355. Memorandum From Robert H. Johnson of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow)0

SUBJECT

  • The Philippine Elections

In response to Ralph Dungan’s note to you and the copy of the letter that he sent along,1 I have talked to people in State and in CIA (DDI/ONE) about the forthcoming Philippine elections.

My discussion with State was with Jim Bell, the Office Director, and Mr. MacFarland, the Desk Officer. It is their view that the United States does not have a great stake in the outcome of the Philippine election and that therefore we ought to stay out of it. President Garcia has, of course, run a very corrupt administration. However, State argues that corruption is mostly at the top, that it is characteristic of Philippine politics and may be no worse than in a good many other countries. Because of the very free press in the Philippines, it gets a tremendous amount of publicity.

Bell did not think it likely that Garcia would feel himself so pushed against the wall that he would resort to a sort of desperation tactics suggested in the letter from Mr. Edwards to Ralph Dungan. He also believes that a coup by the military is unlikely if Garcia is elected and there is continued deterioration in his administration. My CIA(ONE) informant agreed on both scores. He believes that Garcia’s political organization will be the decisive factor in the election. Neither State nor CIA believes it likely that the military would intervene under presently foreseeable circumstances because of the strong apolitical tradition of the Philippine military. If the situation got so bad that the military does give serious consideration to intervention, the United States would probably have plenty of warning and could take actions to help remedy the situation.

While Garcia has in the past experimented with anti-American themes as a means of improving his political situation in the Philippines, he has in recent years avoided such a tack. Recently, Garcia had an interesting conversation with Myron Cowen (sp.?), a former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines in which Garcia asked Cowen what he should do to get the support and sympathy of the United States.2Cowen told him [Page 776]that the important thing was to eliminate corruption in his administration. (Recently Garcia has appointed two or three better people.) Garcia’s running mate, Puyat, is well regarded by State and is quite pro-American. Garcia’s term will run out four months before the next following election because of the fact that he succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of Magsaysay. It is expected that Puyat will succeed him at that time.

Macapagal, candidate of the opposition Liberal Party, is pro-American to the point where it is a source of some embarrassment to us. He would probably run a considerably cleaner administration though he is not considered an outstanding leader with charismatic qualities of the sort possessed by Magsaysay. His running mate is politically a liberal (in the 20th Century American sense) and is considered by Jim Bell, who knows him well, to be a good man.

State does not believe that there is a significant nationalist, anti-American trend in the Philippines at the present time. The primary proponent of such nationalism, Senator Recto, died in early 1960. The experience of the recent Senatorial elections has proved to Garcia and others that an anti-American line does not pay off politically because of the tremendous reservoir of good will for the United States in the Philippines.

[4 lines of source text not declassified] Ambassador Hickerson is presently on home leave from the Philippines precisely because he believes it desirable that he be absent from the Philippines for as much of the election as possible.

It was noted by CIA (ONE) that the Philippine population is very cynical about the subject of corruption in the government. My CIA informant also pointed out that we had for some time been chasing a rainbow—we have been looking for a successor to Magsaysay who would carry on in his tradition. He had become increasingly skeptical of the possibility that such a successor will develop. Moreover, there was some considerable tendency to romanticize Magsaysay who, at the time of his death, was beginning to face some very serious problems in his administration. [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

In the course of my discussion with State, I raised the question of whether, without intervening, the U.S. could take any action that would help insure that the elections were reasonably fair. Bell indicated that this question had come up in his discussion with Ambassador Hickerson and that he (Bell) had mentioned the fact that in the last election we had seen to it that a large number of foreign newsmen were present. This action had had a salutary effect and he thought it might be repeated. He also thought that it might be possible [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] to get some of the great number of civic groups in the Philippines interested in insuring that the elections were fair.

[Page 777]

[6 paragraphs (22 lines of source text) not declassified] [3-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] I believe that, whatever we do with respect to the election campaign, it would be highly desirable to use such techniques as those suggested by Bell above to help insure that the elections themselves are as fair as we can help make them.

Robert H. Johnson3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Philippines, General, 2/61–7/61. Secret
  2. The note and letter have not been found.
  3. See Document 356.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.