Draft Memorandum by the Secretary of State to the President 1


Subject: Recent Developments in the Philippine Situation.

Until recently it has been the assumption of the Department that the serious problems confronting the Philippines have been mainly [Page 1441] economic in nature and susceptible of solution by the combination of a relatively small amount of American financial and economic assistance, and a considerable amount of Philippine self-help and internal reform. The Philippines is suffering from a serious budgetary deficit, an insufficient increase in the production of exportable commodities, and an increasingly inefficient administrative organization. If the Philippine Government had demonstrated the capacity and the willingness to understand its problems and the required solutions, as well as to accept competent advice, there would have been every reason to assume that the country could have been placed on a stable basis with relative ease, despite the widespread ravages of the Japanese occupation and the Philippines lack of experience in self-government.

Certain political factors, however, have now assumed major importance. During the last few weeks the scope and tempo of Hukbalahap disturbances have increased measurably. At the same time there has been a marked increase in general disorders and lawlessness which are not necessarily related to the Huk problem. The Philippine Government so far has failed to demonstrate any real capacity to restore and preserve internal order, to say nothing of solving its economic problems. Efforts by American representatives to induce the Philippine Government to take the necessary measures have thus far proven unavailing. The fraud, violence and intimidation of the last presidential election have been a basic factor in creating this situation which has seriously undermined public confidence in the Philippine administration and weakened President Quirino’s control over his Congress.

If the present situation continues the country can rapidly be reduced to chaos, opening the way for the eventual victory of the [Page 1442] Communist-led and dominated Huks. Any such eventuality, in view of the unique American relations with and position in the Philippines, would not only be disastrous for American influence in Asia, but would also place us in a highly embarrassing position vis-à-vis the British, French, and Dutch whom we have been persuading to recognize the realities and the legitmacy of Asiatic nationalism and self-determination.

As the Department views it, the first and primary obstacle in the solution of the Philippine problem is President Quirino himself. All our experience in dealing with him points to one conclusion, namely, that it is impossible to deal with him successfully, unless there is a marked change in his attitude. He has demonstrated no capacity whatsoever to understand the problems of his country or the indicated solutions. His overweening vanity and arrogance compel him to ignore advice from those who do understand. His pettiness and vindictiveness prevent even his closest advisers from telling him anything unpleasant, or anything they believe he does not want to hear. His insistence on making all decisions himself has resulted in a virtual paralysis of his Government. Two flagrant cases—the guerrilla recognition question and the proposed American Economic Mission concerning both of which he deliberately lied publicly for his own purposes—illustrate his unreliability. A recent statement he made to the press that he expected President Truman to visit Manila before next July further emphasizes his irresponsibility. All indications are that he would prefer to see his country ruined rather than compromise with his insatiable ego or accept outside assistance on any terms except his own.

We are convinced that if President Quirino continues on his present course the Philippines is heading towards collapse and disaster in the predictable future. We must face the fact that he appears incapable of taking the proper remedial measures or that the United States can cooperate satisfactorily with him. If there is one lesson to be learned from the China debacle it is that if we are confronted with an inadequate vehicle it should be discarded or immobilized in favor of a more propitious one.

The following would appear to be the alternative courses of action:

