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2005-06-01 07:13:00
Embassy Manila
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 002559 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/01/2015


Classified By: Political Officer Joseph Saus for
Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).


1. (SBU) The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) held a
three-day public consultation on the outskirts of Cotabato
City May 29-31 to renew its negotiating mandate before
heading into the next round of peace talks with the GRP. GRP
officials describe the event as "the largest show of mass
approval for the MILF ever." GRP officials believe MILF
Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim may be signaling to his
constituents that a resolution to the conflict is
fast-approaching. The massive display of support boosted the
MILF's legitimacy in the eyes of its own membership, the GRP,
and the international community. The crowd supported
statements highlighting the ongoing peace process with the
GRP, and Murad reaffirmed publicly the MILF's opposition to
terrorism. The MILF also stated publicly its willingness to
work with the GRP in arresting suspected terrorists and said
it is "validating" a list of wanted terrorists in
coordination with the GRP. However, to be credible, the MILF
must take clear and concerted action against the terrorists
sheltering in its midst. End Summary.

Mindanao's Woodstock


2. (SBU) The MILF concluded a three day "public
consultation" on the outskirts of Cotabato City, Maguindanao
Province, May 29-31. Although the MILF claimed an estimated
four million supporters attended, these reports are likely
exaggerated. According to Armed Forces of the Philippines
(AFP) contacts, the event drew 200,000-400,000 participants.
The consultation culminated on May 30th with a public rally
attended by several GRP officials from the Office of the
Presidential Adviser to the Peace Process (OPAPP), diplomats,
NGO officials, and media representatives. OPAPP and MILF
officials confirmed to poloff that nearly all the members of
the GRP and MILF peace negotiating panels were present. In
response to an MILF invitation to attend, Embassy sent a
letter of support to Chairman Murad on May 27 (copy faxed to
EAP/PMBS), but did not send an observer, citing logistical
and security concerns. On May 30, an MILF representative
reportedly read the Embassy letter to the crowd. Witnesses
at the scene told poloff the crowd and MILF officials
appreciated the Embassy's letter, which expressed US support
for the peace process and mutual objectives that advance
peace and development in Mindanao.

Marshaling Support For Peace


3. (SBU) The consultation, which succeeded in mobilizing
hundreds of thousands of supporters, served to reinforce the
MILF's mandate as the representative of the "Bangsamoro
People" in peace negotiations with the GRP. (Note: The
Bangsamoro (Muslim Nation) is defined as the Filipino-Muslim
inhabitants of central and western Mindanao and the Sulu
Archipelago. They are from several distinct ethnic tribes.
End Note.) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) in a May
30 press statement welcomed such peaceful, democratic, and
people-based consultations in promoting peace and
development, and expressed confidence that with the support
of the international community, the GRP would be able to
solve the decades-old peace problem in Mindanao.

4. (C) Presidential Adviser to the Peace Process, Secretary
Teresita "Ging" Deles, was the highest ranking GRP official
to attend. In her remarks, she noted the importance of
hearing and acknowledging the will of the people. She noted
OPAPP would also conduct in the coming months broad-based
consultations among the different stakeholders. According to
Ryan Sullivan, an OPAPP official and staff member of the GRP
Peace Negotiating Panel with the MILF, the event was "the
largest show of mass approval for the MILF ever." Secretary
Deles and Secretary Silvestre Afable, the Chairman of the GRP
Peace Negotiating Panel, who also attended, were favorably
impressed, according to Sullivan. Sullivan said MILF
Chairman Murad appeared confident and optimistic, and may
have been signaling to his constituents to prepare for a
fast-approaching resolution -- perhaps as early as yearend.

MILF Unified In Optimism


5. (SBU) Chairman Murad, in his May 30th remarks and
subsequent press conference, stressed the "new and fresh
mandate" bestowed from the Bangsamoro people, according to
transcripts provided to poloff. As their "legitimate
representative," he stressed their "life-long dream to
establish and develop (their) homeland as a permanent legacy
to the next generation." Murad thanked GMA and Malaysia and
Libya for supporting the peace process. He appealed to
Christians to "cast aside mistrust of your Bangsamoro
brothers," adding the "dividends of peace will be shared by
the whole constituency in our homeland regardless of tribal
or religious considerations." Regarding terrorism, Murad
explicitly stressed, "We live for Islam and we will be most
happy to die for Islam. But lest we are misunderstood, allow
me to clarify that the MILF is very much opposed to any form
of terrorism. On behalf of the MILF Central Committee let me
state quite clearly, that terrorist (sic) and terrorism is
incompatible with the MILF vision for the economic, cultural
and political advancement of the Bangsamoro."

6. (C) High-ranking Central Committee members, Vice Chairman
for Political Affairs Ghazali Jaafar and Vice Chairman for
Military Affairs Aleem Abdul Aziz Mimbantas, parroted Murad's
line. (Comment: Mimbantas has been identified as a militant
hard-liner, but the English translation of his remarks
(delivered in Arabic) were temperate. He invoked Koranic
verses stressing that all Muslims are required to be
peace-loving and to eschew violence that is "criminal,
irrational, inexcusable, indiscriminate, and lawless."
Copies of all transcripts will be faxed to EAP/PMBS. End

7. (C) MILF adviser Musib Buat, a close Embassy contact,
told poloff June 1 that the event was very positive and
optimistic. According to Buat, the MILF held a private
plenary session of "5,000 delegates" who supported a draft
resolution endorsing the MILF's pursuit of a negotiated
political settlement with the GRP on behalf of the Bangsamoro
people. He stressed the MILF did not discuss specific
details of the negotiations, such as the ancestral domain
question of proprietary land claims and rights. Buat said
these questions will come up for discussion in the next round
of talks, tentatively slated for some time in June.

Joint Terrorist Hunt Slow-Going


8. (C) Buat confirmed to poloff, media reports of MILF
pledges to "hunt down 53 Islamic militants" using the Ad Hoc
Joint Action Group (AHJAG) -- conceived in 2002 to jointly
investigate and interdict suspected criminals and terrorists
operating in MILF-influenced areas. He underscored the MILF
was "validating" a GRP-provided list of suspects and that the
coordination process was ongoing. (Comment: Since its
inception, the AHJAG has been stymied due to mutual
suspicions on both sides. While a potential mechanism for
interdicting suspected "lawless elements," it appears the
AHJAG may not yet be capable of moving against certain
individuals on the list, which includes suspected terrorists
linked to the Jemmah Islamiyah (JI) and Abu Sayyaf Group
(ASG). End Comment.)

Comment: Transforming The PR Victory Into A Lasting Peace?



9. (C) The MILF has clearly renewed and reinforced its
negotiating mandate. By mobilizing its supporters, the MILF
has gained legitimacy as a negotiating force in the eyes of
its constituents and, perhaps most importantly, the GRP. The
MILF is likely to use this demonstration of legitimacy to
strengthen its negotiating position in the upcoming talks,
tentatively set to resume later in June 2005. The MILF's
public statements against terrorism are welcome, but not
ground-breaking. We have heard such public pledges before.
To be credible, the MILF must take concerted and clear action
against the terrorists sheltering in its midst. End Comment.