Cablegate: Building Confidence for Peace in the Southern Philippines

DE RUEHML #1780/01 2070845
O 250845Z JUL 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY. The Ambassador continued to focus attention on U.S.
assistance in conflict-affected areas in the Southern Philippines
during a visit to Zamboanga City and Basilan Province to observe
U.S.-funded development projects and meet with local Basilan
business leaders. Recently-appointed Presidential Peace Advisor,
Secretary Hermogenes Esperon, joined the Ambassador in his first
visit to the southern Philippines since stepping down as head of the
Armed Forces of the Philippines in order to assume his new position.
Throughout the day, the Ambassador and Secretary Esperon emphasized
the importance of development assistance in the Philippines-U.S.
partnership bringing peace and prosperity to the Philippines. The
United States Agency for International Development assistance
projects included opening a reading corner at a center for homeless
and orphaned youth, providing computers and internet connections to
a high school in Zamboanga City, the formal turn-over of a newly
completed bridge, and celebrating the progress being made by some
former MNLF combatants who have ventured into fish-farming in
Lamitan, Basilan Province. All events were well attended by local
officials, enthusiastic crowds, and both local and national media.


2. (U) Flanked by Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat and Secretary
Esperon, the Ambassador toured one of USAID's Education Quality and
Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS) assistance
projects dedicated to providing literacy and livelihood training for
out-of-school, orphaned, and homeless youth. Zamboanga City is one
of 39 USAID-EQuALLS project beneficiary cities. Several dozen
students, teachers, and social workers watched as the Ambassador,
Secretary Esperon, and Mayor Lobregat cut a ribbon formally opening
a "reading area" complete with donated books, lighting, and chairs.
Afterwards, Ambassador Kenney read one of the donated books to
several children and visited the skills-training area where older
students demonstrated their paper-making processes. EQuALLS will
also refurbish a building to be used for additional alternative
learning classes and skills training.


3. (U) Greeted by a throng of cheering students and teachers, the
Ambassador, Secretary Esperon, and Zamboanga City Mayor Lobregat
arrived at Cabaluay National High School to turn over an assistance
package of computer resources under USAID's Computer Literacy and
Internet Connection (CLIC) program. As of July, 2008, the CLIC
program has helped introduce computer and internet education in 672
high schools in Muslim Mindanao, with a combined enrollment of over
half a million students. The Ambassador and Secretary Esperon spoke
to the assembled student body on the importance of becoming citizens
of the world and then toured the school's computer laboratory. The
CLIC program, USAID pays the cost of the internet connection for the
first year, with the school's Parent Teacher Community Association
(PTCA) taking on the responsibility after the first year.


4. (U) Upon arriving in the town of Lamitan, in the island-province
of Basilan, the Ambassador and Secretary Esperon joined Lamitan
Mayor Roderick Furigay at a luncheon with local business leaders of
Lamitan. During the luncheon, the Ambassador and Secretary Esperon
moderated a free-ranging discussion on regional and national
economic issues with the chamber's largely small business owners.
Throughout the discussion, the Ambassador praised the business
people for their sustained efforts to create a peaceful business
climate in their region of the Southern Philippines.


5. (U) The Ambassador traveled to the southern part of Lamitan City
to the site of the new Camanse Bridge, the latest of some 870
infrastructure Projects completed by USAID throughout
conflict-affected areas of the Southern Philippines. The new bridge
replaces an old makeshift bridge that would regularly be covered by
floodwaters during the rainy season, increasing transport time and
costs. The new Camanse Bridge allows the safe and timely delivery
of commercial agricultural products. At the bridge's ribbon-cutting
ceremony attended by Basilan Governor Jum Jainuddin Akbar and
Lamitan Mayor Furigay, Secretary Esperon remarked that this region
of Basilan had made incredible progress since he had struggled to
maintain order there as a young lieutenant fresh from the Philippine
Military Academy some 30 years ago, and more recently as head of the
Armed Forces of the Philippines. Now, with infrastructure and

MANILA 00001780 002 OF 002

development projects created by the partnerships between the USG and
local government units, the bridge is symbolic of the progress made
towards peace and stability. Secretary Esperon stated that, "this
is not only a bridge for providing access; it is also a bridge for
building friendship and solidarity."


6. (U) A large group of former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)
combatants who were assisted by USAID to enter into the high-value
fish-farming business welcomed the Ambassador and Secretary Esperon
to the MNLF's regional headquarters in Basilan, where the Ambassador
participated in a ceremony turning over a motorboat engine assembly
to one group of the former combatants and witnessed the signing of a
sales agreement between another group of the combatants and a
high-value fish buyer from nearby Isabela City. The motorboat
engine assembly will allow the cooperative to double its income by
being able to transport their harvest to markets in Zamboanga city,
rather than selling them at farmgate prices at the point where they
are grown. USAID has been working with both groups of former
combatants (and scores of additional groups as well) since 2003 in
an attempt to help the former combatants make the transition to
productive farmers. (Altogether, approximately 28,000 former MNLF
combatants throughout Mindanao have been assisted to become
small-scale commercial producers of corn, rice, seaweed, high-value
fish, and vegetables). During the ceremony, Secretary Esperon
congratulated the cooperative's members on their steady economic
progress and as "one former combatant to another," pledged to bring
a lasting peace to the region in his capacity as Presidential Peace

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7. (U) The JSOTF-P conducted a briefing for Secretary Esperon and
the Ambassador, outlining the combined Civil Military Operations
(CMO) the JSOTF has completed or will accomplish in the southern
Philippines during FY08. All projects are completed through, by,
and with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Local Governing
Units (LGUs) and local contractors. A total of 255 projects are in
various stages of completion. The 255 projects include 193
Engineering Civic Action Programs (ENCAPs) and 62 Medical Civic
Action Projects (MEDCAPs) that provided medical treatment for 17,303
people. Included in the 193 ENCAPs are: 25 road segments totaling
110 kilometers; 14 ACCs; 4 Bridges; 3 Clinics; 3 Piers; 56 Schools;
59 Water projects. The projects have affected 1,398 barangays and
approximately 2 million people by increasing security, providing
jobs, providing economic growth and development, and basic and
essential services.

8. (U) The JSOTF also provided a briefing on its Military
Information Support Team (MIST). The MIST helps shape the
information environment to support the AFP and provide support to
public safety. The MIST highlighted its "Your AFP" series of
products consisting of posters, pamphlets, comic books, radio and TV
commercials designed to increase public support for the AFP as the
"people's armed forces" and to reassure the populace that the AFP is
there to protect them. Many of the products include images of the
AFP conducting CMO projects, such as grading a road with a bulldozer
and digging wells to provide fresh water for local communities.
These products were also designed to show that the AFP has many more
capabilities beyond the internal defense mission.


9. (U) Local media were present at all public events and provided
favorable coverage of the Ambassador's visit, which was also picked
up by national Philippine media. The Ambassador also conducted live
call-in interviews to a local and national radio station during
drive-time hours where she was able to reiterate the USG's
commitment to a stable, prosperous Philippines and our hopes for the
successful conclusion of a peace agreement between the Philippine
government and Muslim insurgents.


© Scoop Media

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