Cablegate: Codel Filner Visit to the Philippines

DE RUEHML #2499/01 3380848
O 040848Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) SUMMARY. The week-long visit to Manila by Representative Bob
Filner, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs,
underscored the close ties between the United States and the
Philippines, and highlighted the care that the USG continues to
provide for Philippine W.W.II Veterans who served with the U.S.
military. The Congressman met with President Arroyo, Speaker
Nograles, Under Secretary of National Defense Santos, and Zamboanga
Mayor Lobregat. He presented VA benefit checks to several eligible
Filipino W.W. II veterans, and visited the Philippine Veterans
Memorial Medical Center, recipient of VA grant funds. He laid a
wreath at the American Cemetery; met with American Studies students
at a local University; traveled to Mindanao where he spent
Thanksgiving Day with U.S. troops and visited a USAID project;
received the Gusi International Peace Prize; and toured the historic
island of Corregidor. Finally, he met many veterans and VA
employees during his tours of the VA Manila facilities and received
operational briefings on VA's progress implementing the new,
one-time lump sum benefit for eligible Filipino W.W. II Veterans.
Congressman Filner's visit successfully underlined the long-standing
nature of the U.S.-Philippine partnership and our shared commitment
to our veterans. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Representative Filner visited Manila November 21 to November
28, accompanied by Chief of Staff Mr. Tony Buckles, Professional
Staff Member Ms. Jian Zapata and LCDR Ron Valencia. Rep. Filner
represents the 51st congressional district of California, home to
the largest percentage of Filipino-American citizens in the
continental U.S. This was the Congressman's third visit to the
Philippines and the first since the landmark Filipino Veterans
Equity Compensation provision became law last February as part of
the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

President Arroyo

3. (U) During a November 23 call on President Arroyo, Rep. Filner
reiterated the importance of the U.S.-Philippine relationship and
the long history of partnership, with a shared commitment to our

4. (SBU) President Arroyo thanked Rep. Filner for his successful
effort to secure additional benefits for an expanded group of
Filipino and Filipino-American veterans. The Congressman and the
President also discussed how the SAVE Act would benefit Philippine
apparel exporters and U.S. textile producers; Philippine efforts
toward qualifying for Millennium Challenge Corporation funding; the
effort to secure peace in Mindanao before the end of the Arroyo
administration; and immigration for Philippine nurses.

Speaker Nograles

5. (U) Rep. Filner called on House of Representatives Speaker
Prospero Nograles November 23. Nograles, flanked by nearly a dozen
Philippine legislators, thanked Congressman Filner for his efforts
on behalf of Filipino veterans and presented the Congressman with a
framed House resolution that, in recognition of his accomplishments,
declared him an honorary citizen of the Philippines. Congressman
Filner recounted his long interest in the situation of Filipino
veterans who had fought with U.S. forces during W.W. II. In a
subsequent exchange with a television journalist attending the call
on the Speaker, Congressman Filner explained his hope that
immigration legislation would help to address family reunification
issues affecting veterans. He explained his interest in promoting
training for Philippine nurses in the U.S. in a manner that would
not lead to a "brain drain" from the Philippines. Congressman
Filner also said that the Philippines was a natural partner of the
U.S. on counterterrorism, and that he was confident there would be a
clean Philippine election and a peaceful transfer of power in
mid-2010. CODEL Filner then proceeded to a larger room for brief
remarks and mingling with Filipino veterans and members of

Under Secretary Santos

7. (SBU) Under Secretary of National Defense Antonio C. Santos
received Rep. Filner in the wake of the recent Maguindanao massacre,
which required the attention of the Acting Secretary for National
Defense Gonzales. The brief meeting was dominated by discussions of
the events in Maguindanao and USEC Santos thanked Rep Filner for all
he has done for Filipino W.W.II Veterans, noting his father was a
veteran of that war. A briefing presented by Under Secretary for
Veterans and Civil Affairs Carolina followed the courtesy call. The
presentation highlighted U.S. assistance and described at length the
ongoing Philippine Defense Reform initiative of the two governments
that has helped transform the Armed Forces of the Philippines into a
more transparent, accountable, and effective partner in
counterterrorism and regional security. Now in its final year, PDR
has resulted in important reforms, Carolina asserted.

