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Homeland Security

05 May 2005

State's Zoellick Sees Progress in Philippine Anti-terror Efforts

Splinter groups' links to radical global organizations remain a danger

The United States supports the progress made by the government of the Philippines in resolving its decades-long dispute with Islamic separatists on the southern island of Mindanao, according to Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick. 

In a May 4 press conference at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Zoellick said he had met with Philippine officials, including Philippine President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo, to discuss a range of economic, political and security issues. 

Zoellick welcomed the Philippine government's efforts to pass strengthened anti-terrorism legislation.  He also praised the success of the government's strategy to reintegrate former rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), with which it signed a peace agreement in 1996.  The United States encourages that effort by providing funding for assistance projects through the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID).

"I had a good report from the AID mission about the efforts to help integrate these people back into the development of the society," Zoellick said. 

Separate negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which were initiated in 1997, have been more complicated, Zoellick said.  Despite the Philippine government's efforts to move toward a long-term solution by promoting economic development and political reconciliation, there has been fragmentation among the negotiating parties, the deputy secretary said.

"I actually, having watched the issues in Mindanao over some 15 or 20 years … think there is some progress being made," Zoellick said.  "But obviously, it remains a dangerous situation, in part because some of these [splinter] groups are linked to other groups that have a global radical agenda."

Some Philippine rebels are alleged to have ties to Islamic radical groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which has been held responsible for several terrorist attacks in the region, including the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002.

Zoellick said the United States and the Philippines share the same concerns about global terrorism.

"I think the course globally against terrorism has been one that has been moving in the right direction, but I don't want to underestimate the scope of the challenge," he said.  "This is going to be a long, long-term effort."

The Philippines is the second-largest recipient of U.S. assistance in the Southeast Asian region, after Indonesia, Zoellick said.  The country will receive about $120 million in military, trade and development assistance in 2005.

Zoellick added that he hoped the Philippines would also be able to receive assistance funds from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), an assistance program initiated in 2002 that links greater U.S. aid contributions to developing nations with greater responsibility from developing nations.

The MCA focuses aid on countries that "meet objective criteria in terms of democratic governments, transparency and anti-corruption, and investing in their people," Zoellick said.  He noted that the Philippines is in a preliminary stage of application and is preparing to rewrite some parts of its proposal to focus on anti-corruption and fiscal reform.

"As for additional aid, that, again, is one of the reasons I came," Zoellick said.  "[I]t will depend on what happens with this [Mindanao] negotiating process.  If there's headway made … there are certainly opportunities for us to look at additional support." 

The deputy secretary is in Southeast Asia May 2-11.  His visit to the Philippines was the second of six countries on his itinerary, following a stop in Thailand.  He  also plans to travel to Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Following is a transcript of the press conference:

(begin transcript)

Press Conference with U.S. Department of State
Deputy Secretary Robert B. Zoellick

Malacanang Palace, Manila
May 4, 2005

Press Secretary Bunye:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  It's our pleasure to welcome Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick to Malacanang.  Secretary Zoellick served as the thirteenth U.S. Trade Representative since February 2001.  It was during his tenure that several landmark negotiations were completed, among them the bringing in of China and Taiwan into the World Trade Organization, the development of a new strategy to launch new global trade negotiations, and the enactment of free trade agreements with several countries in the world.  During President George H. W. Bush's administration, he served with then-Secretary of State James A. Baker III.  Now, he is the Deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  This is his second visit to the Philippines; the first time was around 2002 as Trade Representative.  It is our pleasure to welcome Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick.  Let's give him a big hand.  (Applause.)

He is joined in the rostrum by Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Secretary Nonong Cruz, [and] of course we have Secretary Purisima, and the other members of the party of Secretary Zoellick.

We will now start with the question and answer.  Please wait to be acknowledged, and --

We also acknowledge the presence of Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs Excel Custodio. 

So please wait to be acknowledged.  We have mikes on both sides of the table.  But before that, I believe Secretary Ermita would like to make a statement.

