Posts Tagged ‘wikileaks philippines’

There was also US intervention in the peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Philippine government as in those between the latter and the MILF.

Confidential and secret cables released by Wikileaks from the US embassies in Manila and The Hague in the Netherlands show how three governments worked together to designate as “terrorist” Jose Maria Sison, chief political consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in peace talks with the Manila government. The move may have been part of Philippine government’s pressure tactics on the NDFP during peace negotiations. However, the move would not yield the Philippine government’s desired results.

Sison, the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army were included in the US terror list in August 2002, right after the Manila visit of then Secretary of State Colin Powell. He was soon after also included on the EU “terrorist list” of organizations and individuals upon the requests of the US and PH governments. His bank account was subsequently frozen, denying him social benefits accorded to refugees living in the Netherlands.

Terrorist-listing as leverage

The US, Dutch and Philippine governments engaged in acts that were inimical to the peace talks between the NDFP and the Philippine government.   The Philippine government used the terrorist listing as leverage against the NDFP. There was intense pressure was brought to bear on Sison: from the  deprivation of social benefits, threats to his life, and even arrest and detention. The matter of the terrorist listing became a prejudicial question in the peace talks.

In a 2005 meeting with US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said that the NPA’s “delisting as a foreign terrorist organization depended on a demonstration or proof of sincerity… such as entering into a cease-fire or new peace talks.”

The same leveraging tactic was echoed by Presidential Peace Adviser Annabelle Abaya in a discussion with US Ambassador Kristie Kenney in November 2009. Abaya noted that Sison’s delisting by the EU “would eliminate some of the GRP’s leverage over him” and that “the GRP preferred Sison to remain designated as a terrorist” but admitted that “talks had not succeeded during his time in the EU list”.

US intervention, through the terrorist listing, had a very negative impact on the peace talks.  It was a move that was aimed at forcing the NDFP to surrender to the Philippine government, even without addressing the roots of the armed conflict. This negates the inherent character of the talks which were primarily aimed at finding solutions to the root causes of the armed struggle. Arroyo appeared more interested in getting the NDFP to surrender than in addressing the substantial issues in the peace negotiations. These issue include human rights, socio-economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and the disposition of forces.

After a long legal battle, Sison was eventually removed from the EU “terrorist list” in November 2009 based on a ruling by the European Court of First Instance. It appeared that the Dutch “terrorist listing” was done only in relation to asylum proceedings and was not based on actual crimes or terrorist activities.

Prior to the delisting, the US and Dutch governments did everything they could to keep Sison on the list, according to the secret cables.

Sison was arrested and detained by the Dutch government in 2007 on suspicion of ordering the killings of two people in the Philippines. Sison was eventually released and the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. As revealed in previous news, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo told the US ambassador in Manila that Philippine and Dutch governments reportedly collaborated for years to build a case against Sison, but even this could not stand judicial scrutiny.

US opposed de-listing despite lack of evidence

In a confidential 2009 cable from the US embassy in Manila, US ambassador Kristie Kenney vehemently opposed the delisting of Sison by the EU, even if no new information or evidence was available to support his retention in the list.

“The absence of new information does not negate the very significant information we have had for some time regarding Sison.  If Sison and the NPA were to reject their past actions and pledge not to engage in such activity again, there might be some grounds for revisiting their designations, but on the contrary they refuse to agree to a ceasefire and continue to carry out kidnappings and killings.  Under the circumstances, removal of Sison’s terrorist designation is inadvisable,” Kenney said.

In a secret cable from the Netherlands in May 2009, the US embassy in The Hague sought advice from the US State Department on how keep Sison on the terror list amid the looming decision of the EU Court of First Instance nullifying his inclusion in the list. The cable said that the Dutch government was seeking US assistance because Sison was included in the terror list upon the request of the US government.

The US embassy in The Hague cited the inability of the Dutch police, intelligence services and the US embassy in Manila to provide any new information that would justify keeping Sison in the list.

The absence of new evidence or information came despite the massive seizure of NDF documents and equipment during the raids on the NDF office and houses of NDF personnel in the Netherlands by the Dutch authorities in August 2007. The Dutch police seized everything they could get their hands on–computers, disks, papers related to the peace process, personal belongings– and still they could not produce a shred of evidence to support the terrorist listing. Sison was also arrested and detained in this raid.

In another cable from The Hague dated October 2009, the US embassy again sought new information that could justify the retention of Sison in the terrorist list. The cable described a bilateral meeting between US and Dutch officials in Brussels where they discussed how to appeal an adverse EU ruling. The Dutch and US officials feared that the UK and German governments opposed the Dutch position and that majority of countries in the EU would not likely support a Dutch appeal.

The US embassy in The Hague also said that information provided by the Philippine government linking Sison to money-laundering activities was “insufficient to support prosecution in the Netherlands”.

In a separate cable issued from the US embassy in Manila, US authorities hinted at the possibility of rendition or deportation of Sison from the Netherlands to the Philippines, but cited as a stumbling block Sison’s status as a judicially recognized political refugee under the Refugee Convention and Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. ###

At least four US embassy cables from Manila dealt with the US response to the abduction of an American citizen and activist Melissa Roxas. All were marked confidential and were cleared by US ambassador Kristie Kenney.

Roxas, a member of Bayan-USA, reported that she was abducted by bonnet-clad armed men in La Paz town in Tarlac, Philippines on May 19, 2009 and held in what she believed to be a military camp. She was later surfaced in May 25. Throughout her captivity, Roxas was blindfolded, but could hear distinct sounds of what she believed to be an airstrip and a firing range. She testified before Philippine courts and human rights bodies that she was tortured into admitting she was a member of the New People’s Army.

Before leaving the Philippines, Roxas filed a petition for a writ of amparo before the Philippine Supreme Court to get protection against the state security forces of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The high court gave the petition due course and referred it to the Court of Appeals for hearing.

Roxas eventually returned to the Philippines that year to testify before the Court of the Appeals, the Commission on Human Rights, and the House Committee on Human Rights.

The abduction of an American activist was the first of its kind ever documented under the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Her nine-year term was marked by hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances that gained much international attention.

The four embassy cables on Melissa Roxas dealt mainly with the US embassy’s actions on the incident and the Philippine government’s response. The US embassy pressed the Philippine government several times on the Roxas abduction, saying that the embassy gives importance to the safety and security of American citizens.

The embassy however was wary that groups like Bayan and its overseas chapter Bayan-US would use the abduction issue to highlight other human rights abuses in the country and to draw a link between these abuses and US military aid to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

This was articulated by US ambassador Kristie Kenney who wrote in the a confidential June 29, 2009  cable that Bayan was using the incident ”in an attempt to draw connections between U.S. military aid and human rights abuses by Philippine forces, with the apparent goal of ending U.S. financial support for the Philippine military altogether”.

The Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military aid in Southeast Asia. The amount significantly increased after the 9-11 attacks when the Philippines was designated as the “second front” in the “war on terror”.

The embassy noted the Philippine government’s initial response to the incident, which was to altogether deny any involvement in the abduction and torture. A lawyer from the Philippine Office of the Solicitor General even described the incident a “stage-managed event to achieve spectacular and theatrical results to damage the reputation of the Philippine government and earn political capital.”

In another confidential cable dated July 24, 2009, the US embassy expressed concern that “the highly publicized case has the potential to embarrass President Arroyo in advance of the July 27 State of the Nation Address — the last of her presidency — and her highly anticipated July 30 meeting with President Obama, which will be followed by a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder”.

The embassy also noted the seeming difficulties of US authorities in obtaining information from Roxas. The cable even insinuated inconsistency on the part of Roxas when she cited emotional distress as a reason for not dealing with the FBI, while showing “emotional fearlessness” in returning to the Philippines to face human rights investigations. This assessment of course is not accurate. Those who were in close contact with Roxas during her return are familiar with the emotional stress she experienced while recounting her ordeal in public hearings and in open court, all under close scrutiny by the media.

The last cable, dated August 2009, took note of the allegations made by then partylist representative Jovito Palparan who claimed that Roxas was a member of the New People’s Army who trained in the countryside.

“Whether or not Palparan’s allegations of Roxas’ NPA ties turn out to be true, the Mission has continued to echo CHR statements that Ms. Roxas’s political affiliations are irrelevant to a full investigation of her alleged kidnapping and torture. As the truth of Ms. Roxas’ experiences continues to unfold, the Mission will remain closely apprised of developments in the case and report significant developments to Washington”.

In various public hearings, Roxas vehemently denied Palparan’s allegations. It should be also noted that allegations by the likes of Palparan that Roxas is an NPA actually provides a clear motive for the AFP for abducting her. However, Palparan and his cohort in ANAD Jun Alcover insist that Roxas was abducted by the NPA and not by the AFP.  This assertion of Palparan is not supported by any evidence and runs counter to the credible testimony of Roxas that while she was in captivity, she was forced to confess to membership with the NPA and asked to return to the folds of the law. If she was indeed abducted by the NPA, why was she being tortured to admit membership and to return to the fold of the law?

To date, no one has been made accountable for the abduction of Roxas. The US embassy appeared to have gone through the motions of inquiring about the incident, monitoring the news, and expressing concern over the issue. Most of the embassy comments in the cables dealt with the possible negative media attention that the incident would generate.

The Supreme Court has tasked the Commission on Human Rights to undertake further investigation of the case. A recent CHR report practically cleared the AFP of involvement in the abduction and raised the possibility that Roxas was abducted by the NPA.

Roxas continues to fight for justice, this time in arenas outside the Philippines. ###

Various Philippine media outlets since yesterday have reported on a secret US embassy cable showing a Norwegian third-party facilitator in the peace process between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Philippine government discussing details of the peace talks with a representative of the US embassy in Manila. The cable puts to question Norway’s avowed impartiality in the peace processes it is involved in.

In the cable marked “Secret” because of the sensitivity of the conversation, Norwegian Special Envoy Vegar Brynildsen met with US embassy political officers on February 3, 2010 to discuss Norwegian efforts to facilitate peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

The cable carried a “Strictly protect” clause since Brynildsen was seriously concerned that discussion of his meeting “could call into question the discretion of the Norwegian facilitators”.

Media outlets who reported on this particular cable focused on Byrnildsen’s observations on the peace process, the NDFP, its chief political consultant Jose Ma. Sison and the Left’s participation in 2010 Philippine presidential elections.  Byrnildsen commented that Sison appeared “not in control” of the movement in the Philippines, citing alleged differences between the Europe-based negotiators and the Philippine-based leadership.

The NDFP represents the revolutionary movement that has been waging a four-decade long “people’s war” against the Philippine government and US imperialism. Sison, the NDFP’s chief political consultant, was previously listed as a “terrorist” by the US and EU.  In 2009, the European Court of First Instance removed Sison’s name from the EU list.

Byrnildsen said it was a “real challenge” to work as facilitator while not knowing the inner workings of the NDFP. He also said that he was not “positively impressed with the quality of Philippine government intelligence on the NDFP”.

What media outlets have not reported on is the more obvious and potentially more embarrassing nature of the conversations. Norway’s third-party facilitator in the peace process, one who is supposed to be neutral, was reporting to the US embassy intimate details of the peace process between the NDFP and the Philippines.

Byrnildsen was right in asking the US embassy to “strictly protect” his identity because his meeting with the US embassy raises not just matters of discretion but also questions as to Norway’s avowed impartiality in its peace role.

The news of the cables came out, coincidentally, on the day the Norwegian government’s new facilitator Ture Lundh visited the Philippines to help jumpstart the talks between the GPH and the NDFP. Lundh would be speaking to representatives of both the GPH and NDFP from September 5-7 in Manila.

Byrnildsen’s “indiscretion” may raise concern among other countries and revolutionary groups engaged in peace talks that have Norway as facilitator. It is not clear if Norwegian envoys regularly share such reports to the US government, of if Byrnildsen’s case is just an exception. Questions will also arise on how the US will use such information on the peace processes, especially in conflict-affected areas where there are US interests involved.

Norway and peace processes

“Since the early 1990s, Norway has been involved in various ways – and to different degrees – in peace and reconciliation processes around the world. This is an important Norwegian foreign policy priority,” according to Norwegian foreign minister Jan Petersen in a speech delivered in Canada in 2005.

“We are also regarded in many quarters as impartial. Norway has no colonial past, and we are usually perceived as not having ulterior political or economic motives or agendas,” Petersen said.

Norway has been involved in varying capacities in peace processes in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Aceh in Indonesia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Guatemala, Colombia and Haiti as well as in the Middle East via the “Oslo Channel”. According to Petersen, Norway’s peace process role enjoys domestic political support as well as resources.

It can be said that Norway has had a positive role in peace processes over the years, even if these processes do not always end in a successful resolution of the conflict. In the Philippines, the Royal Norwegian Government helped set up and funded the Joint Monitoring Committee to monitor human rights compliance of the GPH and the NDFP. The formation of the JMC is part of the agreements forged in the GPH and NDFP talks. The talks however still have to hurdle other substantive issues such as socio-economic reforms and political and constitutional reforms before a final peace accord is reached. Norway also continues to be the host of the GPH-NDFP formal peace talks which require a foreign, neutral venue for its meetings.

 US perspective

The US describes Norway’s peacemaking role as part of “Norwegian exceptionalism”. In a confidential cable issued by the US embassy in Oslo in June 2009, the US said “Norwegians truly believe that there is something inherently good about being Norwegian and that Norway has a special role in promoting peace globally”

“Those who do not agree with Norway’s priorities are viewed as, at best misguided and at worst morally wrong. USG policy makers should be aware of this approach as what makes Norway a driven and dedicated partner can also make it a loose cannon” the cable said.

