Cablegate: Arroyo's Down Under Diplomacy

DE RUEHML #1814/01 1520739
O 010739Z JUN 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001814



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/01/2017

Classified By: POL/C Scott Bellard, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (SBU) Summary: President Arroyo presided over the
signing of a number of bilateral security and economic
agreements during her recent visits to Australia and New
Zealand, most significantly a landmark Status of Forces
Agreement (SOFA) with Australia, which nonetheless will
likely face a difficult passage through the Philippine
Senate. Australia also announced plans to donate
shallow-draft patrol boats to the Philippine military and to
provide human rights-related assistance. The President's
trip to New Zealand included attendance at the Regional
Interfaith Dialogue, the signing of a law enforcement
cooperation agreement (with plans to coordinate with our
police advisor), assistance on human rights, and various
economic commitments from the New Zealand business community.
Hecklers criticizing the Philippines on unlawful killings
hounded President Arroyo in both countries. End Summary.

Landmark Military Accord

2. (C) The cornerstone of President Arroyo's official visit
to Australia May 30-31 was the signing of the
Philippine-Australia Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which
would cover Australian military counterterrorism exercises
and training projects in the Philippines. The SOFA awaits
ratification by the Australian Parliament and the Philippine
Senate. Under negotiations for about two years, the SOFA
will enable Australia to engage in significantly more
military-to-military training and exercises and
counterterrorism assistance, along the lines of what the U.S.
is able to do under our Visiting Forces Agreement, although
Philippine officials were quick publicly to dismiss
comparisons between the two agreements. Australian diplomats
in Manila confirmed that the SOFA will enable Philippine
authorities to gain custody over Australian soldiers accused
of crimes outside their official duties (as long as the
alleged offense would also be a crime in Australia) and that
detention and any eventual imprisonment would be on
Philippine soil, unlike the terms of the VFA. There are
reciprocal provisions for Philippine troops who commit crimes
in Australia.

3. (SBU) During the visit, Australia announced that it will
provide the Philippine military with about 30 shallow-draft
patrol boats (the exact quantity and model to be determined)
capable of operating in the marshlands of Mindanao.
According to Australian diplomats, tenders are already under
consideration, with an expectation that the first boats will
arrive by the end of 2007. The two sides emphasized their
counterterrorism partnership, especially in Mindanao and
against transnational terrorism, but underscored that there
would be no Australia bases in the Philippines, nor would
Australian troops undertake combat operations.

4. (SBU) Australian officials in Canberra expressed concern
with unlawful killings in the Philippines, according to
contacts here, but also announced that the Australian
Government will provide AUS $250,000 for funding human rights
projects in the Philippines. The two governments agreed to
work collaboratively to identify further assistance to
Philippine institutions dealing with human rights.

5. (SBU) Australian business representatives in Manila
noted some disappointment over a lack of commercial interest
during Arroyo's visit, including at an ANZ Bank-sponsored
Asia Society speech by Arroyo in Melbourne.

New Zealand Highlights

6. (SBU) In New Zealand May 28-30, President Arroyo attended
the opening of the Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue,
the "prime reason" for the visit, according to New Zealand
diplomats in Manila. The interfaith dialogue was a follow-on
to an inter-faith dialogue that Prime Minister Helen Clark
had attended in Cebu, which traced its origins to the
aftermath of the Bali bombing.

7. (C) Arroyo also encountered some tough talk in Wellington
about the need to take action against unlawful killings, but
Prime Minister Clark agreed to provide as yet unspecified
assistance to the Philippine Commission on Human Rights. A
team will visit Manila in the coming months to shape out a
program, which likely will consist of training rather than
hardware, according to the New Zealand Embassy. New Zealand

MANILA 00001814 002 OF 002

also plans to enhance training for the Philippine National
Police (PNP) via a new law enforcement cooperation agreement.
Diplomats here said that the plan is to coordinate with the
U.S. Senior Law Enforcement Advisor and our ongoing
assistance to the PNP Transformation Plan. Top priorities
likely will include community policing and rights-based
training for the PNP.

8. (SBU) New Zealand diplomats expressed satisfaction with
new investment commitments related to mining and agriculture
(especially export of Philippine fruits), but did not yet
have many details.

Not Without Protest

9. (SBU) Well-organized but small groups of hecklers
(including some from Manila) hounded President Arroyo at
several stops over alleged human rights violations in the
Philippines. In Australia, a private airplane reportedly
towing a banner "Stop Gloria-fying Berdugo Palparon" (a
reference to a former Armed Forces of the Philippines
commander implicated in extra-judicial killings) flew
overhead during the welcome ceremony for President Arroyo.
There was also an unusual protest by the leftist Bayan Muna
"party-list" group outside the Australian Embassy in Manila
on May 31.


10. (C) The SOFA with Australia is only the second such
agreement undertaken by the Philippines, after our VFA.
Ratification of the SOFA by the Philippine Senate promises to
be a contentious affair, as the new Senate will likely be
dominated by foes of the Arroyo Administration, with eyes on
the Presidential elections in 2010. The absence on the scene
of former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz, who had long
championed the Australian SOFA and similar agreements with
ASEAN members and who had laid the groundwork with the
departing 13th Congress, may weaken the Administration's
ability to persuade the new Senate to go along with this
SOFA, at least in the short run.

Visit Embassy Manila's Classified website: cfm

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