Executive Secretary Ermita:  Ladies and gentlemen of the media, this morning we have the honorable Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick of the United States.  He came in earlier, at about nine, for a dialogue with members of the Cabinet.  I was joined in that dialogue by Secretary Cruz, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary [of Finance] Purisima, and Secretary Jon Santos of the DTI [Department of Trade and Investments].  That gives you an idea of the things that were covered in that one-hour meeting with the honorable Robert Zoellick.  We briefed him on matters pertaining to our anti-terrorism program, we briefed him on the Philippine Defense Reform Program, and also on some economic matters discussed by Secretary Purisima and Secretary Santos.  And later on, they were received in a call by the President herself about a few minutes ago.  I thought I'd mention this to you so that, more or less, you'll have a pretty good idea of the coverage of the questions that you might wish to ask the honorable Secretary Zoellick.  Thank you, Secretary Bunye.

Secretary Bunye:  Secretary Zoellick would like to make an opening statement.

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  I just want to thank the President, Secretary Ermita, and other members of the Cabinet who were generous to spend so much time with me this morning.  The purpose of this visit is that, as President Bush starts his second term, I wanted to come to a number of the ASEAN countries to get a sense of their priorities, to listen to their ideas and, as the Secretary mentioned, to focus across the spectrum on some security issues, particularly counterterrorism, but also on the economic side and political matters.  It was very generous of the Secretary to organize such an impressive group of colleagues -- some of whom I worked with in prior capacities -- so we could have a good sense of where we stand, and some areas where we hope to build on the relationship.

This afternoon I am going to visit Corregidor.  I've actually been to the Philippines some other times in my prior service, but I've never had a chance to visit Corregidor.  I want to thank the Government and the Ambassador because some of the veterans are going to join me there, and it's a good symbol in this, the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, of the longstanding ties between our two countries.

Secretary Bunye:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.  We would like to recognize Mr. Manny Mogato of Reuters.

Q:  Sir, good morning.  Sir, since you are here to discuss security matters, the U.S. Defense Department unveiled a new defense policy in March, and we would like to know what [role] the Philippines will play in this new setup of forward deployment of U.S. forces in Asia?  Because there were suggestions that the Philippines be a part of the CSL model.  Thank you very much.

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  First, let me mention that we talked with Secretary Cruz today about the efforts at defense reform in the Philippines.  And as you may know, the United States has been very pleased to support that.  This year we're providing about $10 million in Foreign Military Financing.  But the key is really not the resources that we are providing but the comprehensive nature of this long-term effort in dealing with the restructuring and refocusing of the Philippine defense forces.  There is also an economic component to our security relationship.  We talked about the negotiations in Mindanao, and, as you probably know, after the agreement was concluded in 1996, our AID Mission has been supportive of the overall integration effort.  So one of the things that we talked about is the need to combine political and economic as well as military issues in dealing with insurgencies. 

As for the overall defense review, that is being conducted by our Defense Department.  Before I left, our Department of Defense, I met with them, and they were basically saying they wanted to make sure they had close consultations with our partners in the region.  Obviously, that very much includes the Philippines, which is a close treaty ally of long-standing nature.

So, as for the specifics that you mentioned, that's not an area that I'm not focused on in particular, other than to really have an open door with our Philippine colleagues about how we can work together on these issues.  And I think the key one right now is the anti-terrorism question, which has effects within the Philippines itself, but also has links globally.  And so, that's the core area that we have been focusing on.

Through this trip, I've also talked about maritime security issues, which are important throughout Southeast Asia and obviously, including in the Philippines, too, given the archipelago nature, but in other parts of the region, dealing with piracy and organized crime on the high seas.

So, in a sense, when we discuss security issues with the Philippines, we try to integrate the military with the economic and the political, which is what we did in our discussions today. 

Secretary Bunye:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  We'd like to recognize the president of the Malacanang press corps, Mr. Ferdie Maglalang of The Manila Bulletin.