The US has expressed interest in Norway’s role in peace processes worldwide and sought to find ways of cooperation. In another confidential Oslo embassy cable, Charge d’Affaires Kevin M. Johnson wrote that Norway’s Foreign Ministry – Peace and Reconciliation Section (PRS) “strongly value(s) U.S. engagement, describing the combination of Norwegian quiet diplomacy and U.S. influence as an effective tool”.

“They see (the US) as having similar values and often working in the same places.  PRS Director General Tore Hattrem noted that the U.S. and Norway played key roles in bringing the Sudan peace agreement to fruition and that we should continue to find areas for close cooperation,” the cable said.

“The PRS is also interested in our philosophical approach to conflict areas and in identifying ways to reinforce each other’s efforts,” Johnson wrote.

In a side comment, Johnson wrote that “other Norwegian officials stress that whatever our differences, both the U.S. and Norway are transformational rather than “status quo” nations”.

The same US embassy cable cited Norway’s interest in working with the US State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. The CRS is an entity that coordinates US government efforts in reconstruction and stabilization work in conflict-affected areas. The S/CRS was put up in 2004 as a response to reconstruction and stabilization needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US S/CRS believes that “failing and post-conflict states pose one of the greatest national and international security challenges of our time”. The US “philosophical approach” to conflict areas is premised on the view that “struggling states have become breeding grounds for terrorist activity, violent crime, trafficking, and humanitarian catastrophes, which all possess the significant potential to spread and destabilize entire regions of the globe”.

US involvement in peace processes is aimed at “stabilizing” areas for US economic and security interests. If this is the “shared value” that the Norwegian and US governments are intent on pursuing, then there may be some cause for concern. US involvement in conflict resolution may carry an agenda that is not always in the best interests of the affected sectors.

The US for example supported a peace plan with Moro rebels Southern Philippines that would allow foreign governments and business to enter into economic agreements with a “juridical entity” that enjoys relative independence from the national government.  While the idea of a Moro ancestral domain and juridical entity was progressive and consistent with Moro demands for self-determination, it was also suspected that the US pushed for the agreement so that it can reap economic benefits especially in mining and oil exploration in mineral-rich Mindanao.

The RNG has not publicly commented on the cable about Byrnildsen, but it might be forced to do so if only to address the issue of impartiality and to clarify the extent of its dealings with the US insofar as peace processes are concerned. ###

“Senator Noynoy” seemed more at ease trading quips with his running mate or reminiscing about his parents than in describing his policy views, which he delineated more in negative terms”

“Where Senator Aquino was most comfortable was in talking about the past – parents and family, the 1987 coup attempt, the bloody HUK rebellion”.

Kristie Kenney on her meeting with then presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/01/10MANILA135.html

“Estrada remains popular with a meaningfully large segment of the electorate despite well-known personal vices, a prior conviction for plunder, and widespread suspicion of culpability in a double murder now under investigation.  An Estrada victory — which we currently view as highly unlikely — could complicate U.S.-Philippine relations, given the former President’s connection to an American convicted of espionage.  Most politically astute Filipinos believe the Supreme Court will eliminate Estrada from the race on constitutional grounds”.

“Most in Manila’s elite circles dread any prospect of Estrada’s return to the presidential palace.  Stories of Estrada’s debauchery, corruption, and mismanagement abounded during his presidency.  Widely thought of as a womanizer, gambler, and alcoholic, Estrada was convicted by the Philippine anti-graft court of plunder.”

Kenney on Erap’s decision to again run for president in 2010  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/10/09MANILA2218.html

“While the ARMM elections were not perfect, COMELEC demonstrated that it can run an efficient and, for the most part, clean automated election that required sophisticated management capabilities and extensive training of election workers, volunteers, and voting machine technicians”.

Kenney’s assessment of the 2008 ARMM elections where Zaldy Ampatuan garnered 93% of total votes  http://www.wikileaks.org/cable/2008/08/08MANILA1956.html

“Critics of the U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) turned out in force for an August 27 oversight hearing chaired by one of the Philippines most strident and thorny politicians, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago”.

“Philippine Senator Miriam Santiago, one of the Philippines’ most vociferous and domineering politicians, was among the leading skeptics”.

Kenney on the hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the VFA http://www.wikileaks.org/cable/2009/08/09MANILA1843.html

“On the government’s fight against the communist and Muslim insurgencies, Teodoro is a hawk.”

Kenney describing DND secretary Gilbert Teodoro  http://www.wikileaks.org/cable/2009/05/09MANILA1107.html

“While his term as SND will be fairly brief, it has the potential to be problematic.  In the past we have found Gonzalez to be inconsistent and prone to shooting from the hip”.

Kenney on the appointment of Norberto Gonzales as DND Secretary http://www.wikileaks.org/cable/2009/11/09MANILA2408.html

“It is clearly not in the Philippines’ best interests to allow tensions in the South China Sea to escalate to the level of armed confrontations”.

Kenney on the Spratly’s dispute  http://www.wikileaks.org/cable/2008/08/08MANILA1838.html

 “A key figure in the Arroyo administration, General (Avelino) Razon has been a close and trusted interlocutor to the Embassy”.  http://www.wikileaks.org/cable/2008/08/08MANILA1837.html

“The burst of activity surrounding LCpl Smith in the past few weeks validates once again this Mission’s — and the U.S. government’s — intensive focus over the past three years on this highly fraught controversy, which has serious consequences not only for LCpl Smith, but the most crucial elements of our diplomatic and military ties with the Philippines”.

Kenney on the Subic rape case  http://www.wikileaks.org/cable/2008/10/08MANILA2323.html

“Her moral leadership, while coming at an important time for the Philippines, never fully compensated for her weak leadership style.  Her presidency was marked by numerous coup attempts and allegations of corruption.  Following her tenure, her antipathy toward President Arroyo led her to ally with more dubious political figures such as former President Estrada, blemishing her reputation as a moral crusader”.

Kenney on former president Corazon Aquino  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09MANILA1414.html

Today’s release of all Wikileaks cables included the complete set of cables from the US embassy in Manila. Most interesting are the cables that deal with meetings between the Philippine government and the US embassy in the context of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s fight for political survival amid allegations of election fraud. Cables reveal that ranking Arroyo government officials were already contemplating the declaration of a state of emergency to crackdown on opposition groups.

In 2005, wiretapped phone conversations involving the president and an election official were leaked to the public. Malacanang at first tried to deny the authenticity of the tapes yet at the same time sought to suppress their dissemination. In the tapes, Arroyo was asking Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to help secure her 1 million vote lead over nearest rival Fernando Poe, Jr.

In a confidential US embassy cable dated June 17, 2005, the US embassy candidly acknowledged that the voice on the “Garci tapes” was that of the president. “Garcillano could be a key witness.  He is apparently the person President Arroyo is speaking with in the audiotape,” the cable said.