Visit to Zamboanga

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8. (U) The Ambassador accompanied Rep. Filner during a Thanksgiving
Day visit to Zamboanga City, highlighted by a courtesy call on Mayor
Celso Lobregat, Thanksgiving lunch with visiting U.S. troops, and a
visit to the USAID book warehouse. Mayor Lobregat thanked the
Congressman for all he has done for Philippine-U.S. relations and
provided a brief presentation about the city of Zamboanga,
emphasizing the city's strategic location as hub for regional
commerce. The Ambassador remarked on her fondness for the city and
reminded those in attendance of her status as honorary daughter of
the city, prompting the mayor to thank the Ambassador for spending
yet another Thanksgiving in his city. Rep. Filner and the
Ambassador then served Thanksgiving lunch to members of the Joint
Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) who provided a
briefing on JSOTF-P after dining with a number of task force members
from his district. Before departing Zamboanga, Rep. Filner visited
the USAID book warehouse, home to hundreds of thousands of
schoolbooks that will eventually be distributed throughout the
Philippines via a unique educator voucher program. Numerous
warehouse employees had just returned from the remote islands of
Tawi Tawi, where 90,000 books had recently been distributed.

Visit with American Studies Students

9. (U) Returning to his college professorial roots, Rep. Filner met
with a large gathering of American Studies students at De La Salle
University in Metro Manila to discuss the issues of the day and his
perspective as a sitting Congressman. The open dialogue and question
and answer format provided stimulating, two-way discussion regarding
topics ranging from the U.S. role in climate change, the worldwide
economy and recovery efforts, campaign finance reform, and the
healthcare debate in the U.S. At one point Rep. Filner took to the
white board to explain and illustrate what he termed "the
undemocratic practice of re-districting," complete with a history of

Memorial events and outreach

10. (U) Rep. Filner laid a wreath at the Manila American Cemetery
and Memorial, which commemorates more than 50,000 U.S. military
deaths in World War II, and he paid a visit to the Corregidor
Memorial, which immortalizes the brave Filipino and American service
members who fought shoulder to shoulder during World War II.

11. (U) The Congressman ate lunch with the Marine Security Guard
detachment at the U.S. Embassy, toured the Manila VA facilities, and
met with over 150 VA employees, the majority of whom are Filipino
citizens. He thanked the staff for their dedication and commitment
to serving veterans and for carrying out the mission of the USDVA in
the Philippines. He separately visited the Philippine Government's
Veterans Memorial Medical Center, a recipient of the VA grant

12. (U) Rep. Filner was provided an in-depth briefing on VA Manila's
implementation of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation
provision, passed with his efforts as part of the American Recovery
and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Congressman thanked those VA
employees in attendance for acting so quickly to implement the
legislation and complimented VA Manila on the progress made thus
far, with over 10,000 veterans having received over $125 million
since the bill's passage in February. The briefing concluded with a
slideshow presentation of photos and news footage from the
Philippines during the first few weeks after the law passed. Visibly
moved by the presentation, the Congressman thanked the VA Manila
staff again and asked for a copy of the slideshow to share with VA
stakeholders and others in Washington.

13. (U) The Philippine Veterans Affairs Office honored the
Congressman with a lunch reception, where Rep. Filner was able to
meet with scores of proud Filipino World War II veterans and leaders
of the major Veterans Service Organizations in the Philippines, many
of whom are recipients of the new benefit. He presented several
eligible Veterans with their lump sum check for the new benefit.

14. (U) Congressman Filner joined 18 others from around the globe as
a 2009 Gusi International Peace Prize recipient. Billed by its
organizers as the Asian version of the Nobel, the Gusi seeks to
"recognize individuals working toward the attainment of peace and
respect for human life and dignity."


15. (U) Rep. Filner's visit successfully underlined the close and
long-standing nature of the U.S.-Philippine partnership and our
shared commitment to our veterans. His visit received favorable
coverage in the local media, and generated considerable additional
goodwill, particularly in the politically influential veterans'
community here.

16. (U) Representative Filner did not have an opportunity to clear

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this cable before departure.


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