Q:  Good morning, sir.

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  Is that an elected post, or is this one you get appointed to?


(From background:  Elected, sir.)

Q:  Sir, how do you assess our government's fight against terrorism?  Are you satisfied with the way it is being conducted?

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  I was very appreciative of the briefing that I had today about the efforts in Mindanao.  I was able to ask some questions about the overall plan, including the effort to pass some strengthened anti-terrorism legislation.  And it's an area that we work in close cooperation with, and I think it's really not a position for me to judge one way or another.  I think there's a shared interest on the part of the Government of the Philippines and the United States about trying to end terrorism in the Philippines and recognize its interconnection with terrorism issues elsewhere in the world.

I also briefed the President on my visit to Iraq in the past couple of weeks in talking about how some of the same issues that one encounters here in terms of integrating economic, political, and military are in the fore in dealing with Iraq or for that matter Afghanistan.  So, again, my purpose of this trip was really to get a sense of our close partners and how they view this situation, and to be able to ask questions and think of some areas where we may be able to work together.  For example, one that we discussed was the possibilities of a broad-based police reform as well as a military reform.  So, I was really trying to use this trip to in a sense lay a foundation for President Bush's second term of work.

Secretary Bunye:  We'll take a question from Time magazine -- Ms. Nelly Sindayen or Mr. Anthony Spaeth?

Q:  I guess we're not going to get out terrorism quiet yet.  Is there a risk of Mindanao becoming an Afghanistan-type situation or a Mecca for terrorists?

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  I saw the reference to that, and I'll let the Ambassador explain at some point, if he wishes, the origin of that. 

I see the situations as very different.  And the starting point in Mindanao is one where we are pleased to be supportive of the success of the negotiations with the Moro National Liberation Front -- the agreement I referred to -- in 1996.  And we're very pleased -- I had a good report from our AID mission about the efforts to help integrate these people back into the development of the society.  And I think, throughout the discussions, this is the core element about how one combines these.  I know, because of my strong interest in history, there have been issues in Mindanao and its sense of its relations with Manila that date back a long period. In fact, date back way before the independence of the Philippines and even during the Spanish period.  So, I think if one is able to overcome some of these, through a combination of economic development and political reconciliation, that's the long-term basis.  But whenever you do this, you find the possibility that there are splinter groups.  And that's exactly what the Philippines is dealing with now with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  I had the chance to get brought up to speed about some of the work that the negotiations going forward, with the help of Malaysia, on those issues.  I was able to make some suggestions about ways that, if for the parties feel would be helpful, we could help through the Institute of Peace or also on the economic side.  But yet, even within those negotiations, there is fragmentation among those parties, and there are links to other groups that have broader international reach. So I actually, having watched the issues in Mindanao over some 15 or 20 years since I was at the State Department in 1989, think there is some progress being made.  But obviously, it remains a dangerous situation, in part because some of these groups are linked to other groups that have a global radical agenda about trying to destroy as opposed to creating opportunities for peace and development.  The best way to defeat those is a combination of political, economic and military, and that's what we're trying to do here.  And I know that's been the strategy of the government of the Philippines.

Secretary Bunye:  We have a follow-up question from Ms. Nelly Sindayen of Time magazine.

Q:  Sir, what about the Jemaah Islamiya -

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  They've got two from Time?

Q:  He's the editor.  I am the Philippine correspondent.

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  So you're the one that does the work.


Q:  The dirty work.  Sir, what about the Jemaah Islamiyah? Is it gaining roots here in the Philippines as well as in other parts of the region?  Is it still considered a threat?  Thank you.

