353. Letter From the Acting Director of the Office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs (Bell) to the Ambassador in the Philippines (Ferguson)1
Dear Mr. Ambassador: I venture to pass this idea to you before hearing your comments on the basic bases instruction because of the concern shown by Admiral Burke and his staff, and because it continues to be our view that much public relations work needs to be done in advance of formal bases negotiations.
We have been increasingly concerned at the fact that virtually every aspect of our bases operation in the Philippines has been receiving adverse publicity during the past year, frequently, but not always, as a result of misinformation put out by Recto. We have [Page 596] been making no real effort to combat this situation, either by refuting what is said or by emphasizing the vital importance of our bases to the Philippines, primarily because none of the interested branches of the Government have wanted to get into a public contest with any Filipino until we had determined precisely what we wanted in the way of a bases system and how far we would be prepared to go to get it. The instructions sent to you represent the agreed position from which we will operate, and I believe that we now can and should consider steps to improve the situation.
We feel that any public relations or educational campaign on the bases will be directly related to your negotiations and must both precede and accompany the period of formal negotiation. It seems essential, therefore, that the timing, content and nature of this work should be under your control and carried out by your staff in close contact with the appropriate officers of the Navy, the Air Force, USIA …. I suggest that you may wish to establish an inter-agency committee to correlate these activities, to report to you as a part of your bases staff. State and the other agencies involved intend, of course, to give your public relations group any available support you may desire. We have discussed this with Admiral Smedberg, whose office prepared CNO cable 279672 to COMPHILCOM on the subject. I believe you have heard from General Lovat the plans which his people have, and can assure you that we will seek specific support for you from USIA and Defense if you wish.
We agree completely with your view as contained in the Embassy’s despatch number 9, July 1, 19553 that Magsaysay must take the basic responsibility for presenting the case for the bases to the Philippine public, but believe that we should make this task as easy as possible for him by using all the means at our command … to change and improve the existing negative public attitude toward the bases. A part of this effort would, presumably, be designed to assist you in convincing Magsaysay himself that the proposed revision of our lands is of such great importance that he must not allow the negotiations to fail, and that he must be prepared to insist on the necessary implementing appropriations being made by the Congress.
We believe that the proposals you will be making to the Filipinos are reasonable, and that Magsaysay can accept and support them without serious political danger. We will await with great interest [Page 597] your opinion on this matter, as well as your comments on such questions as the form and timing of negotiations.