“Snippets of the tapes featuring what certainly seems to be the President’s voice have even been re-mixed with music to make what is becoming a very popular ring tone for cell phones,” the embassy noted.

However, in an earlier cable, the US embassy said it received transcripts of the “Garci tapes” several weeks before their release, but noted there was no smoking gun to link Malacanang to election fraud.

In the same cable, it was revealed that the Arroyo government, through two officials, suspected the US of involvement in the release of the Garci tapes but the US embassy was quick to deny this.

Thousands took to the streets to demand Arroyo’s ouster or resignation. A broad anti-Arroyo united front had taken shape.

Emergency rule now an option

Possibly the earliest cable mentioning the Arroyo government’s option to declare a state of emergency to deal with the Opposition came out in November 6, 2005. The cable entitled ASSESSMENT OF POTENTIAL THREATS TO DEMOCRACY IN THE PHILIPPINES confirmed that based on the US’ own intel, “senior advisors are considering — and perhaps have begun drafting — possible measures to implement emergency rule of some sort in the Philippines.”

The Philippine government went as far as seeking US help for the measure  via an aide memoire (non-paper) submitted to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US intel chief John Negroponte. In the document, Philippine officials claimed that “political opportunists and destabilizers have forged understandings with Communists, terrorists and Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists to remove the President” and urged “vocal support for our President (Arroyo)” from the US government to help with this “increasingly serious and dangerous situation.”

The US embassy however said that it “did not share the analysis in the aide memoire or believe circumstances would justify extreme measures.”

“We have made clear in our meetings with senior-level GRP officials, also including during CDA’s October 21 meeting with President Arroyo and a separate meeting with Foreign Secretary Romulo on November 3, our firm opposition to emergency rule or martial law,” it added. The US embassy also expressed concern that Arroyo’s advisers “may be increasingly successful in convincing her.”

But the US did not completely shut its doors to the idea of emergency rule.

“In the current political environment, any emergency rule could only be justified by a blatant attempt to overthrow the government, which we do not see as forthcoming,” it said.

In another cable dated November 14, 2005, the US again registered its “firm opposition” to emergency rule to Arroyo, DFA’s Romulo and defense officials. According to the cable, Arroyo replied that the ‘Constitution defines what we can do’ and asserted that her administration may legally invoke certain emergency measures.

Visiting State Department official Eric John also told Arroyo said that “emergency measures could trigger a review of U.S. defense-related and other assistance to the Philippines”.  To this remark, Arroyo “responded only with a defiant stare,” the cable said.

The cable also reported that “Chairman of the Mindanao Economic Development Council “Jess” Dureza told Charge that emergency rule plans were in place to respond quickly to any extra-constitutional attack on the government.  He acknowledged that some top officials, such as National Security Advisor Gonzales and Justice Minister Gonzalez, believed the government was already under siege by communists, terrorists and political opponents, but he doubted that the President would use emergency powers in the absence of a strong provocation”.

In his meeting with an embassy official, House Speaker Jose de Venecia said that emergency rule was being considered because the “alliance of party list leftists in Congress, the New People’s Army, and Opposition figures might make such a step necessary”.  JDV then asserted that his push for charter change “was actually aimed in part at undermining the temptation to resort to such (emergency) measures”.

The US embassy concluded that “it is clearer than ever that consideration of such emergency measures is ongoing at very senior levels”. What is not clear, it said, was if a decision has been made.

Bert Gonzales’ agenda

In November 21, the US embassy also met with National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales who said that he had proposed to Arroyo to invoke a constitutional provision that would “allow her to order the military and police to arrest leftist politicians and suspected Communist forces whom Gonzales believes are now coordinating with the Opposition to overthrow the government.” He further suggested a “six-month duration” for emergency rule to significantly weaken the CPP, before the next impeachment complaint is filed by June of 2006.

According to the cable, “Gonzales said that the GRP would use such powers to arrest all CPP Central Committee members, which he believes includes party list Congressman Satur Ocampo, and other members of Congress whom he believes to be front men for the CPP/NPA.  He admitted that there was no specific plan to date, but noted many things in the Philippines happen without a plan”.

Gonzales apparently saw the political crisis as a way to advance his own ideologically-motivated agenda of ridding the country of leftists and communists. “He said that he had told President Arroyo that, for the good of the country, she should take this step in order finally to get rid the Philippines of the Communist presence, noting that all of the Philippines’ neighbors had already done so,” the cable said.

However, the US embassy official  told Gonzales that “the U.S. would not support emergency rule, that we did not share his analysis of the threat posed by the NPA, and that a campaign against the NPA would be seen as detracting from  genuine counter-terrorism activities for domestic political reasons”.

Again on January 30, the US met with House Speaker de Venecia and he reiterated his support for emergency rule but acknowledged that the US is not supportive. In his meeting with a US official, JDV said that “emergency rule was needed to deal with the threat posed by the New People’s Army (NPA), but the U.S. “keeps saying no.”  JDV said the government needed special powers to arrest individuals in the media and elsewhere who are paid and controlled by the NPA.”

February 24 declaration

One month later, the Philippine government would indeed declare a state of emergency over what it viewed as fresh destabilization attempts from an alliance of the “extreme left” and “military adventurists.”Arroyo declared a state of emergency in a televised address at 1120 am on February 24, 2006. JDV told the US embassy that he supported the move and that meetings were conducted up to 3am that day to iron out the declaration.

Prior to the declaration on TV, Gonzales phoned a US embassy official at 6am to inform him that “President Arroyo had approved a draft declaration of a State of Emergency. The US embassy did acknowledge that there were threats to the government from soldiers mounting a coup. There was no “firm opposition” to emergency rule aired by the US, only a call to the Philippine government to respect fully the rule of law, protect civil liberties and human rights, and reject violence”. But even this statement displeased Philippine officials who were expecting greater understanding and support from the US.

Gonzales indicated that “the government planned to arrest members of the military and civilians involved in the plot”. Indeed arrests took place. The PNP released a list of some 50 activists and known CPP members who were to be arrested and charged with rebellion. Included in the list were partylist representatives and other legal personalities. Crispin Beltran would be arrested and brought to Camp Crame. The Batasan 5 partylist lawmakers would eventually be given protective custody by the House of Representatives, which was ironically headed by JDV.

Apart from the arrest of opposition leaders, government attempted to crack down on protest actions and even the media.

In another cable dated March 1, Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz and NSA’s Gonzales said that the government “had decided some four months ago to develop judicial cases against persons suspected of rebellion.  Cases were almost ready for submission to judicial authorities when the attempted coup of February 24 was uncovered.  The first charges were brought February 27 against at least 50 individuals, including six Members of Congress. The six legislators are under the temporary custody of the House of Representatives, while others named in the cases have gone underground, they said.  All members of the secret Central Committee of the Communist Party would be charged and arrested,” the two officials told the embassy.