Bearing in mind his extreme sensitiveness to criticism or advice, we can continue by such means as may be available to us to bring pressure to bear upon President Quirino for internal reform, a broadening of his Government, and the initiation of a sound and constructive development program. We are not convinced, however, that the limitations of President Quirino would permit such a course to succeed.
At the opposite extreme of action, the United States might encourage the Filipinos to force a change in the presidency. It is inevitable, however, that any such American action would become [Page 1443] generally known and would disastrously compromise the American moral position throughout the world. Such action would also probably be considered by all Asiatics as an imperialistic interference in the affairs of a sovereign country whose repercussions could hardly redound to the benefit of the United States.
A third course of action would be to request Senator Tydings,2 or some other senator with comparable background on and prestige in the Philippines, and some appropriate Republican Senator to undertake a special mission to the Philippines in the immediate future. The senators would discuss very frankly and freely with President Quirino his own situation and point but to him that mutual confidence between our two governments is essential if we are to cooperate to build a vigorous and independent Philippine democracy, but that the results of his administration have seriously impaired the confidence which we have had in the past. They would suggest to him that the greatest service he could do his country would be to recognize the emergency nature of the situation in the Philippines and associate with him other persons in the exercise of the President’s powers. Coincidentally, the important leaders in the Philippines would be consulted on the nature of the emergency in order that they might assist in such fashion as they might deem appropriate in bringing about the necessary changes. It should be made clear that a vigorous and well-run Government could count on suitable military and economic assistance, but that such support would be fruitless if present conditions continue.

In the event that this proposed course is unsuccessful and proper remedial measures are not undertaken promptly it may be necessary for the United States to consider what further steps it should take to rescue the Philippines from its own mistakes. Failure of the Philippine experiment which all Asia watches as evidence of American intentions and abilities could only have most unfortunate repercussions for the United States both abroad and at home.

One principal advantage which would arise from having such a mission undertaken by members of the Congress is the firm Philippine conviction that when they cannot get what they want on their own terms from the Administration they can always get it from the Congress. A Senatorial Mission would disabuse the Filipinos of this notion. Once a strengthening of the Philippine Government has occurred the United States would, of course, have to be prepared to assist militarily and economically in the restoration and preservation of internal order. Although this course of action is somewhat drastic it is not believed that a course less so will produce the required conditions in order to avert collapse.

Ambassador Cowen’s efforts to influence the Philippine Government to adopt and maintain a proper course of action have been skillful, forceful and unremitting. Because of President Quirino’s ignorance, [Page 1444] vanity and moral irresponsibility those efforts have been unavailing. It is Ambassador Co wen’s recommendation that the proposed course of action be taken as soon as possible.

If you agree with the foregoing it is recommended that you request Senator Tydings to undertake a Mission to the Philippines in the immediate future.

  1. This memorandum was originally prepared by John F. Melby on March 14. The source text was submitted to the Secretary of State under cover of the following memorandum of April 14 from Assistant Secretary of State Rusk:

    “In accordance with your request made during your conversation with ambassador Cowen the other day I am attaching for your consideration a draft memorandum from you to the President.

    I do not believe you should sign and forward this memorandum to the Presidentat this time. Ambassador Cowen is to have further talks with Romulo before he (Cowen) leaves this week, and then with Quirino and other Filipino leaders immediately upon his arrival in the Philippines. He will give us his most careful estimate as to these additional talks. If his estimate at that time is similar to his present one, we should then recommend that the attached memorandum go to the President.

    “Meanwhile, it is recommended that you discuss briefly with the President the situation in the Philippines and let him know that some very serious steps may be in the offing. The attached memorandum should be helpful to you in connection with such a discussion.” (896.00/4–1450)

    Marginal notations on the Rusk memorandum quoted here as well as on another copy of the draft memorandum to the President filed under 796.00/3–1450 indicate that the draft memorandum was used by the Secretary of State in briefing the President on April 20. The Secretary’s brief memorandum of his conversation with the President on this subject on April 20 reads as follows:

    “I gave the President a brief review of the situation in the Philippines, telling him that after Ambassador Cowen returned to the Philippines and gave us the latest appraisal, we would have a memorandum for him on the subject suggesting possible action.” (Executive Secretariat Files, Lot 53D444, File—Secretary’s Memoranda)

  2. Millard E. Tydings, Senator from Maryland, 1926–1950. Senator Tydings was cosponsor of the Act of Congress of March 24, 1934, known as the Philippine Independence Act or the Tydings–McDuffie Act, which provided for the independence of the Philippines following a 10-year transitional period.