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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Staffdel Grove

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHML #0049/01 0070559
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 070559Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9326
INFO RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 2544
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0223
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 2512
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 4794

UNCLAS MANILA 000049

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP AND H -- PLEASE PASS TO STAFFDEL GROVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OREP PREL EAID RP
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR STAFFDEL GROVE

1. (SBU) Summary: Embassy Manila warmly welcomes Staffdel Grove to
the Philippines! The relationship and spirit of partnership between
the United States and the Philippines are strong. U.S. interests in
this major non-NATO ally center on strengthening democracy,
fostering economic growth, fighting terrorism, and providing superb
services to our American and Filipino publics. The U.S. is the
Philippines' largest trading partner, the largest investor, and the
largest donor of grant foreign assistance. During your visit, you
will meet with key government officials to discuss the peace process
in Mindanao, the complex problem of extra-judicial killings, and the
government's ongoing counterterrorism efforts. You will also travel
to the southern island of Mindanao to see first hand our joint
counterterrorism and development activities. Our entire team looks
forward to making your visit productive and useful. End Summary.

----------
BACKGROUND
----------

2. (U) The Philippines, with almost 90 million people, has one of
the fastest-growing populations in Asia. Metro Manila, home to at
least 12 million people, is the largest city in a country made up of
over 7,000 mainly mountainous islands. Literacy (94%) remains high,
although the standard of public education and other government
services is weak. Filipinos are mainly Roman Catholic (83%) or
otherwise Christian (10%) with a small Muslim minority (6%) in the
southern island of Mindanao and in Manila. Approximately 38 percent
of Filipinos earn less than $2 per day, with a much higher
percentage of Muslims in Mindanao eking out a living below this
threshold.

-------------------
PHILIPPINE POLITICS
-------------------

3. (SBU) Philippine politics is free-wheeling, focused primarily on
the charisma of individual political leaders, and still largely
oligarchic, with most wealth and political power concentrated among
influential families. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed the
Presidency in 2001 after a "people power" movement swept out her
predecessor, whom she recently pardoned after he was convicted of
corruption. She is a strong leader who has faced a series of
challenges to her rule, including unsuccessful impeachment efforts
and low-level military coup attempts. The President's political
position improved after May 2007 elections gave her allies a large
majority in the House of Representatives, decreasing any impeachment
threat. With three years left in her term, the President appears
intent on establishing her legacy, with a focus on the economy and
jobs, infrastructure, and seeking stability and peace on Mindanao.


-------------------
ECONOMICS AND TRADE
-------------------

4. (U) The U.S. is the Philippines' largest trading partner, with
over $17.3 billion in two-way merchandise trade. Major U.S. exports
include electronics and agriculture. The U.S. is also the largest
investor here, with $6.6 billion in equity. In 2007 Texas
Instruments announced further investment of $1 billion in microchip
production, while AES, a U.S. power company, acquired a coal-fired
power plant for $930 million. The Philippine economy grew nearly
seven percent in 2007, the strongest expansion in three decades.
Unemployment and inflation are down, and government revenues are up,
even in the face of rising fuel prices, continued corruption
allegations, terrorist bombings, and political tumult. President
Arroyo has an impressive reform agenda -- privatize the electric
sector, build infrastructure, increase education funding, reduce
business red tape -- but still faces significant hurdles,
particularly improving the investment climate.

------------------------
COUNTERTERRORISM EFFORTS
------------------------

5. (SBU) Three U.S.-designated terrorist organizations are active
and dangerous in the Philippines, despite significant military
success against them over the past two years. Parts of Muslim
Mindanao remain a sanctuary for terrorists who are responsible for
bombings in the Philippines and Indonesia and kidnapping and killing
of Americans and Filipinos. A Joint Special Operations Task Force
(JSOTF-P) of several hundred personnel provides direct support to
the Philippine Armed Forces in key locations in Muslim Mindanao,
sharing intelligence, advice, and assistance. The major thrust of
U.S. development assistance is focused in conflict-affected areas of
Mindanao through USAID to help reduce support for terrorists.
President Arroyo is justly proud that the Philippine military has
scored successes against several top terrorist leaders in its
focused military operations. Successful military operations have
led to the deaths of Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Solaiman, the top
two leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group, and kept Jemaah Islamiyah
terrorists on the run. Equally impressive are the military's
successful efforts to help separate local populations from
insurgents through extensive civil-military and humanitarian
activities. Separately, the New People's Army of the Communist
Party continues to extort, bomb and attack remote police and
military outposts.

----------------------------
COMMITMENT TO DEFENSE REFORM
----------------------------

6. (SBU) The Philippines' Defense Reform Program gradually is
transforming the Philippine military into a more transparent,
accountable, and effective institution. The effort was strengthened
when Secretary of National Defense Gilberto Teodoro recently assumed
personal responsibility for the reform program. This U.S.-supported
effort aims at a complete restructuring of the military
establishment ranging from personnel management and logistics to
acquisition and training. With the advice of the Joint U.S.
Military Assistance Group and a 13-member team of U.S. experts, the
AFP and Department of National Defense have already registered
significant gains. U.S. Special Force troops are helping jumpstart
the newly begun Battalion Retraining Program, which will retrain all
72 Army and 12 Marine battalions.