These declarations by Cruz and Gonzales could indeed be true since the government formed the Interagency Legal Action Group (IALAG) which specialized in the filing of trumped-up charges against activists.

“They also intend to re-open old cases, including a case against Congressman Satur Ocampo from 1989.  They will pursue cases against members of the political party Bayan Muna, which they consider a front organization for the CPP/NPA.  They said the government will not pursue cases against other left-wing organizations that neither espouse violence nor associate with the CPP, such as Akbayan”, the cable said.

It should be noted that the people fiercely resisted the declaration of emergency rule and that it was lifted after one week. It should also be stressed that the trumped-up charges of rebellion orchestrated by Gonzales, Cruz et al, and based on ridiculous assertions and inadmissible documents , were all dismissed by the Supreme Court.

But what of the conspirators of emergency rule and the proponents of warrantless arrests and trumped-up charges? What of those who laid the ground work for the violation of civil liberties and human rights? Those who raided the newspaper Tribune and threatened broadcast stations covering the protest actions?

They should all be made accountable. It’s never too late to demand justice for all the wrongs that they did. ###


									

From 2004-2010, the Philippines witnessed one of the worst waves of human rights violations in its history. Hundreds of activists were killed or abducted. Hundreds more were arrested and faced with trumped-up charges. The magnitude of the abuses caught the attention of the international community. The issue also further isolated the regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The main suspects in the killings and disappearances were state security forces.

There were numerous embassy cables on the US position regarding extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. My own estimate is that there were more than 40 cables that referenced extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. These cables ranged from scenesetters for visiting US officials, to actual reports on the actions taken by the US embassy and the Philippine government on EJK’s.

But while there were strong statements of concern to address the killings of activists and journalists, the US continued to provide economic and military aid to the Arroyo government. While the US said “there’s more that needs to be done”, the US also noted progress in the human rights situation as well as Arroyo’s “seriousness” in addressing the problem.

The Philippines remains the biggest recipient of military aid in this region of Asia, receiving some $30 million annually in Foreign Military Financing, education and training as well as Excess Defense Articles. Human rights issues in the country must be taken in the context of US support for Philippine security forces. With the nationwide phenomenon of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, a feat that can only be accomplished by state security forces, there is a valid perception that US tax dollars were funding human rights abuses committed by the AFP.

The US seemed content with how the Arroyo government explained and addressed the issue of extrajudicial killings. The US embassy did not seem perturbed by the lies peddled by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Department of National Defense and the Executive Secretary when asked of the causes of these killings. ( See US gov’t inquired about PH efforts vs. extrajudicial killings — WikiLeaks cable)

Here’s how Executive Secretary Ermita explained the killings in one of the cables dated April 20, 2007:

“In discussing unlawful killings of leftist activists, Ermita provided a detailed historical account of the communist insurgency.  He argued that the killings did not take place in a vacuum but instead occur in the context of the Philippines’ war against the terrorist Communist insurgency.  He underscored that the National (sic) People’s Army (NPA), the armed component of the Communist Party of the Philippines, routinely ambushes and kills members of the AFP.  “There is a war going on,” he emphasized.”

Here, Ermita actually affirms our long-held view that the killings occur in the context of the Philippine government’s counter-insurgency program, which in this case is Oplan Bantay Laya. However, Ermita is saying is that while the killings occur in the context of the counter-insurgency program, whose main implementor is the AFP, the military cannot be blamed for the EJK’s.

The US was in fact supportive of Oplan Bantay Laya. “While total victory over the CPP/NPA in the foreseeable future remains unlikely, the new campaign could over the next couple of years contribute to improvements on the ground,” Kenney said in one cable.  (Ref ID 06MANILA2777).

Another official, DND Usec Ric Blancaflor commented that killings have resulted from the “intensification of anti-insurgency and anti-terrorist drives.”

The same official even tried to explain and justify the targeting of activists from partylist groups.  “Blancaflor added that many within the AFP believe the NPA has taken advantage of the initiative to include Communist elements in the political process,” the cable said.

The DFA meanwhile sought to contain the international impact of the killings. “Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for the Americas Rey Carandang told the Staffdel that the unlawful killing issue had been greatly exaggerated.  “We are not in a state of war,” he claimed”.

The US seemed to take everything at face value, even the discredited line that the killings were the result of an internal purge by the New People’s Army. This view has been discredited by the government’s own Melo Commission as well as the report of UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Philip Alston. There was in fact no evidence produced to support this view, except for an alleged document called “Oplan Bushfire” produced by the AFP itself, allegedly taken from a raid against the NPA.

In cable dated February 9, 2007 (07MANILA458) entitled PROGRESS AGAINST POLITICAL KILLINGS, the PNP’s General Avelino Razon “confirmed suspicions that the Luzon killings may be linked to the then-presence of controversial Major General Jovito Palparan, nicknamed “the Butcher” by activists, although he noted that “there was little or no hard evidence directly linking Palparan or units under his command to such killings”. Truth is, TF Usig never really investigated Palparan. The PNP claimed that Palparan was not under PNP jurisdiction. (Meanwhile, the AFP said that they won’t be investigating Palparan for EJK’s because that’s the PNP’s job).

Perhaps the best summary of the US position on EJK appears in a scenesetter for US Congressman Steve Chabot. In this February 15 2007 cable signed by Kristie Kenney, the US wanted to send the message that the Philippines needs to “control the problem” of EJK’s.

“We press the government at every opportunity to resolve these killings, and I have discussed them with President Arroyo and key members of her cabinet, as well as the Armed Forces Chief of Staff and the Chief of the Philippine National Police.  They all tell me they are as appalled as we are, but we remain insistent that they must get control of this problem,” Kenney said.

Here the issue was not really achieving justice for the victims or correcting the wrongs done by the AFP. The issue was the containment of a problem:  avoiding international fall-out, the further degeneration of the AFP and the further complications in US involvement in Philippine counter-insurgency efforts.

In a scenesetter for visiting General Bryan Brown (Ref ID 07MANILA977), Kenney’s concern on EJK’s focused on “the need to take decisive action to resolve the issue of unlawful killings, which threaten to tarnish the impressive victories the AFP is winning in the field”.

In March 16, 2007 cable (07MANILA863)  issued by Kenney, visiting US State Department official Scot Marciel warned the Philippine government that that unresolved, unlawful killings have the potential to become “a cloud in the relationship” between the two countries.

In the other cables, the US will claim to have helped resolve the issue of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses by providing training, funding and capacity-building for Philippine institutions. The US also claims that its Philippine Defense Reform and other actions by the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) also have positive effects on the AFP.

