318. Telegram From the Embassy in the Philippines to the Department of State 1

1004. Post-election analysis—Presidency.2

With outcome Vice Presidential and Senate contests still undecided, Embassy has been deferring comments on what we may expect from new administration since identity of next Vice President and Senatorial lineup will have bearing on situation. Following observations therefore relate only to significance of Marcos takeover from Macapagal.
Most basic consideration is probably that Marcos will be unknown quantity in lonely eminence of Presidency. Whereas both Macapagal and Marcos prize power, former sometimes appeared inept in its use and unsure what he wished to do with it. Marcos appears to measure it carefully and to be very sure of uses to which he puts it. Up to now, basic objective of his harnessing power has of course been to gain the Presidency.
What Marcos really believes in, what his goals are, and how he proposes to go about achieving them, are largely matters of conjecture. To some degree, he has been a guerrilla both in war and during the campaign, placing great emphasis on careful planning, systematic intelligence, secrecy, element of surprise and final massive surfacing of his forces at right time. In gaining NP nomination, and in winning Presidency, he displayed remarkable talents in these areas. Now that he has won Presidency, onus will be on him to demonstrate what his basic beliefs and ideas are.
He comes to power accompanied by somewhat similar high hopes which accompanied Macapagal’s accession in 1961, except that electorate, having been disappointed once again, may now be still more cynical. At same time, pressure on Marcos to produce will be even greater because (1) basic problems of nation have become intensified and (2) he knows he will probably suffer Macapagal’s fate in 1969 [Page 697]unless he does get things moving. Good government may therefore be the best politics for him.
There are those who assert that era of corruption under Garcia will return in magnified form. A more balanced view would be that Marcos has very considerable potentialities, and that coming years will show whether these potentialities will be exerted for high or sinister purposes. Pres Macapagal recently observed, as earlier reported, that Marcos was brilliant but unscrupulous, but that great responsibility might sober him. Secretary of Defense Peralta’s comment was that Marcos would double-cross us if he could and that we should not let him put anything over on us.
The assertion, circulated by Macapagal’s propaganda machine and widely disseminated by visiting US newspapermen, that Marcos will be much in debt to ex-Pres Garcia, the Lopez interests, the “nationalists” or any other group, appears questionable. He has of course some political debts to discharge, but because of way in which he figuratively seized Nacionalista nomination and then largely single-handedly won election, he will assume Presidency with fewer political drafts on future than probably any of his predecessors.
There would appear to be at least some grounds for cautious optimism toward future. Marcos is realist with high awareness of pragmatic and empirical considerations. He weighs and sifts facts carefully, considers numerous angles and acts only after searching consideration and assessment. Once decisions are reached, however, he displays generalship of high order in implementing them.
Furthermore, there is some evidence that Marcos is more keenly attuned to needs of country than his critics give him credit for. Woeful conditions throughout nation seem to have had considerable impact on him in his extensive travels in past year. His speeches reflected increasing bitterness, in a manner that seemed to be more than merely campaign oratory, at Macapagal administration’s largely ineffectual attempts to improve people’s welfare. If theory is correct that Marcos has high absorptive capacity and is greatly influenced by things he is exposed to, then his nationwide observations may serve valuable purpose.
Marcos’ first preoccupation must inevitably be with domestic affairs in view of facts that government till may be almost empty, that the stability of peso must be defended, and that severe demands are imposed on administration by rapidly growing population. His qualities of decisiveness will promptly be put to test, with some hope that he will get down to deeds rather than words and govern rather than campaign as did Macapagal. Much will depend on caliber of membership his Cabinet, and extent to which he can make them function as a team. Judging by his past performance, it would seem evident that he [Page 698]will be the boss in unmistakable fashion. His knowledge of the Legislative branch, based on service in both houses, and his ability to play role of conciliator and find common denominator, may serve him well. His “ruthlessness” may prove useful in that elements tempted to free-wheel under another kind of leadership may be concerned that there will be retaliation if they get out of line. As former long-time Liberal, Marcos has many friends in opposition party and may have some success in gaining their cooperation on basis that nation needs demand bi-partisan approach.
In foreign affairs Marcos may be in very different position of feeling his way for some time. Road to Presidency in Philippines is not via international matters, and Marcos has accordingly not concentrated on these, even though his reading has probably been extensive. He will probably desist from any personal initiatives until he has first got grip on pressing domestic matters. At same time, he may insist on personal direction of important foreign policy matters, especially where actions involve any change of course from those taken by outgoing government. In military field, he may well act as his own Secretary of Defense and will undoubtedly establish closer relations with military than did Macapagal.
Sphere of US-Philippine relations will be highly important to Marcos as it was to Macapagal. With his sensitivity to power considerations, Marcos is well aware of US influence and role in Philippines and Southeast Asia. His public attitudes now are Phil nationalism has been a balanced one; Phils should not engage in wanton anti-Americanism but should expect to deal with us on basis of mutual respect. (He feels US and Philippines are “mutually dependent.) His emissaries have given encouraging indications of his desire to get off on right foot with us, and we can perhaps expect a goodwill period of some duration, particularly in dealing with matters on which he is less familiar than we are. He is nevertheless an Oriental who sets great store by friendliness, prestige and face, and it will be in our interest to bear this in mind. Impression we make on him in early months both in Washington and Manila will be of considerable significance. We must be prepared for shakedown period which may last as long as one year, and not look too askance at whatever initiatives may be forthcoming.
For his part Marcos may privately be somewhat apprehensive despite his display of external confidence, hoping that he will succeed in making good impression on us. Although he has not questioned its propriety, he is a trifle sensitive as to the apparent intimacy which President Macapagal and his closest associates enjoyed with the US. Since rightly or wrongly he is personally convinced that both on record and in terms of his own attitudes no one is more committed to the US than he, it is in our interest to assure him, as we are doing, of our [Page 699]friendliness and confidence, particularly in the first few months, when he will be attacking pressing domestic problems. We shall not necessarily receive same 100 percent cooperation we had from Macapagal in foreign affairs—although initial indications are encouraging—since we shall now be dealing with much stronger personality who may be less compliant at times but who may also be instrumental in creating a stronger Philippines, which is in our interest. By giving Marcos and his principal advisers maximum exposure to US views and by being as responsive as possible to their approaches, we should have good chance of ensuring that orientation of new administration is largely favorable to US and free world.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 PHIL. Confidential. Repeated to Tokyo, Taipei, Djakarta, Saigon, Kuala Lumpur, Canberra, Wellington, Bangkok, Vientiane, Singapore, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. The elections were held November 9. In addition to defeating Liberal candidate Macapagal, Marcos also defeated the newly formed Party of Philippine Progress Presidential candidate, Raul Mangalapus. Marcos received 3,816,324 votes, Macapagal received 3,187,752 votes, and Manglapus, 384,564 votes. The Embassy’s assessment of the reasons for Marcos’ victory is in telegram 949 from Manila, November 19. (Ibid.)