Cablegate: Ambassador and Philippine Secretary of Agriculture
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FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
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INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 000850
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TAGS: PREL PGOV KISL KPAO RP EAID
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR AND PHILIPPINE SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE
HIGHLIGHT U.S.-PHILIPPINE PARTNERSHIPS IN COUNTRY'S POOREST
1. (U) SUMMARY. On March 31, the Ambassador made her third visit
to the province of Tawi-Tawi. She was accompanied by Secretary of
Agriculture Arthur Yap, the Chairman of the Mindanao Economic
Development Council (MEDCO), Virgilio Leyretana, and the
USAID/Philippines Mission Director. The visit provided an excellent
opportunity to highlight U.S.-Philippines partnerships that promote
peace and prosperity. Events included the launching of a
USAID-constructed boat landing, the inauguration of an aquaculture
facility, a visit to a seaweed gene bank and abalone R&D center at
the local university, a tour of a U.S. civilian support ship
providing assistance to U.S. Special Forces and the Armed Forces of
the Philippines, and a meeting with members of the Tawi-Tawi Chamber
of Commerce. In a meeting with the Provincial Governor and the
Congressman representing Tawi-Tawi, the Ambassador also formally
announced U.S. Government plans to support upgrading of the
province's airport and construction of a key bridge-road project in
the province. END SUMMARY.
BACKGROUND: TAWI-TAWI: THE POOREST OF THE POOR
2. (U) Tawi-Tawi is one of the six provinces that comprise the
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the southernmost
region of the Philippines. Composed of some 300 islands, Tawi-Tawi
has a population of approximately 350,000 and is ranked as the
country's poorest province in the most recent government reports.
However, Tawi-Tawi abounds with rich natural resources including
marine resources and exotic fauna. One of the world's few remaining
major nesting grounds for green turtles is found in this province on
the Turtle Islands, near Malaysian Borneo.
DEVELOPMENT PARTNERSHIPS IMPROVE LIVES
3. (U) USAID has been mounting economic and social development
assistance projects in this conflict-affected province for many
years. Following the signing of a peace accord in 1996 with the Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF), USAID programs provided livelihood
training for 1,745 former combatants in Tawi-Tawi, primarily in
seaweed farming. The carrageenan-from-seaweed industry originated in
Tawi-Tawi in the 1970's, and is the most important economic activity
of the province, with over half the labor force involved in seaweed
farming. The Philippines is the world's largest producer of
Eucheuma seaweeds (US$160 million in carrageenan and dried seaweed
exported annually) and approximately 60% of the country's production
comes from Tawi-Tawi
4. (U) Of the original group of 1,745 former combatants who became
seaweed producers, 1,300 subsequently diversified into fish farming
and almost 1,000 of these are now producing and selling their yield.
Many of these will be among the first customers for the abalone fry
produced in the high value marine hatchery, designed with technical
assistance from USAID and recently turned over to local control.
5. (U) USAID partnered with the local branch of Mindanao State
University (MSU) to develop a Seaweed Gene Bank and an Abalone R&D
facility to sustain the seaweed production and the fish hatchery.
The programs at the MSU facility, together with the fish hatchery,
are intended to support producers who are targeting te lucrative
and expanding Chinese market for Abaone and high-value fish like
humpback grouper. uring a tour of the university, the Ambassador
noed the contribution of the multiple regional and lcal partners
that assisted in the development ofthese facilities.
6. (U) After the ceremonial inauguration of the USAID-financed boat
landing which will serve the new fish hatchery and several
neighboring communities, the Ambassador participated in a ceremony
formally turning over the hatchery to the Province of Tawi-Tawi.
During a brief tour of the new facility, the Ambassador met briefly
with a group of former MNLF combatants who are now successful
seaweed growers and fish farmers, and who will be among the first
customers for the fingerlings and fry produced by the hatchery.
THE AMBASSADOR ANNOUNCES KEY INFRASTRUCTURE PARTNERSHIPS
7. (SBU) During her office call with Governor Sadikul Sahali, the
Ambassador formally announced support of two key infrastructure
projects, with funding by the United States under the "1207"
program, to be undertaken by USAID in partnership with the
Philippine government. The first will be expansion and extension of
the Sanga-Sanga Airport runway in the capital city of Bongao. The
second is the Tawi-Tawi Bridge Road Partnership Project. This will
be a phased construction of interconnected roads and bridges
connecting Sanga-Sanga Island and Tawi-tawi Island, the two main
islands of Tawi-Tawi province. The U.S. contribution to these
projects will be approximately USD $5 million.
8. (SBU) Following the turnover of the fish hatchery, the
Ambassador escorted a contingent of local and national government
officials aboard a civilian Maritime Support Vessel (MSV) which
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provides logistic support for the Joint Special Operations Task
Force - Philippines for a tour and briefing about the ship. The MSV
periodically operates in Tawi-Tawi waters, and the visit was
arranged in order to make clear to local people was principally
involved in supporting JSOTF civil affairs activities.
9. (U) At a visit to Mindanao State University's Tawi-Tawi campus,
the Ambassador toured a Seaweed Gene Bank and Abalone R&D facility
which had been established with USAID support. She noted the
contribution of the multiple regional and local partners that had
assisted in the development of these facilities.
AMBASSADOR'S DISCUSSIONS WITH SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE
10. (U) During the day, the Ambassador had the opportunity to
discuss a range of issues with the Secretary of Agriculture Arthur
Yap (one of President's Arroyo's key advisors) including Philippine
rice supply and the impact of economic development, especially
agribusiness, in the overall effort to improve the lives of the
poorest citizens of the Philippines. This improvement is linked to
the country's counterterrorism struggle as six of the ten poorest
provinces are located in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao. The
Secretary noted the value of the fish hatchery model which he would
like to be duplicated in other locations in the Philippines to
capitalize on the country's potential to serve the growing demand
for high-value aquaculture products, while stressing the critical
role that Tawi-Tawi would play.
A MESSAGE OF PEACE AND PROSPERITY
11. (U) Prior to departing Tawi-Tawi, the Ambassador was
interviewed by the local radio station which broadcasts on the
government system to the remote areas of Mindanao that are not able
to receive commercial broadcasts. She reiterated her announcement of
the two major infrastructure projects to be undertaken on the island
and their importance to the development of Tawi-Tawi and the region.
She also noted the ongoing efforts of the Philippine government in
identifying and developing the potential of this resource rich
province. Upon arrival in Zamboanga, she was interviewed for live
broadcast in the Metro Manila region.
12. (SBU) COMMENT. Tawi-Tawi is strategically located in the
tri-border region of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia near
areas of international terrorist activity. Infrastructure projects
such as the fish hatchery and R&D facilities accelerates economic
development, raises the standard of living and improves the prospect
for long-term peace and security in the critical region. The
community welcomes the U.S. - Philippines partnerships for these
reasons and U.S. military support has also been well received. The
Provincial Governor proudly wore a "USNS Mercy" hat given to him by
the U.S. Government in 2006. Each of the government officials
visited by the Ambassador and Secretary Yap emphasized their desire
for increased partnerships with the United States.