A new counter-insurgency program has been put in place, one that takes its cue from the US counter-insurgency guide (COIN) of 2009. The new plan combines the “hard” and “soft” approaches to insurgency. Despite the new plan, human rights violations still persist. Under the Aquino administration, human rights groups have documented 50 cases of extrajudicial killings. Meanwhile, convictions of perptrators from the past regime have been dismally low. ###

The 3,000 cables dumped by WikiLeaks last Thursday August 25 provides vital insights into US interests and positions on topics such as terrorism, the Subic rape case, the Arroyo presidency and the ouster movement, extrajudicial killings, the 2007 and 2010 elections and the Philippine economy. It would certainly take some time to analyze the cables which date from 2005 to 2010. I’ve attempted to classify some of them based on topics that would be of interest to progressives and analysts. There will be more to come in the following days. We hope that the “crowd sourcing” done by WikiLeaks can also be done here. We need more people to read and analyze the cables. They’re on the internet. Anyone can read them and make their own summaries.

In the meantime, here are brief descriptions and highlights from cables dating from 2005-2008.

Counter-terrorism

Many of the cables dealt with the issue of counter-terrorism, on the need to maintain US troop presence in Mindanao, the need to pass the anti-terror law and the need to maintain US aid to go alongside US military presence. The topic of terrorism permeates almost many aspects of the work of the embassy, from scene-setters for visiting US officials, regular country assessments, US military and economic aid, Philippine legislation and diplomacy.

  1. The US wanted to build “dual-use” infrastructure in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. Apart from their civilian use, these airports would have been designed to meet the requirements of US aircraft such as C-130 cargo planes.  http://wp.me/p1Phi-ji
  2. PH Defense Usec Ric Blancaflor describes US.-PH relationship as “just short of incest.” http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/04/07MANILA1284.html
  3. The Human Security Act (terror law) should give PH government some new tools to use against the CPP/NPA-  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/07/07MANILA2327.html
  4. WikiLeaks- US troops in Mindanao provide “PR services” to help Armed Forces of the Philippines  improve its image http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/07/08MANILA1764.html
  5. DFA Secretary Romulo tells US that PH worked with Dutch gov’t “for several years” to build case vs. CPP founder Joma Sison  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/09/07MANILA2982.html
  6. US gov’t gave economic aid and projects to Gov.Zaldy Ampatuan of the ARMM and a known warlord. Three years later, he will be implicated in the massacre of 57 people, including more than 30 journalists.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/04/06MANILA1845.html
  7. The US embassy believes that Philippines “has no obvious enemies except for leftists and Muslims linked with extremist activities”.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/10/05MANILA4810.html#par32
  8. PGMA tells US ambassador the AFP wants to buy additional US aircraft because “that’s what our pilots like to fly”. “http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/06/07MANILA1983.html

Human rights

There were several cables from 2005-2009 on the particular issue of extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists. During this time, there was a surge in the killings of activists critical of the Arroyo government. The US identified the victims as leftist activists “associated with the Communist Party of the Philippines”. In several cables, the US ambassador and other representatives of the US government strongly and repeatedly urged the Philippine government to “control the problem” of EJKs.  In subsequent cables, the US seemed content with the actions taken by the Arroyo government, including the formation of TF Usig, the Melo Commission among others. The US talked with various Philippine officials and noted the progress in addressing the problem of EJK’s. The Philippines is the biggest recipient of US military aid in this part of the world.

  1. US senate staff says Philippines on “downward trend in terms of human rights and rule of law” wikileaks.org/cable/2007/08/
  2. US embassy in Manila takes cynical view of extrajudicial killings in PH, saying these killings will persist so long as NPA also escalates attacks vs. AFP  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/03/06MANILA1452.html
  3. Here’s a self-incriminating statement. Defense Undersecretary Ric Blancaflor said killings of activists “resulted from the intensification of anti-insurgency, anti-terrorist drives.” http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/04/07MANILA1284.html
  4. US embassy shows “concern” over arrest of Morong 43 amid reports of rights abuses. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10MANILA289.html

The Arroyo presidency

The cables revealed the attitude of the US embassy towards moves to oust Arroyo from power. The US closely monitored the situation and came to the observation that there was no critical mass to oust Arroyo and that her removal via people power would serve as another bad example to other nations. Arroyo was no Thaksin, as one cable said. The embassy was confident she would weather the different challenges to her regime. The embassy took note of Arroyo’s SONA speeches, her declaration of a state of national emergency, her refusal to resign, efforts at charter change and the various issues of corruption plaguing her administration.

In one cable, released just before the death of President Corazon Aquino, US ambassador Kristie Kenney called the former president an “icon of democracy” but also a  “partial icon of morality” because of her alliance with “dubious political figures” like deposed president Joseph Estrada. Cory and Erap were both part of the broad anti-Arroyo movement. According to Kenney, the decision of Cory to align with Erap against GMA “blemished her reputation as a moral crusader”.

  1. US embassy in Manila did not think anti-GMA protests would gain momentum http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/07/05MANILA3231.html
  2. Little chance Arroyo will do a Thaksin http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/04/06MANILA1569.html
  3. On the declaration of a state of emergency, PH officials downplay negative effects http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/02/06MANILA839.html
  4. US had negative view of “people power” to oust GMA, calls them constitutionally-questionable means with negative implications for stability http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08MANILA483.html
  5. Anti-Arroyo protests still lack critical mass http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08MANILA521.html
  6. Wikileaks: Kenney calls Cory “partial icon of morality” for allying with “dubious political figures” like Erap. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09MANILA1414.html
  7. Arroyo’s last SONA:  GMA touts achievements, slam critics http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09MANILA1586.html

Subic rape case

Updates on the Subic rape case involving US Marine Lance Cpl Daniel Smith was a common post from 2006-2008. The cables detail how the US embassy intended to manage the fall-out from the incident. It showed the insistence of the US to keep custody of Smith even after his conviction by a Philippine court. Smith would later on be acquitted  by an Appeals court after the victim, under mysterious circumstances, executed an affidavit that she wasn’t sure that she was raped.

The US protested detention of US Marine and convicted rapist Daniel Smith in PH Jail, insisting on US custody . The move would trigger another round of controversy in the Visiting Forces Agreement. Smith was transferred back to the US embassy amid protests from lawmakers and activists. The Supreme Court would eventually rule that the transfer to the US embassy was not in accord with the VFA, that it was wrong. However, a final ruling on the matter was made moot when an Appeals court acquitted Smith in the rape case.

The economy

Being an important trading partner hosting many US economic interests, the US embassy kept tabs on the Philippine economy. It discussed the impacts of the global financial crisis, labor export policy, the sustainability of growth among other issues.

The US embassy often used its position to lobby for the interests of US firms, as seen in their efforts to amend certain provisions in the Philippines Cheaper Medicines Bill authored by Senator Mar Roxas. The US felt that the bill, which sought to bring down prices of drugs, would infringe on the intellectual property rights of US pharmaceutical firms. The US reps talked with Sen. Roxas at least twice. At least 3 cables were dedicated to discussing these exchanges.

