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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Staffdel Higgins

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHML #1959/01 2281047
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 151047Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1628
INFO RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK IMMEDIATE 2899
RUEHGP/AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE IMMEDIATE 7443
RUEHJA/AMEMBASSY JAKARTA IMMEDIATE 6744

UNCLAS MANILA 001959

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP AND H -- H PLEASE PASS TO STAFFDEL HIGGINS-MARCHESE

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

REF: STATE 81490

1. (SBU) Summary: Embassy Manila warmly welcomes to the Philippines
professional staff members Craig Higgins and Steven Marchese of the
House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign
Operations, and Related Programs. 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 and the largest donor of grant foreign assistance. During
your visit, you will have the opportunity to learn about Post's
involvement in economic development and security assistance
activities, as well as understand the impact of U.S. foreign
assistance accounts in the Philippines. 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 Philippine economy
grew by 7.3% in 2007, the fastest pace of growth in over three
decades. Growth was fueled 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 the kidnapping and
killing of Americans and Filipinos. 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
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 increasing level of public trust.

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

6. (SBU) The peace process continues to move forward in the
aftermath of a Philippine Supreme Court order that temporarily
halted the August 5 signing of the government's territorial
agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). With the
government's ability to sign the territorial agreement temporarily
suspended, parties to the peace process are renewing their focus on
the long-term goal of a comprehensive peace settlement. However,
the challenge remains for Presidential Advisor on the Peace Process
(and former Chief of the Armed Forces) Hermogenes Esperon and the
other Philippine government negotiators to bring together Mindanao's
diverse Muslim, Christian, and native communities. 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
offer a chance to interact with responsible and moderate Muslims.

8. (SBU) USAID, Embassy law enforcement agencies, Philippine local
governments and law enforcement authorities, as well as 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 train prosecutors on trafficking cases.

--------------------------------------------- --
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 inefficient and strained beyond its capacity. The
government has responded with a police task force ("Task Force
Usig") to investigate the killings. The government also rejuvenated
the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, established an Armed
Forces Human Rights office to investigate allegations, and allocated
additional funding for the Commission on Human Rights.

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

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

-- The Filipino-American friendship and partnership has stood the
test of time and will continue to endure because of its strong
historic ties.

-- The U.S. and the Philippines are bonded by decades of friendship,
cooperation and joint sacrifice. That bond will remain strong, not
only because of our shared past, but our shared vision of the future
where our two countries prosper together in a world of freedom,
security, and justice.

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

-- In close cooperation with our Filipino partners, the U.S.
Government will continue to be a strong and dedicated partner of the
Filipino people to combat trafficking in persons.

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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