344. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) to the Secretary of State 1


  • Negotiations with Philippines on Military Bases
[Page 583]


We have been negotiating with the Filipinos for several years in an effort to exchange certain military areas to which we have title but which we no longer need for certain new areas needed for the development of our base system. The negotiations have not prospered because the Filipinos hold that we do not in fact have title to any of our bases, but have, rather, only a right of military use. Publication of our position on title last February caused a general outbreak of nationalistic feeling against us, largely because of popular confusion of title with sovereignty.2

President Magsaysay and Philippine public opinion are, however, sympathetic to our desire to improve our bases system. I believe that our course should be to seek to find a formula which would permit the President to agree to the desired exchange without raising the title question. Such a solution would involve the Philippines agreeing (1) to give us the right to use the areas we desire under the terms specified in the Military Bases Agreement of 1947, (2) to bear all the costs of so doing, and (3) to agree in principle to give us additional land in the future if military developments so require. In return we could give the Filipinos use and possession of certain areas which are surplus to our needs, and which the Department of Defense has already agreed to release. These areas are of considerable value, and should be at least adequate to reimburse the Philippine Government for the expense to which it will be put.

Our approach should emphasize the value to the Philippines of a strong American base system and the obligation of the Philippines to cooperate on defense matters under the Mutual Defense Treaty.3 The question of title to the lands which we now occupy and will retain would remain unsettled. However, in order to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution, we would explain to Magsaysay that under existing circumstances, and as no change in the status of these lands is contemplated, we believe the question of title to them should not be raised during the contemplated negotiations.

I believe that an exchange on this basis would be politically defensible for President Magsaysay, although it would be resisted by [Page 584] some Philippine senators. The President’s position would be stronger if the proposal for such an arrangement came from him rather than from us.

Ambassador Spruance has taken the position that before entering into negotiations we should require the Philippine Government to recognize our title to land in the bases. He believes we need this recognition as a bargaining weapon. The proposal for a change in approach to this problem as made in this memorandum has the concurrence of Mr. Lacy.


That if you approve the foregoing course of action, you urge its acceptance on the Secretary of Defense or authorize me to do so, and that after informing Ambassador Spruance, you suggest it to President Magsaysay while we are in Manila in March as a proposal coming from him.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 711.56396/2–1255. Secret. Drafted in PSA. Concurred in by Herman Phleger, who wrote on the source text that there were “no legal problems involved.” Initialed by Dulles indicating his approval and authorization for Robertson to urge the Secretary of Defense to approve the suggested action.
  2. In a legal opinion submitted to the Secretary of State on August 28, 1953, and published in February 1954, Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr., stated that the United States had a proprietary claim to title of its military reservations in the Philippines. While claiming a right to title, the United States made no claim to sovereignty over these properties. This legal distinction, which Department officials believed was not understood in the Philippines, was explained in a draft paper dated January 6, by Henry B. Day, Deputy Director of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs. (Ibid., SPA Files: Lot 58 D 312, Philippines: Property Rights: Roper Report, Folder 3)
  3. The treaty was signed in Washington on August 30, 1951. (3 UST (pt. 3) 3947)