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  Well, I think wherever the JI exists that it's a threat, given the ill nature of its purpose and reason for being.  I would really defer to my Philippine colleagues about whether it's strengthening or weakening.  I'm not trying to duck; I just don't have as good of information as they do on the issue.  Obviously, I think together we're concerned about those links, whether with some of the groups in Mindanao and their connections elsewhere whether they be in Indonesia or ties to the Middle East.  But this will be a long struggle, and we made some progress yesterday with one of the individuals that we were able to apprehend in the al-Qaeda organization.  I think as we've learned more, we see there's a variety of networks, some formal, some informal.  There's financing issues that we work with our partner countries, including the Philippines, to address.  So, when you ask about the course, I think the course globally against terrorism has been one that has been moving in the right direction, but I don't want to underestimate the scope of the challenge.  This is going to be a long, long-term effort, and I'd just come back to the core points.  I think, in part, there are a small but highly destructive group of people who are motivated by hate and who want to stop democracy and freedom and economic modernization.  And those people will never be re-integrated, but they play off a group of other people that might have local concerns or objections.  And, so, part of the challenge is to open the doors of opportunity and hope for segments of the population that can be re-integrated, split them off from the brutal killers, and then hunt down the brutal killers.

Secretary Bunye:  We'd like to recognize the representative of the number one government radio station, Radyo ng Bayan, Miss Marifena Ruiz.

Q:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.  Did President George Bush have any special message to convey to President Arroyo?

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  Only the one that I've mentioned, which is -- to put this trip in context for you -- Secretary Rice and I have tried early in the second term to visit a number regions so as to be able to hear from our partners, share some ideas about some of our goals in the second term.  Secretary Rice visited South Asia and Northeast Asia.  I wanted to try to visit Southeast Asia.  I've worked with this region for many, many years on economic as well as political and security issues.  And so, in that sense, the message was, as we start the second term, we want to get an assessment of how our partners view some of these issues.  So, as you may know, I was in Thailand yesterday, and then the Philippines, and then I'm going to Vietnam, then Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.  So, I'm trying to cover a number of our ASEAN partners in one visit.

Another purpose of this trip, which has been less applicable here, is to work on the pivot of the support for a number countries, particularly Indonesia, after the tsunami; the pivot from humanitarian to reconstruction aid.  That's why I will also be going to Aceh in addition to visiting Jakarta.  And I'm coming back to Washington on May 11th because on May 12th there's a very big private sector conference, including President Bush 41, as we refer to him, because he was our 41st president, and President Clinton, about the private sector work.  I had a chance to talk with President Clinton before coming out because he will be back in the region before long.  We would like to try to connect our government aid but also private sector aid to this reconstruction effort because we think that's very important for a number of countries in the region, particularly Indonesia.

Secretary Bunye:  We have a question from Mainichi newspaper, Mr. Bonggo Ozawa.

Q:  Good morning, Mr. Secretary.  Is there any possibility of the transfer of some of the U.S. troops from Okinawa to any part of the Philippines?

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  To be honest, I know that we've had some discussions with Japan about the overall basing situation in Okinawa.  My colleague Chris Hill, who is our Assistant Secretary, was there, but I haven't had a full report on where those exactly stand.  So, I'm afraid I can't be more specific in answering your question.

Secretary Bunye:  Miss Regina Bengco of Malaya.

Q: Sir, on the topic of the Jemaah Islamiyah: Will we know the level of concern of the U.S. on reports that the MILF is connected with the JI?  Because, the U.S. has been funding peace and development projects in Mindanao, and do we ensure that the JI or other, how did you say, "destructive groups" do not benefit from these projects?

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  Well, clearly, there has been a connection in the past but the way that we try to -- and I think quite effectively -- avoid any support is by working closely with the Philippines Government.  The Philippines Government has the same interest.  They are totally aligned.  And the alignment is to try to use the peace and reconciliation process to bring some people back into the political process and development process, and that's what we started doing after the '96 accord.  I also can tell you I don't think that the JI is very interested in development funds.  I think their agenda is something quite different, and it's one of hatred and killing, not development.

Secretary Bunye:  Question from USA Today, Mr. Acheson. 

