896.00/6–150: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Philippines (Cowen) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Rusk)

top secret

1596. For Rusk eyes alone. Deptels 933 and 934 May 26,1 Deptel 943 and Embtel 1566 May 29, 1950.2 Quirino explicitly stated during our May 27 meeting3 that he would accept American mission and that sooner it came better it would please him—provided only that its purpose is helpful rather than just criticize. I reminded him of Elizalde’s effort make acceptance conditional upon our agreeing it would be accompanied by aid. He thereupon stated Elizalde had not properly represented his own position, asserted Elizalde had phoned in order press him take that position and declared he finally had got disgusted and had hung up on Elizalde. Romulo Pedrosa and Cuaderno4 each later confirmed to me that President told them he was accepting US mission. I talked with two American correspondents who were present press conference which Quirino gave after seeing me May 27 and they understood him speak of US mission. Phrase “joint mission” has become firmly affixed peg on which hang [Page 1454]local news stories this subject and I am inclined think it was due this circumstance that story was printed local press in form reported reftel May 29.

When I first told Romulo that President had decided accept US mission, he remarked that I had better get that in writing before Quirino changed his mind. I concur in his and Department’s estimate that it is desirable have exchange letters on subject not only because Quirino may later reverse his present position but also because it is desirable obtain his commitment in writing to extension cooperation essential mission’s success. I would merely wish letter proposed reftel May 26 modified reflect present status matter and be so drafted that it would not seem indicate President Truman questions accuracy my reporting of Quirino’s declarations to me.

With passage time and acquisition additional information, I am more than ever convinced that serious deterioration cannot be arrested so long as Quirino remains at head of government. He has yielded to pressure only to extent making few gestures in direction reform while in meantime government has lost large amounts revenue through dishonesty throughout tax collection agencies. President’s brother Antonio has been getting rich at government expense through intervention in various deals and pro-administration Congressmen have still been thinking in terms large pork barrel appropriations. In conversation May 28, Central Bank Governor Cuaderno told me that government has borrowed up to legal limit of pesos 44,000,000 from Central. Bank has completely used up special and trust funds for government expenses, has failed pay school teachers for periods up to two months and three months hence may be unable pay army and constabulary without resorting questionable financial measures. He asserted pressure on him from within administration to turn loose flood paper money or resort other dangerous expedients has become constantly heavier but that he would resign before yielding thereto. (He stated he is making study of government financial situation and promised supply fuller information June 2; we will, of course, transmit it soon as available.)

Romulo’s appointment has been popular one and it adds to picture major factor, effect of which cannot yet be judged. Unlike most everybody else in cabinet, he is both intelligent and prone speak his mind—indeed I am reliably informed lie already has twice offered resignation as Foreign Minister. But whatever his abilities and independence his sphere is foreign not domestic affairs and he will be out of country much of time. Not withstanding his appointment it is clear that Quirino is becoming increasingly disliked, that popularity Vice President Lopez—his logical successor—is growing and that Lopez and his associates in Senate are heading for eventual showdown designed force President out. However, we fail detect much evidence they feel [Page 1455]great sense urgency. US mission may serve bring to light full facts which may give that sense of urgency. Assuming that we are going ahead with mission we assume Senator Tydings’ visit will have to await completion its work as what he would have to say would doubtless put Philippine Government cooperation with mission under freeze from then till such time as Quirino may be replaced. Accordingly, it seems desirable we send mission soon as practicable.

View Quirino’s enormous vanity and habitual stubbornness particularly when he is faced with threats either direct or implied, we do not believe message Tydings would give him would suffice cause him turn over office forthwith—unless, of course, visit come at time Quirino considered he could not carry on further without US aid. We can scarcely hope achieve such happy timing on basis analysis situation containing many imponderables. Combined with findings of mission it probably would put on enough heat to speed time political situation may reach bogging point, forcing change leadership.

Department having stated it proposes brief members Senate, House Foreign Relations Committees and having urgently requested our comments, we venture set forth in following paragraphs certain aspects situation most of which Department officers experienced in Philippines affairs will have taken for granted as basic to Philippine politics but which some members those committees may not yet appreciate.

It is well that corruption and malfeasance are principal issues on which lines are drawn and fact that best men in Philippine politics are on side opposing Quirino, reinforces belief that situation, would be altered for better were his stultifying hand removed from helm. However, we should like point out certain circumstances which should be kept in mind in interests maintaining realistic perspective. Majority Philippine politicians are self-seeking and unscrupulous men who self-righteously attack their opponents for acts which they themselves would commit were they in position do so. Vice President Lopez will need and will receive support considerable numbers such politicians in and out of Congress well as help of the relatively few honest men in Philippine politics. Granting that survival of Philippine Government appears incompatible with Quirino’s serving out the remainder of his current term and that he will use any means—good or evil, but usually latter—to remain in power, it is probably necessary that the strategy employed against him be plotted by a remorseless mind. Vice President Lopez himself is likeable, unpretentious and apparently disingenuous man; the cold-blooded strategist is his brainier brother Eugenio.5 Behind and close to them is rest of tightly knit Lopez clan—a group of better-than-average upper class Filipinos but half-enlightened and half-feudal, with demonstrated capacity for ruthless operations against outsiders and not without clan-members who [Page 1456]understand fact that in Philippines business and politics are complimentary activities.

In light of above it will be realized that solution which appears ahead is no ideal one. However, Philippine politics presents no ideal solutions. Replacement of Quirino by Vice President is probably best answer to immediate problem of leadership which Filipinos could evolve in present situation—and in any case it is the solution towards which Philippine politics appears to be working. It seems clearly desirable that we help it along. But we should be under no illusions that the battle against governmental corruption and mismanagement will thereby be wholly won or that Philippine politicians will thereafter abandon their customary struggle for power in favor of harmonious cooperation. What we can legitimately hope is that Philippines, which with present leadership can see nothing but downward spiral ahead, can with reshuffling of the cards be afforded fresh and better opportunity face up to its problems and without help bring them under control.

It may not be possible present all of foregoing to members Senate, House Committees without unjustifiably selling short our efforts remedy Philippine situation. At same time we hope presentation can be such that members those committees do not gain false impression that smooth road lies before us once the towering obstacle immediately ahead is surmounted. Road will be rough and we shall need their continued confidence.

  1. Telegram 933 is not printed, but see footnote 1 to telegram 934, May 26, to Manila, supra.
  2. Telegram 1566, May 29, from Manila, not printed, reported that President Quirino had told the press that he was anticipating a joint United States–Philippine economic mission. Telegram 943, May 29, to Manila, not printed, asked for an explanation of the statement (896.00/5–2950).
  3. Regarding the meeting under reference here, see footnote 2 to telegram 934 to Manila, supra.
  4. Miguel Cuaderno, Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines.
  5. Eugenio Lopez, a prominent Philippine businessman and publisher.