Cablegate: Ambassador Visits Jolo to Highlight Assistance

DE RUEHML #1094/01 0940712
O 040712Z APR 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY. The Ambassador and senior Embassy officials focused
attention on U.S. assistance programs with a visit to Jolo Island in
Mindanao's Sulu Province. The highlight was the inauguration of the
Jolo Consumers' Cooperative rebuilt through the combined efforts of
members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. military.
The ceremony took place on the one year anniversary of its bombing
by terrorists. Local officials and residents enthusiastically
welcomed the delegation as well as ongoing and future assistance
programs. Local and national media covered each event extensively,
and the trip was featured on two major Philippine television
networks that evening. End Summary.

Back to Jolo

2. On March 27, the Ambassador again traveled to Jolo Island in
Mindanao's Sulu Province to meet with local officials and view the
progress and benefits of several projects supported by the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID) and Joint Special
Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P). USAID Mission Director,
Acting JUSMAG Chief, and Commander, JSOTF-P, accompanied the
Ambassador. The southern region of Mindanao, where Sulu is located,
has been the base of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah
Islamiyah, both affiliated with Al-Qaeda and both on the U.S.
Government's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Improving Rule of Law

3. At the Regional Trial Court of Sulu in Jolo Town, the Ambassador
presided over the transfer of equipment valued in excess of
US$33,000, including tables, chairs, file cabinets, computers, and
fax machines. This equipment is part of a larger US$150,000
USAID-funded effort to upgrade the facilities of all 14 Regional
Trial Courts of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM),
where Jolo is located. USAID had in November 2006 already turned
over books and reference materials to the Executive Judges
representing the ARMM Regional Trial Courts. Joining the ceremony
were a Presiding Judge of Sulu Regional Trial Court and Executive
Judge of Shariah Courts, the Provincial Prosecutor, the District
Attorney, and Trial Court personnel. In her remarks, the Ambassador
stressed the importance of having a well functioning judicial system
and the necessity of ensuring the fair administration of justice to
all citizens. Both the Presiding Judge and Provincial Prosecutor
expressed deep gratitude for the assistance provided, and noted
remaining needs.

Lighting up

4. A separate ceremony at the Capitol Building in Jolo Town
highlighted USAID's provision of solar powered electricity in
various locations throughout the Province of Sulu. Since 2002,
USAID's Alliance for Mindanao Off-Grid Renewable Energy (AMORE)
Project has provided renewable energy (solar or micro-hydro) to 319
villages in Mindanao. Among other private sector supporters, Mirant
Philippines Corporation has provided US $4 million towards the
project. Nearly 1,500 additional families in Sulu now have electric
power. Additionally, nine schools have received electricity to
permit them to access distance learning programs, 34 electric street
lights have been installed, and 17 community centers provided with
electric power. Another 39 Sulu villages will be electrified by May
2007, taking the total for the province to 88.

5. After the Ambassador symbolically "switched on" the power, the
Governor of Sulu offered his thanks to all the contributing partners
for the project. A child read a letter describing how
electrification had improved her life, enabling her to study more
and become a better student. The Ambassador emphasized that the
electrification program lays a foundation for the future for all the
families that live in Sulu - a future that rejects terrorism and
that seeks opportunities to grow and prosper in an environment of
peace and security.

Staying in school

6. At Sulu National High School in Jolo, the Ambassador met with
educators and presided over the transfer of equipment worth
US$10,500. An enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,000 students,
parents and teachers greeted her. The program highlighted USAID's
Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills
Program (EQuALLS), which provides educational assistance to
municipalities in Sulu Province (and elsewhere in Mindanao).

7. With the assistance of another local partner, the Education &
Livelihood Skills Alliance, USAID also helps provide infrastructure
improvements, school construction assistance, and the provision of
school supplies including desks, textbooks, and reference materials.

MANILA 00001094 002 OF 002

This project develops various trade skills such as baking/cooking,
carpentry, dressmaking, fish processing, and welding. Given that
less than half of all local high school students are expected to
attend college, the program provides training to enable the youths
to acquire skills needed to engage in productive work after high
school. The Ambassador cited the importance of developing necessary
skills to pursue a vocation, and offered encouragement to all to
continue their efforts and education. She also conducted a live
radio interview on the site with two local stations.

Rebuilding from the ashes

8. At the Sulu Consumers' Cooperative, site of a deadly March 2006
terrorist bombing, the Ambassador joined Philippine Western Mindanao
Commander General Eugenio Cedo and Commander, Task Force Comet,
General Ruben Rafael, 3P Foundation USA Chairman Armando De Rossi,
numerous local government and military officials, and members of
JSOTF-P, which had provided reconstruction assistance. A survivor
of the bombing thanked the USG for the medical treatment he had
received for burn wounds from the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy.
The Ambassador praised the citizens for their collective will and
successful efforts to reestablish the market, and highlighted that
it sent a resoundingly clear message that terrorism and those who
seek to destroy innocent lives will not prevail. The participants
then unveiled two monuments dedicated to those who lost their lives
during the bombing.

9. COMMENT. The warmth and enthusiasm of local residents was a
moving demonstration of the desire of the local population for peace
and against terrorism. The work of USAID and JSOTF-P, together with
their civilian and military partners, has given the population of
the Province of Sulu a taste of life without terrorism, effectively
reclaiming the area from the terrorists operating there. Such
programs remain the key to continuing to isolate the population from
the terrorists.


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