-------------------------
PEACE PROCESS IN MINDANAO
-------------------------

7. (SBU) Negotiations with the Muslim insurgency, under Malaysian
auspices, are making headway toward establishing a larger Muslim
political entity within the Philippines that would determine its own
governing structure. While significant progress has been made on
the territorial borders of the new political entity, the challenge
facing the Government's Chief Negotiator Rudy Garcia and the
Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process Jess Dureza will be to
bring together Mindanao's diverse Muslim, Christian and native
communities into a larger peace agreement. We are pressing for
concrete progress on this complex agenda this year. Successful
peace in Mindanao would make the Philippines a stronger, more
outward-looking partner, while also denying terrorists ungoverned
spaces.

8. (U) Development assistance from the U.S., complemented by
increasing support from the World Bank, Japan, Australia, and others
has established growing zones of peace and private sector-led growth
in Mindanao. About 60% of USAID's annual development assistance is
channeled to conflict-affected areas of Mindanao to promote economic
opportunities, build infrastructure, and carry out health, renewable
energy, environment, education, local governance, and livelihood
programs. These programs attack the conditions of poverty that
provide breeding grounds for terrorists. USAID coordinates its
activities with the U.S. military's Civil Affairs programs. Our
exchange programs for students and community leaders offer a chance
to interact with responsible and moderate Muslims.

--------------------------------------------- --
HUMAN RIGHTS: COMBATING EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS
--------------------------------------------- --

9. (SBU) President Arroyo has consistently expressed her commitment
to resolving the complex problem of extra-judicial killings and has
taken several steps in this direction. With increased domestic and
international pressure, the number of extra-judicial killings
decreased dramatically in 2007, but more still needs to be done.
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 a judicial
system which is strained beyond its capacity and inefficient. The
government has responded with a police task force ("Task Force
Usig") to investigate the killings and file charges against the
culprits. The Task Force is working closely with the newly created
Police Human Rights Office, charged with investigating cases of
suspected police involvement in the killings and providing human
rights training to the police force. The government also
rejuvenated the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, established
a new Armed Forces Human Rights office to investigate allegations,
and allocated additional funding for the Commission on Human
Rights.

--------------------------
STILL AVIAN INFLUENZA FREE
--------------------------

10. (U) Although the avian influenza virus has not been detected in
the Philippines, the threat is considered high given the close
proximity to several affected countries, including Indonesia and
Malaysia. The Philippines banned importation of all live poultry
and poultry products from avian influenza-affected countries in
2005. The U.S. government actively supports the Philippine
government's efforts to mitigate the threat in the country. The
Mission has focused these public health efforts in Mindanao, due to
its proximity to Indonesia and Malaysia. The Mission's Inter-Agency
Task Force on Avian Influenza has a broad-based membership including
USAID, Foreign Agriculture Service, State Department, U.S. Military,
Veterans Administration, and Peace Corps.

----------------
CONSULAR AFFAIRS
----------------

11. (U) The Consular Section provides services (reports of birth,
passports, notarial, and emergency support) to the approximately
130,000 Americans living in the Philippines as well as the
additional roughly 120,000 visiting the Philippines at any given
time. State Department officers issue about 60,000 immigrant visas
a year, including visas to large numbers of nurses, teachers, and
physical therapists. We interview almost 200,000 nonimmigrant visa
applicants annually, including large numbers of merchant mariners
and temporary seasonal workers.

-------------------------
THEMES AND TALKING POINTS
-------------------------

12. (SBU) You may wish to draw on the following themes in your
meetings:

-- The Philippines is a vital partner in the fight against terrorism
to secure peace and prosperity for our two nations. Our delegation
looks forward to learning more about U.S.-Philippine cooperation
during this visit.

-- U.S. military forces are here at the invitation of the government
of the Philippines to provide assistance and share information with
the Philippine military. Together, we provide health care, build
schools, and provide clean water to communities in need.

-- Philippine Defense Reform is transforming the Armed Forces of the
Philippines into a more modern, capable force. We are proud to be
partners in this program.

-- We take the issue of extra-judicial killings seriously. Suspects
need to be apprehended and tried. We are encouraged by steps the
Philippine government has taken to eliminate this problem.

-- U.S. development assistance and business partnerships are helping
achieve higher economic growth and spread this growth, especially to
the poor and disadvantaged.

-- (If asked about the case of a U.S. Marine convicted of rape of a
Filipina at Subic in November 2005) I cannot comment on an ongoing
legal case in the Philippine justice system. Both our governments
remain committed to the pursuit of justice as well as adherence to
the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

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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