.

————————————–
ARROYO ISSUES ULTIMATUM, CLIMATE TENSE
————————————–

¶4. (C) Reacting to mounting civilian casualties, thousands
of people displaced, property destruction, and lethal attacks
on military personnel, President Arroyo ordered the military
and police August 18 to “defend every inch of Philippine
territory against MILF forces and immediately restore peace
in the affected areas” of Mindanao. President Arroyo
challenged the MILF leadership to make a choice for peace by
surrendering Ombra Kato and Abdulla Macapaar (a.k.a.
Commander Bravo), two rogue MILF commanders deemed
responsible for the attacks in central Mindanao. However,
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told the media
that the MILF had “restrained” Kato and Macapaar and would
not surrender them to the government forces. President
Arroyo also approved a reward offer of 5 million pesos
(approximately USD 110,000) each for Kato and Macapaar. The
decision to offer the rewards followed the government’s
announcement that it had prepared over 150 criminal cases for
arson, robbery, and murder against the two commanders. The
announcement and increasing AFP pressure prompted a key MILF
sub-commander and 30 followers to surrender to government
forces, but the situation in Mindanao remains tense, with
both sides wary of further escalation.

——————————-
COOLER HEADS PREVAILING FOR NOW
——————————-

¶5. (C) Despite the high-pitched rhetoric coming from key
legislators and warnings from Arroyo and Yano that continued
attacks by the MILF could lead to a broader military
campaign, all out war has not broken out in Mindanao. During
a nationally televised appearance, Arroyo said the government
would defend the Filipino people against any attempt “to
disturb our aspirations for a genuine lasting peace not only
in Mindanao, but the whole country.” MILF Chairman Al Haj
Murad Ebrahim said in a television interview August 20 that
although the MILF leadership was in a difficult situation,
“there is still a chance in going back to peace as long as
both parties implement utmost restraint.” Other
Administration officials have been echoing Arroyo’s
commitment to the government’s effort to achieve a durable
peace accord with the MILF in public statements, but their
comments reflect tension in the Administration.

¶6. (C) Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro and
Secretary of the Interior Ronaldo Puno have both taken a
hardline stance towards the MILF, authoring the reward plan
for Kato and Macapaar and demanding that MILF fighters be
punished for their crimes against civilians. However,
Teodoro has declined to join the chorus of officials accusing
the MILF of insincerity in their desire for peace, stressing
the government is not closing the door on discussions with
the MILF. “If we remove dialogue, you are forcing the MILF
to fight,” Teodoro said. Similarly, Justice Secretary Raul
Gonzalez said that while the MILF offensive was “virtually a
declaration of war,” and that he doubted the MILF could be
trusted, the Arroyo Administration was bent on salvaging the
peace talks. Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
Hermogenes Esperon admitted that dealing with the MILF has
been difficult, but that the government still needs to
negotiate and that “the peace process will always be given
primacy — the alternative is unthinkable.”

————————————-
AMBASSADOR REITERATES U.S. COMMITMENT
————————————-

¶7. (SBU) In statements to the press August 19, the
Ambassador emphasized that the U.S. remains committed to
providing development aid to Mindanao. The Ambassador said
she remained hopeful that the Philippine government and MILF
negotiators would be able to resume negotiations after order
is restored in Mindanao and that the important thing is “for
all the Philippines to find the right framework for lasting
peace in Mindanao.” In public appearances over the last
week, the Ambassador repeatedly has condemned the violence in
Mindanao as being counterproductive to the peace process.

MANILA 00001999 003 OF 003

——-
COMMENT
——-

¶8. (C) It remains unclear whether the MILF leadership had
knowledge of, or authorized, the initial illegal occupation
of villages in central Mindanao two weeks ago. Civilian
militias may have ramped up the violence by engaging the MILF
units as they withdrew. Whatever the genesis of the current
fighting in Mindanao, the MILF appears to have miscalculated
its ability to use hostile actions to intimidate the
government into accepting MILF terms in the peace
negotiations. Civilian casualties and ambushes on military
convoys have received extensive negative media coverage,
damaged the MILF’s public image, and have led influential
legislators to propose increases in military funding. Combat
losses suffered at the hands of a motivated and disciplined
AFP indicate the MILF may have overestimated their military
capability and point to clear progress the AFP has made in
their ability to conduct sustained, measured operations in
combat. In addition to degrading the MILF military forces,
the AFP’s successes may have impacted psychologically the
MILF’s belief in its own military prowess. Although it is
unlikely that all-out war will break out, the next few weeks
will most likely see the AFP continuing to inflict losses on
three renegade MILF base commands as Philippine forces
restore order. These losses in military strength coupled
with public support coalescing behind government forces could
ultimately weaken the MILF’s negotiating position when peace
process talks resume. END COMMENT.

Visit Embassy Manila’s Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/manila/index. cfm

You can also access this site through the State Department’s
Classified SIPRNET website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/
KENNEY

   

 

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