350. Telegram From the Embassy in the Philippines to the Department of State0

1352. In general terms of stated objectives of Vice President’s trip,1 i.e. creation of good will and provision of high-level personal reassurances of US intentions to stand behind regional commitments,2 Manila stop can be recorded as “mission accomplished”. VP’s impact on officials was for most part favorable with Garcia reportedly pleased with substance of speech to Congress. VP’s personality also made excellent impression on most individual officials. His faculty for making personal contact and practice of handshaking very much in line with Phil customs and viewed with warm approval. Mrs. Johnson and Mr. and Mrs. Smith made a fine impression and had excellent press treatment.

Popular reaction to visit was good, if only moderately enthusiastic, observers and editorials alike agreed that reassurances which Johnson supplied were accepted at face value by public. Although probable that officials received statements on economic aid without reservation, statements defining US intentions in military field were swallowed with liberal portion of salt. Some Senators at post joint-session reception raised question whether American people would really back up VP’s assurances.

[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] FonSec Serrano made acid off-record comments what he called “empty and worthless trip”.

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FonSec claimed his reaction stemmed from inability to extract from VP specifics on US position on Laos, Fourteen Nation Conf, offshore islands and ChiRep issue. Serrano said he thus led believe US writing Laos off. Emb believes FonSec disappointment probably resulted, in part, from pique over fact Pres Garcia excluded Serrano from his substantive talk with VP.3

Somewhat jaundiced view taken by certain members of press not surprising in view pre-visit expectations VP would discuss Laos and his subsequent unwillingness to answer questions on Laos at press conf.

A reading of sentiment of labor leaders gathered for suffrage showed they welcomed visit and were glad to do what they could to contribute to its success.

The Vice Pres’s decision to accept hospitality at Palace was wise and informality of stay at Malacanang pleased household. It obvious that President and staff, and Filipinos generally, would have been deeply offended had Vice President declined official hospitality.

Circumstances surrounding the trip need to be taken into account if Vice Pres’s accomplishments are to be seen in correct proportions. International events, and their impact on Phil, made timing of trip as far as Phils concerned, unfortunate to say the least. Lack of lead time made effective build-up impossible and correspondingly limited extent of community contact. Brevity of visit placed sharp limitations on extent and depth of impact achieved. Unseasonably bad weather and VP late arrival (one hour behind schedule) cut welcoming crowd between Malacanang and airport. Tight schedule was also a drawback, witness enforced use of helicopter to Univ of Phils and consequent disappointment of many people along land route.

Emb considers visit was productive, despite trying conditions which imposed severe restrictions. Character of Filipino is such he instinctively extends warm welcome to any VIP especially American. In sum, visit resulted in plus for US-Phil relations; and given circumstances, accomplished as much as could reasonably be expected.

This message being sent only Dept.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100-JO/5–1861. Secret; Limited Distribution.
  2. Vice President Johnson and his party, which included Mrs. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. StephenSmith (President Kennedy’s brother-in-law and sister), arrived in Manila on May 13 as part of their trip to Asia. The Vice President stayed in Manila less than 24 hours. Despatch 732 from Manila, May 29, contains additional information on the brief visit. (Ibid., 033.1100-JO/5–2961)
  3. In a May 8 letter to Johnson, Under Secretary Bowles suggested that the Vice President assure Philippine leaders who were concerned over developments in Laos. The Vice President could state that the United States realized that the threat of Communism must be met not only by military action, but also by programs of social and economic reform. (Ibid., 033.1100-JO/5–861) Johnson carried with him a May 8 letter from President Kennedy to President Garcia reiterating close U.S.-Philippine ties and stating his administration’s commitment to social and economic development. Kennedy noted the United States and the Philippines were negotiating for introduction into the Philippines of Peace Corps volunteers. The Philippines was the first country to receive Peace Corp volunteers. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Philippines, General, 2/61–7/61)
  4. According to telegram 1361 from Manila, May 22, no one other than Johnson and Garcia, was present during their discussion. The Embassy had no record of the meeting. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100-JO/5–2261)