Another cable talks about the US embassy’s support for a Texas power firm that was bidding for the concession agreement of the country’s power transmission line. The competitors in the bidding included China’ State Grid.

The US was also very interested in the mineral reserves of the country but was wary of the security situation in Mindanao.

  1. Wikileaks – DENR sec Mike Defensor asks US gov’t for “joint mineral resources assessment” of PH http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/08/05MANILA3811.html
  2. US Embassy Manila wary of government efforts to curb oil prices. May harm U.S. commercial interests. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/09/05MANILA4338.html
  3. Former Senator Mar Roxas talked with US gov’t re intellectual property rights issues in cheaper meds bill. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/05/06MANILA2185.html
  4. Wikileaks- US ambassador offers to be “catalyst” in facilitating power sector privatization in PH http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/06/06MANILA2633.html
  5. US lobbied legislators Rep.Cua and Sen.Mar Roxas to protect IPR of US drug firms in PH Cheaper Meds Bill. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/12/06MANILA4940.html
  6. Texas power firm asks US gov’t help to secure bid for TransCo vs. China’s State Grid Corp and Italy’s Terna SPA http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/01/07MANILA170.html
  7. US embassy sees labor export as “engine of growth” but calls on PH gov’t to address brain drain http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/01/07MANILA193.html

Peace, insurgency, elections, corruption

There were other cables on topics such as the peace process with the MILF, how the US government viewed the armed struggle waged by the CPP-NPA, as well as the Philippine partylist system which offered representation for marginalized sectors. There’s also  one article trying to explain the “masa” phenomenon and its potency as a political force.

  1. US embassy on the CPP-NPA http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/07/06MANILA2973.html
  2. US embassy in Manila believed that total victory over the NPA was unlikely even with Oplan Bantay Laya http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/06/06MANILA2777.html
  3. PH has no obvious enemies except for leftists and Muslims linked with extremist activities. http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/10/05MANILA4810.html#par32
  4. US embassy discusses Philippine Party-List System http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/04/07MANILA1215.html
  5. The “Masa” as a political force http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/04/05MANILA1808.html
  6. Philippine government “is taking real strides” towards eliminating corruption http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/11/07MANILA3669.html (This was released in late 2007, at the time the ZTE controversy first broke out).

As far as diplomacy was concerned, the US asked the Philippines “never be more than 1 vote apart from the US UN delegation and to abstain rather than vote against the U.S. on issues in the UN.  http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/10/06MANILA4348.html

Responding to a query by a US State Department office on Women Empowerment, the US embassy in Manila said that the 5 influential women in the country are Sen. Loren Legarda, Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez, TV host and actress Kris Aquino, journalist Malou Mangahas and governor  Grace Padaca http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/01/07MANILA302.html. The cable also listed the phone numbers and addresses of the 5 women. The cable also revealed that the US embassy point-of-contact for women’s issues is a guy. ###

An August 2008 cable from the US Embassy in Manila showed the US government’s concern over the human rights situation in the Philippines and its implications on US funding for the country. Mr. Keith Luse, Senior Professional Staff of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited the Philippines from August 14-18 as part of a three-nation Asian visit that also included Indonesia and Mongolia.

According to the cable, “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”.

It said that various forms of assistance were being provided by the US to “transform the Philippines into a more democratic, prosperous and stronger sustaining partner of the United States”.

From the discussion of the cable, Luse himself conveyed to the Philippine government the “perception, whether correct or not, that the Philippines was on a downward trend in terms of the rule of law and human rights”.

On the side of the Philippine government, 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.

“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 cable said.

According to the cable, the Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary tried to explain the context of the extrajudicial killings as well as the steps taken by the Philippine government to address the problem. .He said 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”.  He also 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).”

However, the glaring proof that the Philippine government was not serious in addressing the problem was when the Usec claimed that “many of the killings were actually perpetrated by the Communist National (sic) People’s Army, which was currently purging its ranks of disloyal members as it had done in previous years”.

This was echoed by the Philippine National Deputy Security Adviser’s who heavily emphasized 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.

For his part,the Deputy Director underscored of Task Force Usig also said the cases of extrajudicial killings  were not politically motivated, but the result of personal squabbles, armed conflict, escape attempts, and many other non-political reasons.

These statements show deceit and cover-up by the Philippine government of the real causes of the extrajudicial killings which claimed the lives of hundreds of activists during the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. While one Philippine official cited the Melo Commission’s finding that “rogue elements” within the Philippine government may be involved in the killings, Philippine officials completely ignored the most important finding of the Melo Commission. The fact-finding body actually demolished the theory that an NPA internal purge was behind the extrajudicial killings. This was in fact discussed extensively in the Melo report. The officials were either ignorant of the Melo findings or were simply lying.

Different agencies like the USAID, the MCC and JUSMAG were providing various forms of assistance to the Philippine government in relation to the rule of law and human rights. It said that the “Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group’s support to Philippine Defense Reform is helping build a more professional and accountable Philippine military”.

We don’t know what they mean by a “professional and accountable Philippine military, but it is a well known fact that the AFP’s counter-insurgency program is under the guidance and direction of the US military through the JUSMAG. The reality is that there has been no accountability in the AFP on the issue of extrajudicial killings.

What was the reaction of Luse after the briefing? “Luse was grateful for the perspective he gained from the briefing and requested that the Task Force continue regularly to brief Embassy officials,” the cable said. Despite the obvious efforts of the PH government officials to cover-up or downplay the issue of extrajudicial killings, the US embassy saw the visit of Luse as affording “excellent opportunities for substantive discussions of these challenges and opportunities in the Philippines and for U.S. bilateral assistance”.

Eventually the US Congress would make the release of some $2 million in foreign military assistance contingent on the Philippine government’s compliance with the UN special rapporteur Philip Alston’s recommendations for addressing human rights issues in the Philippines. Some $30 million in annual US military aid continued to be channeled to the Philippines despite its dismal human rights record. ###

Some 33 cables from the US embassy in Manila were released today by Wikileaks. Here are three of the more interesting cables that deal with US counter-terror efforts in the country and the region. The cables give us a glimpse of the real intent of the US government when they invoke regional security against terorrism. One cable tells us that the US is proposing the setting-up of dual-use facilities in Mindanao. Another tells us of a US proposal for an integrated maritime surveillance system in Southeast Asia.

 Terror law after Bali Bombing

The US was closely monitoring and keenly interested in the passage of the Philippines anti-terror law, especially in the aftermath of the Bali bombing in 2005. The particular cable  sent on October 2, 2005 was described as “sensitive” but “unclassified”. It said that “in the aftermath of the October 1 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo expressed her condolences to the victims’ families…and urged swift passage of an anti-terrorism bill by Congress”.

The cable also noted that then DILG secretary Angelo Reyes warned that there was “clear and present danger” of a terrorist attack but did not provide specifics. The cable also noted the passage of the House version of the anti-terror law at the committee level, as well as the assurance from then Senate President Franklin Drilon that the anti-terror law will be passed. However, the US embassy also said that the bill has “many hoops to go through before possible final approval”.