Q:  Good day, honorable Secretary.  You mentioned that the fight against terrorism required a mixture of political, military and economic cooperation with ASEAN members.  We've talked a lot about political-military cooperation but I was wondering - could you give us a bit more detail on the level and extent of the economic cooperation that the United States will be providing the Philippines? Thank you.

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  The Philippines is our second biggest assistance package in the region after Indonesia.  I don't have the precise figures with me -- I think this year it's about $120 million dollars or something - $119 or $120 million.  That includes some support on the military side with the re-structuring in some of the IMET and training funds, as well as on the development side.  But when we look at development issues, there's a combination of development aid support, trade and open markets, which I work with Mr. Purisima about in the past, but we have another effort that we've talked about, which we hope to proceed with, with the Philippines, called the Millennium Challenge Account, which is a new way of trying to focus aid on countries that meet objective criteria in terms of democratic governments, transparency and anti-corruption, and investing in their people.  And the idea is one that we think has particular merit for both the recipient country and the donor country.  For the recipient country, I think the lesson of the World Bank and many other studies is that absent those elements of good governance, aid money is often misspent and it doesn't get where it's needed and it doesn't provide the useful purpose.  That also has an effect on the donor country side.  To be able to support assistance, our public needs to know that the money is not being wasted for some other purpose.  So, the Philippines is now in a category of the preliminary stage for that, and we've talked with the Secretary about re-doing some aspects of their proposal, to focus on an issue that the Philippines government is keenly aware of and that is also key, which is the anti-corruption aspect, and particularly related to the fiscal reform, which the Secretary is trying to pursue. 

            So, there's the traditional development aid, there's Millennium Challenge Account, and there's trade aspects.  And again, one of the reasons that I came was to try to get a sense of how our Filipino partners see these and how they are proceeding with their agenda over the course of the next year or so, so we can figure out how best to integrate them. 

Secretary Bunye:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Mr. Paolo Romero, Philippine Star.

Q:  Good morning sir.  In relation to that, Malacañang, the Philippine government, yesterday made a pitch about increasing U.S. aid, especially in Mindanao.  They cited experiences where increased aid actually lessened insurgency, and anti-US sentiment in the area.  Is there any possibility that that request would be granted in the near future?

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  We, like the Philippines, have our own budget process.  We are just in the process of finishing what is called an appropriations supplemental, which is an added amount beyond the normal budget for our fiscal year 2005, which runs from the last quarter of 2004 through the first three quarters of this calendar year.  And then we are now in the process of trying to get our budget for 2006.  Actually, I just testified on this the week before I left.  And that budget includes a rather sizeable amount, again, of an aid package, more generally.  As for additional aid, that, again, is one of the reasons I came, as it will depend on what happens with this negotiating process.  If there's headway made in the progress, there are certainly opportunities for us to look at additional support.  But we will have to go back to our Congress, because they have power of the purse, and make the case and the argument for it.  So again, one of the reasons I came was to try to get a sense of the Philippines government perspective on what's going to happen in Mindanao and whether there are some appropriate set of aid elements to support that.  We will, of course, have continued support in 2006.  We made progress, maybe add some support to the Millennium Challenge Account, but I think the core point for your question is that we have seen how the re-integration aid was very important in this accord.  So, at least, we are certainly open to discussion of that topic if the peace process moves forward.

Secretary Bunye:  We still have a lot of questions here, but I believe we have time for only three questions.  Mr. Fel Maragay, Manila Standard.

Q:  Good morning, Mr. Deputy Secretary of State.  I have two questions.  One, the United States was reported to have placed the Philippines back in the watch list in the implementation of the intellectual property rights, and this is being protested by some of our Philippine government officials in view of the progress in the anti-video piracy campaign; and secondly, while in February, the Financial Action Task Force de-listed the Philippines from the watch list of money-laundering countries, there are also reports that the United States has put the Philippines in its watch list.

