Cablegate: Building a Bridge On Tawi-Tawi

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) SUMMARY. Embassy believes the number one USPACOM
FY05/FY06 humanitarian assistance objective in the
Philippines should be the Tawi-Tawi bridge project. The
project will have a strategic impact on the "rat-line"
terrorists use to enter and leave the Philippines. Although
much smaller in scale -- and cost -- than the "Basilan model"
of Balikatan 02-1, the principle is the same: attack
terrorism by changing the basic economic conditions of the
people. We request USPACOM re-obligate funding for the
project, identify a responsible service component, and put it
at the top of the humanitarian assistance projects for the
Philippines. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) We welcome the upcoming April 26-28 visit of a
PACOM-sponsored Naval Facilities (NAVFAC) engineering
assessment team, which will examine the Tawi-Tawi bridge
project. Embassy views this as a critical project for our
Mission Performance Plan objectives in the Philippines over
the next year. Tawi-Tawi is the "door" to Mindanao, and a
favored "rat-line" for terrorists as they enter or leave the
Philippines. Profiting from a weak GRP presence, Jemaah
Islamiyah (JI) and Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists
regularly use the island group as a transit point and safe
haven. Unprompted, Governor Sadikul Sahali of Tawi-Tawi told
a visiting JUSMAG officer in January that he has two
priorities: "fighting terrorism and building the bridge."

3. (U) The project consists of two separate bridge spans
totaling 300 meters and approximately 8-12 kilometers of
roads that would connect the Sanga-Sanga and Tawi-Tawi
islands of the island group, providing the people of this
marginalized area a vital transportation corridor.
Leveraging existing Mabey-Johnson bridge components left over
from a British government aid program during the Ramos-era,
known as the Salam Bridge Program, the project would use
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and US military
engineer expertise to complete a long-planned, but never
completed infrastructure project in one of the most
conflict-affected regions of the Philippines.

4. (U) The then-commander of the Philippine Navy's Tawi-Tawi
based Task Force 62 initially proposed construction of the
bridge project in early 2004. PACOM approved humanitarian
assistance funding in August of the same year. The
Philippine Navy Construction Brigade (SeaBees)
enthusiastically supported the project from its inception,
and dedicated significant resources to site surveys, and
other preliminary engineering tasks. Its commander,
Commodore Margarito Sanchez, pledged to supply troops and
logistics support for bridge construction, while initial
discussions with Philippine Army Engineers indicated
willingness to provide labor and equipment for road upgrades.


5. (U) Embassy understands that PACOM has identified -- but
not funded -- $400,000 in its FY05 humanitarian assistance
budget for construction and operations support, while
USAID-Philippines set aside $900,000 to help meet the cost of
aggregate and other construction materials. This assistance
was predicated on a commitment by the Department of Public
Works and Highways (DPWH) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim
Mindanao (ARMM) to improve access roads leading to the bridge

6. (U) With the strong backing of ARMM Governor Parouk
Hussin, Tawi-Tawi Congressman Anuar Abubakar, and Tawi-Tawi
Governor Sahali, by December 2004 the ARMM's DPWH had
completed an environmental impact statement and begun road
construction. Using a dedicated crew and equipment, it has
already re-graded/re-built nearly all of the access roads
leading to the bridge site.

7. (U) Additionally, USAID already has a range of development
programs across the Tawi-Tawi island group. Completed
activities include: reintegrating 350 former Moro National
Liberation Front (MNLF) combatants into the economy as
successful seaweed and fish farmers (out of the 25,000 MNLF
combatants reintegrated throughout Mindanao); building 25
infrastructure projects (boat-landings, warehouses, solar
dryers, etc.); providing seven high schools with internet
capability; providing 69 barangays (neighborhoods) with
solar-powered electricity; and assisting 203 barangays in
tuberculosis treatment/prevention, maternal and child health,
and family planning. A major, and almost complete, USAID
activity will improve Tawi-Tawi's main port of Bongao.
Building the Tawi-Tawi bridges would complement all these
activities and promote increased economic growth and

8. (SBU) Like the 2002 "Basilan Model," the Tawi-Tawi bridge
project attacks the terrorists' center of gravity: the
shelter and support they receive from a disaffected local
population. In Basilan, US and AFP troops worked
side-by-side to build a circumferential road for the island.
This infrastructure project not only had a positive impact on
Basilan's economy, but also positively changed people's
perceptions of the AFP and the Philippine government. Joint
Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) has now
begun to focus on the "Basilan Model" as a way forward in
fighting terrorism elsewhere in Mindanao.


9. (SBU) We now have a similar -- but significantly lower
cost -- opportunity on Tawi-Tawi, where we can leverage the
bridge project to change the political environment. Joint
civil-military operations, such as medical civil affairs
programs (MEDCAPS), dental civil affairs programs (DENCAPS),
and engineering (e.g., school construction/rehabilitation or
well digging) civil affairs programs (ENCAPS) linked to the
bridge project can help re-establish the connection between
the local populace and the AFP, and also create a positive
perception of US forces in the minds of the inhabitants. DoD
Rewards program advertising can play into this environment,
as can efforts, through joint training, to improve the combat
capabilities of TF 62 and other Tawi-Tawi based units.

10. (U) Embassy strongly believes that building the
Tawi-Tawi bridge can have a strategic impact on the war
against terrorism in the southern Philippines. We urge PACOM
to re-establish funding, identify a responsible service
component, and make it a priority project for FY05/FY06.

Visit Embassy Manila's Classified website: cfm

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