374. Letter From the Ambassador to the Philippines (Stevenson) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Harriman)0

Dear Averell: I received your letter of June 28th.1 Personally, I believe we are on the same wave length, although at times our signals do not seem to get through to each other. Cables and despatches are not entirely satisfactory. They convey basic information, but in more cases than not fail to give a complete or accurate picture of the atmosphere at the time. That is one of the reasons why I was looking forward to my trip to Washington in connection with President Macapagal’s visit to the United States. The planned week in Washington would have given me a desired opportunity to sit down with you and others to discuss problems of mutual interest and concern.

As a matter of fact, I wonder if it would not be a good idea to have me come to Washington at some point in the not too distant future for a period of consultation.2 Now that I have been here for almost six months and that I am more familiar with our problems, such consultations might be useful from both our and the Department’s standpoint. I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Should such consultations be desirable, we would of course have to be careful as to timing and publicity so as to avoid any misunderstanding as to the cause of the trip.

I assure you that we have all worked conscientiously and persistently to offset the harm done here to Phil-American relations. This has involved several talks with the President and Vice President, and numerous ones with newsmen, legislators, officials and many others. It has [Page 807] involved courtesy calls and social amenities beyond the normal number. While the tension is abating, the fact remains that until a bill is passed by the U.S. Congress the atmosphere of good will which previously prevailed cannot be restored by anything we can do here. That our efforts have been helpful seems indicated by the enclosed clippings from Manila papers3 and from statements made repeatedly to us by both official and unofficial Filipinos.

As far as President Kennedy’s efforts on behalf of the war damage bill are concerned, I have stressed this point over and over again, especially in my talks with the President and Vice President. I am sure that both of them have long been well aware of the favorable attitude of both President Kennedy and the Department of State. Vice President Pelaez expressed his appreciation for this support of the bill in his speech to the Phil-American Chamber of Commerce in New York en route to Washington (see attached memo)4 and again in his press conference upon his arrival in Manila on June 29th. He has also made similar statements in speeches since his return. Likewise the press has publicized reports of the support being given the bill, so that most Filipinos interested in the bill are aware, I am sure, of this support.

Such efforts, while appreciated, do not remedy, however, the traumatic shock sustained by the Filipino people by what they consider to have been a repudiation by the American people through their Congress of a long standing obligation. Under all the accumulated circumstances, this action is interpreted here as an unfriendly act. (Of course it was not, something which we have explained over and over again!)

President Macapagal’s interview was arranged directly by NBC with the President’s office. We were only consulted in connection with an NBC request for me to say a few sentences (Embtel 1458).5 When Robinson, the NBC man, came in to interview me he had already finished with the President. At that particular time (June 11, 1962) we were concerned about Macapagal’s statement of a few days earlier that the war damage situation might affect our bases here. When we saw Robinson he said that when he interviewed Macapagal the latter had back-tracked on his earlier bases statement. As we reported in Embtel 1501,3 our Press Officer tried unsuccessfully to find out more about the NBC Macapagal interview. It certainly came as a surprise and disappointment to us that once again the President had made statements which were “unfortunate” from our viewpoint.

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We are most grateful for the splendid, all-out reception which was given Vice President Pelaez in Washington and elsewhere. As we reported in Embtel 16,6 he returned full of good will and appreciation. He also was feeling much better about our relations in general and the war damage bill in particular. What he found in the United States appears to have confirmed in his own mind what we had been telling him and others here, that the vote in the House had not been an anti-Filipino vote, should not be so interpreted and that Americans had the highest regard for the Filipinos and their government. It is hard to understand why Pelaez had to go to the United States to discover, or “rediscover” as he puts it, “the reservoir of good will” in the United States for the Philippines, but that appears to have been the case, and it paid off. Pelaez seems to have come back completely “converted”. Whether he will be able to pass some of his impressions and enthusiasm along to Macapagal, and whether the latter will choose to listen and be impressed, we do not know. The President left on his trip the same day Pelaez returned, so the Vice President had very little opportunity to discuss his visit to the U.S. with the President.

The reception given Pelaez was very much to the good, but the problem now is not Pelaez but Macapagal. Macapagal is very much the key figure. We should not let ourselves believe that just because Pelaez appears to have been brought around that Macapagal will automatically change his attitude. We must wait until after the latter’s return to see if there has been any change in his thinking or reaction. As we have previously reported (Embtel 1595),7 the President is unpredictable and easily stirred up, especially on the war damage issue. His resentment is deeply rooted and subjective. It seems apparent that none of us, including Pelaez, may be able to change this and that only the enactment of a war damage bill will do so.

We do hope that the happy time you all had with Pelaez won’t lead (1) to abatement of all out efforts to get a war damage bill through, or (2) to the assumption that harmonious relations with Pelaez necessarily guarantees control over what Macapagal says or does.8 The two men are not close and Pelaez’ influence on the President is uncertain. For example, Pelaez was as horrified as were the rest of us by Macapagal’s outburst on neutralism at the luncheon for Boun Oum and Phoumi.

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Although, as we reported in Embtel 1320,9Pelaez disagreed with our policy on Laos (this was also the position of the Garcia administration), he had assured me the Philippine Government didn’t intend to offer Phoumi more than a courteous reception. (Incidentally, it was our information before the war damage bill defeat that Macapagal was trying to stave off the Phoumi visit until after his then pending trip to the United States).

I am sending this to Washington in the hope that, by the time it arrives there, you will have returned from Geneva having accomplished a most successful mission, for which I congratulate you most heartily.10

With all good wishes,

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: Department of State, FE Files: Lot 65 D 25, S. Confidential; Personal; Official–Informal. A note in Harriman’s handwriting indicates that he discussed this letter with Bell.
  2. Not found.
  3. Next to the margin, Harriman wrote “yes.”
  4. Not found.
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. Dated June 4. (Department of State, Central Files, 996.6211/6–462)
  7. Not found.
  8. Dated July 3. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.9611/7–362) A copy of this telegram was included in the President’s weekend reading. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Philippines, General, 6/62–7/62)
  9. Dated June 25. (Department of State, Central Files, 911.50/6–2562)
  10. Next to points (1) and (2), Harriman wrote, “We know this” and “absurd.”
  11. Dated May 10. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.51J96/5–1062)
  12. In telegram 210 to Manila, August 15, Harriman agreed that Stevenson should come to Washington for consultations. (Ibid., 211.9641/8–1562)