Cablegate: Staffdel Luse Visit to the Philippines


DE RUEHML #2931/01 2412312
O 292312Z AUG 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 104535

1. (U) Summary: Mr. Keith Luse, Senior Professional Staff, visited
the Philippines from August 14-18 as part of a three-nation Asian
visit that also included Indonesia and Mongolia. The purpose of Mr.
Luse's visit was to conduct a field-based study on bilateral U.S.
foreign assistance, and also gather information about the human
rights situation in the Philippines, particularly the issue of
extra-judicial killings. On foreign assistance, Mr. Luse met with
the full range of Embassy sections and staff involved with foreign
assistance, government counterparts, NGOs, private sector, and other
donors. On the issue of unlawful killings, Mr. Luse had a wide
range of meetings including with the Embassy, Philippine government,
police, military, and NGOs. Embassy Manila believes the visit was
very productive, with excellent opportunities for substantive
discussion on human rights issues and exposure to the strong
inter-agency approach to U.S. foreign assistance at Post. End

2. (U) Regarding U.S. bilateral assistance, Mr. Luse met on the USG
side with the Charge, the Acting DCM, and Country Team members. He
had in-depth discussions with USAID; the U.S. military (both the
Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group, which manages U.S. support to
Philippine Defense Reform, and the Joint Special Operations Task
Force-Philippines, the political section and regional security
office (which manage U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism
assistance), Foreign Agricultural Service, and the USAID team
managing the Millennium Challenge Corporation's (MCC) Philippines
Threshold Program. On the Philippine government side, Mr. Luse met
with Senator Gordon (also Chairman of the Philippine National Red
Cross, a long-time U.S. partner in disaster assistance) and select
MCC counterparts, the Assistant Ombudsman, Department of Finance
Undersecretary, and the Finance Secretary. Among donors, Mr. Luse
had discussions with The World Bank Acting Country Director, the
Asian Development Bank Philippines Country Director and the
Alternate U.S. Executive Director. Among NGOs, Mr. Luse met with
The Asia Foundation and the International Foundation for Electoral
Systems, both USAID implementing partners. A roundtable dinner
hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce gave Mr. Luse the
opportunity to hear from the private sector, with the companies such
as Ford, Chevron, and Bristol Myers represented.

3. (U) Highlights of the discussions included Embassy Manila's
communication of the strong inter-agency approach to U.S. assistance
in the Philippines (especially in Mindanao and on rule of law
issues) and program coherence with the foreign assistance strategic
framework and the transformation diplomacy goal. Embassy Manila's
integrated and transformational approach pre-dated -- but was
deepened by -- foreign assistance reform (the "F process"). The
private sector voiced concerns about corruption, smuggling, and
other challenges of doing business, but nonetheless said that
foreign investors could see good returns in the Philippines. Other
donors cited examples of productive coordination with the U.S., such
as on procurement reform and tax administration, and praised the
Philippine Development Forum (in which the U.S. is an active
participant) as a productive vehicle for more substantive
Philippines government-donor coordination and a "genuine agent for
change." A repeatedly expressed view by many with whom Mr. Luse
spoke was that, despite the Philippines' significant challenges,
especially in the areas of corruption and rule of law, the U.S. and
other donors are able to effectively support "islands of good
governance" (as characterized by the World Bank) and reform
champions in both government and civil society. Many, therefore,
expressed cautious optimism about prospects for progress in the

4. (U) On the issue of extra judicial killings, Mr. Luse had a wide
range of meetings with a diverse group including the Embassy,
Philippines government, police, Philippines military, and NGOs. His
discussions with Embassy staff (political section, regional security
office and others) and with The Asia Foundation and the
International Foundation for Electoral Systems addressed human
rights as well as foreign assistance issues. These NGOs said human
rights abuses were a serious concern and cited a weak judicial
system as a root cause. In the Philippines government, Mr. Luse met
with Senior State Prosecutor and Head of the Presidential Task Force
Against Media Harassment of the Philippine Department of Justice,
Undersecretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy National
Security Adviser, and Vice Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the
Philippines. Mr. Luse also attended a briefing by the Philippine
National Police's "Task Force Usig," which is charged with
investigating human rights abuses. Mr. Luse clearly conveyed
rising U.S. Congressional concerns, along with those of NGOs and
church groups in the United States, and the increasing "perception,"
whether correct or not, that the Philippines was on a "downward"
trend in terms of the rule of law and human rights.
5. (SBU) In several meetings with senior Philippine officials, Luse
conveyed serious Congressional concern about extrajudicial killings
and explained that his trip was essentially a fact-finding visit to
learn first-hand about the issue. He added that he hoped to obtain
the Philippine government's perspective on the nature of the problem
and possible solutions. The Department of Foreign Affairs
Undersecretary asserted that the Philippine government took
extrajudicial killings seriously and had recently taken a number of
steps to address the issue, such as designating 99 special courts to
hear such cases and providing additional funding to the Commission
on Human Rights. However, the Undersecretary explained that the
killings did not occur in a vacuum, but resulted partly from the
Philippine government's concurrent fight against three insurgencies
(communist, Muslim, and terrorist). In addition, he claimed that
many of the killings were actually perpetrated by the Communist
National People's Army, which was currently purging its ranks of
disloyal members as it had done in previous years.

6. (SBU) The Philippine National Deputy Security Adviser's comments
closely followed Department of Foreign Affairs comments, heavily
emphasizing the role of the National People's Army in the killings.
However, he noted that to the extent the Philippine military was
involved, it was "rogue elements" within it, as the Melo Commission
had concluded. The Task Force Using Deputy Director provided Luse a
detailed briefing of its ongoing investigations into extrajudicial
killings. The Deputy Director underscored that Task Force Usig's
systematic evaluation of all the cases conveyed that many of the
killings claimed by human rights organizations were not politically
motivated, but the result of personal squabbles, armed conflict,
escape attempts, and many other non-political reasons. Luse was
grateful for the perspective he gained from the briefing and
requested that the Task Force continue regularly to brief Embassy
officials. The Philippine Department of Justice Prosecutor, who was
recently appointed to head the Presidential Task Force Against Media
Harassment, did not address extrajudicial killings in general but
instead focused on the case of a journalist who has been missing
since April. He alleged that members of the military could be
involved, but the investigation was as yet inconclusive.

7. (U) Mr. Luse was briefed about what the U.S. and other donors'
programs in the area of rule of law to address extrajudicial
killings, as well as corruption, narcotics, trafficking in persons,
terrorism, and other crimes. The State Department is working to
strengthen law enforcement capacity by assisting and training police
and prosecutors. USAID is supporting programs to improve the
efficiency of the Philippines' backlogged courts and increase access
to justice. The MCC Threshold Program focuses on supporting
government agencies (the Office of the Ombudsman and Bureau of
Internal Revenue) that investigate and prosecute corrupt officials,
tax evaders, and smugglers. The Joint U.S. Military Assistance
Group's support to Philippine Defense Reform is helping build a more
professional and accountable Philippine military. All are critical
and integrated components of a broader U.S. foreign assistance
effort that is seeking to transform the Philippines into a more
democratic, prosperous and stronger sustaining partner of the United
States. Mr. Luse's visit afforded excellent opportunities for
substantive discussions of these challenges and opportunities in the
Philippines and for U.S. bilateral assistance.

8. (U) Keith Luse cleared this cable. Kenney

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