Cablegate: Muslim Mindanao Welcomes Ambassador and Uss Peleliu
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHML #2591/01 2131428
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 011428Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7675
INFO RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 002591
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL EAID MARR RP
SUBJECT: Muslim Mindanao Welcomes Ambassador and USS Peleliu
REF: A) MANILA 594 B) MANILA 02359
1. Summary: Ambassador led a multi-agency team to Cotabato City
and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) for two days of
positive interaction through outreach and partnership activities.
Ambassador spoke at a regional Islamic summit and at a poverty
reduction forum organized by the Muslim Chamber of Commerce. Dinner
meetings focused on the Moro Islamic Front's (MILF) project
implementing body, and the Cotabato mayor, a leader in the Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF). A reception aboard the USS
Peleliu, anchored off-shore from Cotabato City, brought together
leaders from diverse groups. Briefings by the International
Monitoring Team (IMT) and local military leaders highlighted
progress in the peace process. Ambassador inaugurated two
USAID-supported projects and turned over donated items to local
partners. Media coverage throughout the region and subsequently in
national media was extensive and positive. End Summary.
COTABATO CITY - CAPITAL OF TWO REGIONS
2. Background: Cotabato City is geographically surrounded by the
ARMM; however, it is administratively a part of, and served as the
capital of, Sockssksargen from 1975 until 2004. It also serves as
the headquarters for the ARMM, even though it is not a component of
the region. The city shares a colorful history that has woven strong
economic and cultural links with the surrounding cities of the two
regions. This status as dual, and sometimes dueling, regional
capitals created some unique managerial and political problems but
overall has established it as a center of power for the entire area.
3. The economics of the city depend on its strategic location as a
regional center of trade and services. Migration into the city over
the last three decades has created occasional tensions, but in
general has assisted in the development of a diverse and tolerant
population. USAID activities have helped to foster a positive
attitude towards the U.S., with only a few notable exceptions. In
2005, the city was the scene of several anti-American protests after
USAID cancelled a controversial road project. These events are in
sharp contrast to the current overwhelming support of the U.S.
partnership. By continuing with other projects and ramping up
efforts to reach out to the local population, the USG has succeeded
in building a highly positive image.
REGIONAL ISLAMIC SUMMIT ON ENVIRONMENTAL GOVERNANCE
4. Ambassador was the featured speaker at the Khalifatul Ardh
("Stewards of the Earth") Regional Islamic Summit on Environmental
Governance. The summit brought together over 200 Muslim leaders
from academe, the public sector, religious groups, and civil society
to produce a source book for teaching Muslim communities on how to
manage natural resources and environmental protection. The
guidebook was in partnership with USAID's Philippine Environmental
Governance 2 Project. Ambassador praised the initiative of local
leaders and conference participants encouraging the protection of
the natural resources for current and future generations.
MUSLIM WOMEN ENERGIZE CIVIL SOCIETY
5. The Cotabato Muslim Chamber of Commerce, a USAID assisted
business development organization, sponsored the "Women's Forum on
Poverty Reduction," at which Ambassador gave the keynote address.
The theme was "Women - We Mean Business." Over 300 Muslim women in
business, civil society, academe, politics, and government
(including the mayor's wife, a UNESCO Commissioner) met to create
action plans to energize poverty reduction. Ambassador
congratulated organizers and emphasized the shared goals of the USG
and the people of Mindanao, highlighting the important role of women
in development and peace. In a sidebar conversation, female
organizers told Ambassador that the idea for the conference was a
direct result of experiences during their International Visitor
programs in the U.S.
ENGAGING MILF AND MNLF LEADERSHIP
6. Mayor Muslimin Sema of Cotabato City also serves as Secretary
General of the MNLF, its third-highest ranking member. He was
enthusiastic about partnering with U.S. agencies and spoke highly of
the USG and its efforts in Cotabato City and throughout Mindanao.
In private discussions, Ambassador stressed the importance of peace
and the need for a successful conclusion to the peace process.
7. Mayor Sema ruminated about his past life as a fighter with the
MNLF. He noted that 25 years ago the swampy thickets and hills
served as hiding places for himself and MNLF rebels, but he and
others "grew tired of hiding in the bushes" and subsequently sought
a non-violent path to political change.
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8. Joining the Ambassador were the Commanders of JSOTF-P and SOTF-12
as she hosted a dinner for the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA).
The BDA was established by the MILF and serves as a project
implementing body. It is designated in several agreements between
the Philippine government and the MILF as the organization that will
"manage" development assistance in the "Bangsamoro Homeland"
following the signing of a peace agreement between the two parties.
BDA leaders discussed their activities, but talked even more about
their organization's current funding difficulties. The Ambassador
reaffirmed USG's readiness to cooperate with and provide assistance
to the BDA for certain activities.
9. Ambassador met with the leadership of the Malaysian-led IMT
underscoring U.S. interest in its mission supporting the
Philippine-MILF peace negotiations. As it monitors the cease fire,
the IMT also observes the impact on the socioeconomic development of
the stakeholders. Ambassador praised the IMT's positive
contributions to the peace process as their presence adds another
dimension in the progress towards stability in Mindanao.
10. Leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' 6th Infantry
Division and the Commander of co-located U.S. Special Operations
Task Force 12 updated the Ambassador on regional activities. The
importance of community relations activities was emphasized in
supporting efforts for regional stability through positive
engagement with the citizens.
MUSLIM WOMEN SMILING ON US NAVY HELICOPTERS
11. Ambassador and Commodore of Peleliu Pacific Partnership 2007
hosted a reception aboard the USS Peleliu, anchored offshore near
Cotabato City, that brought together leaders from the various
regional groups. The helicopter flight to the ship provided a
once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. As Muslim women donned their
helmets for the short flight there was an initial polite nervousness
that slowly gave way to broad smiles reflecting their enthusiasm and
confidence. The reception helped to forge closer ties and respect
through the courtesy of the crew of the USS Peleliu and the friendly
inter-action between the guests and all USG personnel.
PARTNERING FOR PROGRESS AND DEVELOPMENT
12. Ambassador participated in two turn-over ceremonies that
highlighted public infrastructure projects built in partnership with
USAID. Cotabato City paid for a quarter of the construction. A
large and enthusiastically pro-US crowd waving flags attended the
ribbon-cutting for the "Cotabato Square," a public market located
next to the new City Hall, which is part of a plan to create
commercial and political centers outside of the congested central
business district. The second ceremony was a boat landing in the
rural Kalanganan district of the city that will significantly
improve the economic viability of the local waterfront.
13. At both events, the Ambassador praised the projects as hopeful
signs of continued commercial progress in Cotabato. The Ambassador
also noted the benefits that peace between the MILF and the
Philippine government would have for the local economy.
14. Ambassador and Commodore led a Project Handclasp donation of
goods from the USS Peleliu to a local NGO affiliated with the Save
the Children Foundation.
15. Media coverage of the two-day visit was extensive. All of the
local print and TV outlets covered each of the Ambassador's public
stops during the visit. Coverage by the wire services and a
national TV network produced stories and photos that headlined
subsequently on national media in Manila. The Ambassador did a live
radio interview with a station that reached an additional audience
from neighboring provinces, and gave an exclusive interview to
national TV network ABS-CBN, which led to a 10-minute special on the
Ambassador's visit to Cotabato and U.S. projects in the region plus
an additional feature on broader U.S.-Philippine issues.