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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Staffdel Weil

VZCZCXYZ0027
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHML #1800/01 2112306
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 292306Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1438
INFO RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 2845
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0240
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 2526
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 4930

UNCLAS MANILA 001800

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

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

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

REF: SECSTATE 80222

1. (SBU) Summary: Embassy Manila warmly welcomes Staffdel Weil 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 two days in
Manila and one day in Davao, Mindanao, you will have the opportunity
to learn about Post's robust interagency public diplomacy program
through meetings at public- and private-sector organizations whose
projects further the Mission's economic development and law
enforcement goals, observe public events with media, and meet with
alumni from various State Department exchange programs. 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
Protestant (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 two 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 $17.1 billion in two-way merchandise trade in 2007. Major U.S.
exports include electronics and agriculture. The U.S. is also the
largest investor here, with $6.6 billion in equity. In 2006 and
2007, Dell, Inc. opened two contact center facilities in the
Philippines that now employ over 2,600 IT technicians and customer
care professionals providing after-sales service to Dell's
customers. To date, Dell has invested more than $150 million in the
Philippines. The Philippine economy grew by 7.3 % in 2007, the
fastest pace of growth in over three decades. Growth was fueld by
increased government and private construction expenditures, a robust
information and communications-technology industry, improved
agricultural harvests, and strong private consumption, spurred in
part by $14.4 billion in remittances from overseas workers
(equivalent to about 11% of GDP). GDP growth is expected to slow in
2008, but still reach between 5-6%. Record economic growth and an
improved image moved the Philippines up five places to 40th in the
latest World Competitiveness Yearbook rankings, its best performance
since it joined the listing over a decade ago. According to the
April 2008 Social Weather Stations survey, Filipinos' self-assessed
proficiency in the English language has recovered in the past two
years after a decline over the previous 12 years. President Arroyo
has an impressive reform agenda -- privatizing the electric power
sector, building infrastructure, increasing education funding, and
reducing business red tape -- but still faces significant hurdles,
particularly to 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. Separately, the New
People's Army of the Communist Party continues to extort, bomb and
attack remote police and military outposts. Parts of Muslim Mindanao
remain a sanctuary for terrorists who are responsible for bombings
in the Philippines and Indonesia and kidnappings and killings of
Americans and Filipinos. A Joint Special Operations Task Force
(JSOTF-P) of several hundred U.S. military 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. The Philippine military has scored successes
against several top terrorist leaders in its focused military
operations and its extensive civil-military and humanitarian
activities that eliminate spaces in which terrorists can operate.
In addition, the Philippines' Defense Reform Program gradually is
transforming the Philippine military into a more transparent,
accountable, and effective institution that enjoys an increased
level of public trust.

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

6. (SBU) Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process (and former Chief
of the Armed Forces) Hermogenes Esperon just announced that the
Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)
agreed to a chapter on territory for a new Muslim political entity -
a key issue in facilitating a comprehensive peace plan between the
Government and the MILF. This new agreement is expected to be
signed in August and will signal the beginning of formal talks for a
pact that addresses governance and security in the troubled region
of Mindanao. Progress on the peace process has historically led to
decreased violence and a less hospitable environment for terrorists.
The challenge remains for Secretary Esperon and the other
Philippine Government negotiators to bring together Mindanao's
diverse Muslim, Christian, and native communities into a larger
peace agreement. Successful peace in Mindanao would make the
Philippines a stronger, more outward-looking partner, while also
denying terrorists ungoverned spaces.

------------------------------------------
DEVELOPMENT AND LAW ENFORCEMENT ASSISTANCE
------------------------------------------

7. (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, thereby attacking the conditions of poverty that
provide breeding grounds for terrorists. About 60% of USAID's annual
development assistance is channeled to conflict-affected areas of
Mindanao to promote economic opportunity, build infrastructure, and
carry out programs that promote health care, renewable energy,
environmental protection, education, and strengthening of local
governance. The Embassy's Public Affairs Section (PAS) exchange
programs for students and community leaders provide opportunities to
interact with responsible and moderate Muslims.

8. (SBU) USAID, Embassy law enforcement agencies, Philippine local
governments and law enforcement authorities, and NGOs collaborate on
various programs throughout the Philippines, with a value of more
than $1 million in 2007, to raise awareness that helps prevent
Trafficking in Persons (TIP), arrest and prosecute human
traffickers, and protect and assist TIP victims. The assistance
includes providing NGOs such as the Visayan Forum Foundation with
funds to build and operate halfway houses and shelters for victims.
Our law enforcement agencies train police, customs, and immigration
agents in detecting human trafficking and saving victims. Our USAID
programs help educate people about the dangers of trafficking, and
also to train prosecutors on trafficking cases.

----------------------
PUBLIC AFFAIRS CLIMATE
----------------------

9. (SBU) The unique colonial history between our two nations has
created a special relationship between our peoples that is critical
to our efforts to promote U.S. policies and values. Recent public
opinion polls demonstrate that over 90% of the Philippine public
holds favorable views of America, and far more Filipinos believe the
U.S, rather than any other Asian nation, will be their most
important partner ten years hence. However, our colonial past, our
support for the Marcos dictatorship, and controversy over our former
military bases have left latent emotional wounds that require
careful dressing to heal. The Muslim minority and younger population
are naturally more skeptical of the U.S.

10. (SBU) Post has developed a bold, forward strategy to engage
every Mission element in public diplomacy to connect with all sorts
of Filipinos. A thoroughly interagency public affairs team with U.S.
military representatives, USAID public affairs, and the State
Department Public Affairs team spearheads the effort. U.S. military
deployments depend on popular support, and our public affairs team
created public diplomacy opportunities out of scores of ship visits,
goodwill gestures and civilian events of all types. In Muslim
Mindanao, we have created enormous goodwill with frequent,
publicized visits to inaugurate USAID or U.S. military projects, and
crucial exchange programs.

11. (SBU) Since the 1986 "People Power" restored freedom of the
press in the Philippines, Philippine news media have been famously
unfettered and often display inaccurate reporting, misquotes or
quotes out of context, misleading headlines, and bias according to
media owners' economic and political interests. The major daily
broadsheet newspapers are published in English, though many tabloids
and regional papers are published in Filipino and other languages.
Newspaper circulation is low at 1.5 million, and television is the
single most important news and information medium, followed by radio
and vernacular and English-language press. Two national, commercial
free/air networks have the vast majority of the TV viewing audience
though satellite and cable television are available to increasingly
larger audiences. Nationwide, Internet access is low (10%) and
limited almost entirely to economic elites living in major urban
centers.


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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