US security interest in Southeast Asia

In a cable dated August 27,  2007 by US ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, the US embassy in Manila expressed support for funding for fiscal year 2008 under Section 1206 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006. This Security Assistance Program allows the US Department of Defense to spend up to $200 million dollars to train and equip foreign militaries to undertake counterterrorism or stability operations. The program is deemed important in helping countries like the Philippines build capacity to help fight the “war on terror”.

The endorsement for the program was made by the US embassies in Manila, Jakarta,Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Dhaka and Colombo. The cable said that in 2007, the US had developed the capacity to protect the area from Sulu and Sulawesi Seas in the border region shared by the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.  “This area is a priority in the war against terrorism in Southeast Asia,” the cable said.  It should be noted that there are US troops based in Zamboanga and Sulu.

The US hopes to establish “a seamless interface among their respective maritime security efforts”. Part of the efforts would be to make use of US military exercises in the region such as the ones hosted by the Philippines under the Visiting Forces Agreement. “Our proposal maximizes the use of existing U.S. military exercises in the region, as well as initiatives managed by other agencies.  We have worked closely with USPACOM, Special Operations Command Pacific, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF-W) and other commands to ensure that PACOM planners understand our 1206 objectives and develop realistic scenarios in future exercises that will help host nations test and improve their new capabilities,” the US embassy in Manila said.

The US embassy in Manila also proposed an elaborate regional surveillance network both land and sea-based to further advance US maritime security efforts. “Our proposal emphasizes the installation of land-based and sea-based maritime radars and other types of surveillance and identification equipment in the tri-border area of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines and other key points between Sri Lanka and the Philippines to monitor vessels suspected of carrying terrorists, weapons, or drugs, as well as engaging in human trafficking and other illegal activities”.

At the end of the cable, it is still the US’ own strategic objectives which are paramount when it comes to the issue of “regional security”.  The funding will be used as leverage by the US to influence the regional counter-terror policies. “Protecting the waters in South and South East Asia and stopping the terrorist groups operating there are vital U.S. interests.  Assisting countries in the region to work together to counter threats is a long-term objective.  The FY07 1206 proposal gives countries in the region capabilities they do not presently have to wage the War on Terror and affords the United States unique opportunities to influence the shape of a regional counter terrorism strategy,” the cable said.

Philippines focal point of US counter-terror efforts

In an earlier cable dated April 4. 2007, the US embassy again stressed the need for US funding for counter-terror efforts.

“The Philippines is currently the focal point of our counterterrorism fight in the region.  The Armed Forces of the Philippines has scored significant victories during its ongoing campaign on the island of Jolo against Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists.  With U.S. help, Philippine troops have overrun terrorist training camps and conducted successful operations that led to the deaths of Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Solaiman, the top two leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group.  Our $10 million Philippine 1207 initiative would build upon existing U.S. Agency for International Development and Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines activity to improve dual-use infrastructure on the islands of Jolo and the neighboring island of Tawi-Tawi, where we have made significant gains in separating the terrorists from the population,” the cable said.

The embassy proposed 5 priority projects that have “dual use”, meaning both civilian and military use. Some of the proposed infrastructure were tailor-made for use by US military aircraft. Others had clear counter-insurgency uses.  The cable lists down the five projects as:

Jolo Airport: A $3 million expansion project would lengthen the current runway from 1500 meters to 2000 meters, giving it increased capacity to handle civilian and military (both U.S. and Philippine Air Force) aircraft, such as Boeing 737s and C-130s.

Tawi-Tawi Airport: A similar $3 million expansion project would give this airport the same expanded dual-use capability.

Tawi-Tawi Bridge: This $3 million project would construct a bridge and approach roads that would link Tawi-Tawi and Sanga-Sanga, the two main islands of the Tawi-Tawi group.  The project would also enable the Armed Forces of the Philippines to shift forces by land from Sanga-Sanga to Tawi-Tawi, an operation it is now only able to conduct by sea, in order to eliminate terrorist safe havens and transit areas from this heretofore inaccessible area.

Security Force Train-and-Equip Package: $300,000 in funds under the supervision of the resident U.S. Senior Law Enforcement Advisor would allow us to train and equip port and airport security personnel in Zamboanga and the Sulu Archipelago to screen cargo and passengers and respond to potential terrorist threats.

Jolo Water Distribution System: $700,000 would allow Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines to complete a badly needed water distribution project in Jolo City, the largest municipality on the island that would provide its residents potable drinking water.

The setting up of dual-use facilities for US troops  is a relatively new development after the US bases in the Philippines were closed down in 1991.

The proposal to have infrastructure with “dual use” allows the US troops in Mindanao more maneuverability. It is part of the US forward deployment strategy here in the Philippines. In US military parlance, these facilities are called cooperative security locations, having little or no US personnel present and can host prepositioned equipment and provide ready access for US troops

The US ‘war on terror’ has allowed the US troops permanent basing in the Philippines even without an actual basing treaty, effectively violating provisions of the Philippine constitution. February 2012 marks 10 years of the US troop’s permanent and continuing presence in Mindanao. This goes beyond what the VFA itself contemplates.The VFA has been vague to the point of being used to justify the indifinite stay of foreign troops in our country. ###

Wikileaks recently disclosed a long list of pipelines, cables and assets that the US government considers “critical infrastructure” and “key resources”. The US Patriot Act defines “critical infrastructure” as “systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States the incapacitation or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of those matters”.  The Homeland Security Act meanwhile defines key resources as “publicly or privately controlled resources essential to the minimal operations of the economy and government.”

The memorandum was relesed on February 2009 and was classified SECRET-NOFORN (not for foreign nationals) and originated from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The memo sought information from US embassies worldwide on critical infrastructure and key resources abroad that may be vulnerable to attacks. It also included a 2008 list of critical infrastructure and key resources to guide embassies in determining new information. The list is updated yearly as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Protection Plan

Critical infrastructure located in the Philippines includes the C2C Cable Network undersea cable landing in Batangas and the EAC undersea cable landing Cavite.

The EAC-C2C network is an “integrated state-of-the-art fiber optic submarine cable network spanning 36,800 kilometers between Hong Kong, China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Singapore. EAC-C2C has a design capacity of 20.48 Tbps” according to the website of its mother company Pacnet.

Other critical sites worldwide include hyrdoelectric plants, pipelines, mining and chemical factories and pharmaceutical companies producing vaccines.

The US government slammed the disclosure as “irresponsible” saying that in endanger the US and other countries hosting the facilities.

Steve Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy thinks there may be no greater danger now than before the list was released. “My own opinion is that there’s no shortage of potential targets that hostile actors might find interesting, and they don’t need a State Department list to assist them,” he told the blog Threat Level. ###