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Cablegate: Ambassador Promotes Peace and Builds Goodwill During

VZCZCXRO9246
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #2663 3400935
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 050935Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2609
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS MANILA 002663

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV EAID RP
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR PROMOTES PEACE AND BUILDS GOODWILL DURING
THANKSGIVING TRIP TO ZAMBOANGA

REFS: A. Manila 2536
B. Manila 2615

1. (U) Summary. The Ambassador visited Zamboanga City November 24 to
strengthen relations with key partners in the Mindanao peace
process. She also used the visit to promote goodwill by highlighting
U.S. projects that promote health and education for the people in
the region, and by delivering a personal Thanksgiving greeting on a
popular local radio station. End summary.

2. (U) Background. As home to the Armed Forces of the Philippines
(AFP) Western Mindanao Command, Zamboanga City is critical to the
success of the U.S. mission to help bring peace and prosperity to
conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. Zamboanga's AFP base hosts U.S.
troops who serve as members of the Joint Special Operations Task
Force of the Philippines (JSOTF-P), who provide non-combat
assistance to the AFP on projects of mutual interest. Along with
security cooperation and training efforts with the AFP, the U.S.
troops work with the AFP on community development, health, and
infrastructure projects. End background.

---------------
PROMOTING PEACE
---------------

3. (U) The Ambassador joined Commander, Western Mindanao Command Lt.
Gen. Nelson Allaga and JSOTF-P and AFP officials for a
Thanksgiving-themed breakfast meeting at the AFP's Zamboanga base.
General Allaga told the Ambassador that the MILF and Philippine
Government continue to work towards a ceasefire in Mindanao, but
expressed his concern that the continuous fighting in the region has
had a negative impact on AFP troop strength in other parts of the
country. After breakfast, the Ambassador met with the U.S. troops
currently deployed with AFP forces in Mindanao to thank them for
their contributions.

4. (U) The focus of the trip was the Ambassador's meeting with
Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lorenzo Lobregat, an important
stakeholder in the peace process and a vocal opponent of the aborted
Memorandum of Agreement between the Philippine government and Moro
Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Mayor Lobregat told the Ambassador
he supports the peace negotiations, but opposes the Memorandum of
Agreement because the people of Zamboanga City (who are primarily
Christians) do not wish to become part of an expanded Moro
autonomous region. He expressed concern about the increased numbers
of kidnappings in the region, particularly of aid workers in the
nearby island of Basilan. He also complained that Zamboanga City is
unfairly perceived as a conflict zone, because press reports
covering fighting elsewhere carry the Zamboanga byline, as most
regional media is based in the city. On a positive note, the Mayor
said the global economic downturn did not seem to be affecting the
city.

------------------
PROMOTING GOODWILL
------------------

5. (U) The Ambassador used the theme of Thanksgiving to highlight
U.S. assistance for the region. She attended the ground breaking of
a new birthing center with Lt. General Allaga, the JSOTF-P
Commander, and Mayor Lobregat. In her remarks, the Ambassador
stressed the importance of health-based initiatives and praised the
Mayor for his leadership in this area. The birthing center project
is a partnership between the AFP, JSOTF-P, Zamboanga Medical Center,
and a local college for midwives. JSOTF-P donated construction funds
for the center, which will be built with the assistance of Navy
Seabees (Construction Battalion Sailors). By providing primary
maternity care for low-risk women, the birthing center will support
the UN Millennium Goal of decreasing maternal and infant mortality
in the region.

6. (U) The Ambassador then launched a USAID book fair at a local
elementary school with Mayor Lobregat and the USAID Mission
Director. The Ambassador told the hundreds of educators in
attendance that the American people were proud to partner with the
people of the Philippines to promote education. The Ambassador also
spent time reading to children to instill a life-long interest in
reading. The book fair successfully distributed 250,000 books and
educational materials to schools in the region, part of a broader
$85 million USAID effort focused on basic education in
conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.

7. (U) The Ambassador's trip was well-covered by the press,
including press pull-asides at each event and a live radio interview
with a popular local station. In her holiday radio broadcast, the
Ambassador spoke warmly of her personal connection to Zamboanga City
and emphasized the strong and enduring relationship between the
United States and the Philippines.

KENNEY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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