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  On the first one, we recognize that there have been some important steps taken in terms of intellectual property.  There has been some legislation passed.  There have been some important enforcement actions.  We have been concerned that the prosecutions of those enforcement actions have not been completed, so that people are arrested but then, frankly, they don't pay much of a penalty for it.  So what our government did with this rating that you mentioned on the intellectual property was create a special out of cycle review over the next six months to try to see whether the progress that has been made can be enhanced in terms of the prosecutions on intellectual property.  We respect the advances that have been made but we believe there are some more steps to be taken.  On the second one, I don't know of that report.  I don't know if the Ambassador knows anything about it. 

Ambassador Ricciardone:  I have not seen a follow-up to the anti-money laundering report that suggests the Philippines is going back on the blacklist, if that's what you mean.  It is true that the AMLAC and FATF expect all the participating countries to keep ahead of the bad guys.  We have to constantly keep upgrading our protections of our respective banking systems.  So you're never done. Although the Philippines really made great progress, got off the blacklist, you can't rest.  None of us can rest, and as we keep going ahead there will need to be pressure legislation and implementation of --

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  And in a topic like this, again, we hope that this will inspire people to pursue what we believe is a mutual interest.  And when we talked about problems in Mindanao, obviously, people in the Philippines don't want money going to these terrorist groups either. So part of it is that we issue these reports to emphasize where the challenges lie and where additional progress can be made and then to try to work cooperatively with our partners to achieve it.

Secretary Bunye:  We'll take this second to the last question from Kyodo News, Ms. Arlene Burgos. 

Q:  Good morning.  I would like to ask how this visit advanced the counter-terrorism cooperation between the Philippines and the U.S. -- whether there were any specific commitments made by other sides on any future activity?

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  The purpose of this visit was not to make any particular agreements or to have additional commitments.  The purpose, as I mentioned, was to help me learn more about how our Philippine partners see the situation, particularly in Mindanao, see some of the connections that some of you asked about with JI and others, get a sense of the connections more broadly within the region, and then to, frankly, for me -- starting out in this new post, which I've been in, I think, nine weeks -- is to have a sense of anticipation, where we can be helpful.  So as some of your questions asked, if there's a peace process in Mindanao, we want to try to be helpful in terms of the re-integration.  We've been very pleased with the progress made in the defense reform, so I wanted to get an up-to-date sense of that. And then I asked the Secretary, are there other things we should be doing? So I can learn about that when I go back to Washington, and similarly, talked about some of the areas of the police reform.  A former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Dick Solomon, is now the head of the Institute of Peace, and he asked me to see whether there are ways the Institute of Peace might be supportive in some of this process because they have played various mediation roles and they have ideas of stabilization.  So it was really -- the purpose was for me to listen and to learn and then to have some ideas about how we might be able to follow up on some of these items together.  And in that sense, I really thank the Secretary and his team. They had a very good PowerPoint presentation for me.  Without even asking they gave me what I was hoping to get.

Secretary Bunye:  Last questions from Mr. Oliver Teves, Associated Press.

Q:  As you know, the Philippines still has no anti-terrorism law.  How does Washington view this situation and how does this affect, from your point of view, the war on terrorism in this region?

Deputy Secretary Zoellick:  That was one of the subjects that I inquired about, because I know the Government of the Philippines wanted to have a law that strengthens some of their conspiracy provisions and dealt with additional penalties.  The Philippines is a democracy. It has to make the case with its own Congress.  It was unable to do that before.  I got a sense that progress is being made in part by talking to some of those that had concerns or complaints and trying to reconcile them.  And so, I got a sense that this is an item that is high on the Philippines agenda and I'm pleased to hear that, and that as soon as the Secretary gets his Value Added Tax through, it's going to be an important item.  So it puts a heavy burden on the Secretary but I've worked with him before, and so I can't think of a better man to lead the charge.

Secretary Bunye:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.  That's about all the time we have for this morning.  We'd like to thank you for sharing your thoughts on very important issues.  We wish you a pleasant stay during the rest of your visit. 

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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