353. Memorandum From Marshall Wright of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • What an Ambassador in Manila will have to deal with

We discussed the desire of John Macy’s office (Lou Schwartz and Bob Cox) for information on U.S./Philippine relations relevant to the selection of a new Ambassador. They insisted on a quick oral briefing. What follows is a reconstruction of the conversation. I will be delighted to make any additional points or changes of emphasis that you deem advisable.

It would be nearly impossible to overestimate the gravity of the problems with which our next Ambassador to Manila must deal. It has become common-place for people knowledgeable on the Philippines to predict a vast social upheaval in the near future. There is widespread talk that the current president will be the last popularly elected Philippine chief executive. Many high-level American officials consider the Philippines to be the most serious and the most bleak threat that we face in Asia. It is absolutely essential that we have a Chief of Mission in Manila who can come to grips with the problem.
The Philippine Republic is stagnant. There is practically no increase in the per capita GNP. The government has failed lamentably to come to grips with the problems in economic and social development. Both the government and the society are shot through with a pervasive and paralyzing corruption. There is a revived subversive Huk movement which is serious, though not yet critical. The Huks actually control much of Central Luzon, including the Clark Field area, and it is a fact that the Huk movement is being financed, in large part, by expenditures connected with the Clark Field complex. No Filipino President has ever [Page 784]been reelected, which is a measure of dissatisfaction and frustration of the Filipino masses with government performance. The birth rate approaches 4% a year.
Philippine/U.S. relations are still in a state of transition from colonial days. Although there is a strong residue of affection for the U.S. among the masses, ultranationalism is rampant in the elite. The U.S. and the American Embassy are the natural focus for ultranationalist suspicions and hostilities. The press, in particular, is dominated by the ultranationalists and has a very strong anti-American flavor. Regardless of who our Ambassador is and however properly he comports himself, he and his family will, beyond doubt, be subjected to vicious and personal press attacks. The position of the U.S. Ambassador in Manila is unique. He is part governor-general and part shipping boy. On the one hand the Philippines want to retain a special relationship with the United States. On the other hand, they bitterly resent their dependence upon us and any assertion by us of a special position. Our Ambassador in Manila is in the middle of this psychological cross- fire and gets hit from both sides.

The Problem

First and foremost, the Ambassador will need to be able to identify the levers of power in the Philippine system and to manipulate them effectively to help bring about economic and social movement. He must be a man who understands the development process. It will be essential that he work effectively in helping President Marcos straighten out the Philippine public sector. Tax collections, smuggling control, and some minimum level of efficiency and honesty in the Philippine bureaucracy are exigent problems in the Philippines.

The United States has three major bases (Clark Air Force Base, Subic Bay Naval Base, and Sangley Point Naval Base), and a number of smaller or leased installations. Although our Base Rights run for 24 more years (under a 1966 agreement) it is by no means inconceivable that the Filipino nationalists will put pressure on our use of the bases. The bases are central to our operations in Viet Nam and our longer range military effectiveness in Southeast Asia. The style with which our Base Rights are exercised now may determine our long-run access to these installations.

The future of U.S./Philippine trade relations, the status of the American business community in the Philippines, and the future for American investments in the Philippines will all be determined in negotiation which will begin this fall. The negotiation looks to the replacement of the Laurel-Langley Agreement, which has, since independence, regulated U.S./Philippine economic relations.

In the immediate future, the U.S. will undoubtedly be pressing for a larger Philippine contribution to the Viet Nam war, an issue of the [Page 785]greatest political sensitivity in the Philippines because of the activities of the ultranationalists.

Politically, the Philippines is a cesspool, and the Ambassador must be capable not only of surviving in a poisonous atmosphere but of working in it effectively, for his major weapon will be his influence on Philippine President Marcos, and Marcos is a completely political being.

In the Philippines, power is concentrated in the presidency to a remarkable extent. Our Ambassador carries on most of the important business directly with the President. The ability to develop a close official and personal relationship with the President is essential. Marcos is the Philippines’ most decorated war hero. He is an accomplished golfer (a 7 handicap). Mrs. Marcos is very powerful in the Administration. She has a strongly extroverted personality and makes no bones about enjoying gay and festive occasions, including dancing parties that go on until dawn. There is, in addition, a general Philippine fondness for banter and horseplay and our Ambassador will be expected to join in this atmosphere with evident enjoyment. Extensive travel throughout the Philippines is an important part of our Ambassador’s duties, and is physically demanding, among other reasons, because Philippine hospitality on these occasions has, as an invariable concomitant, subsequent stomach disorders.

The American community in the Philippines is large. American private investment runs at $550 million, and there is a big American business community in Manila. There are about 40,000 American military personnel in the Philippines and probably as many dependents. [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] a Peace Corps of 700 volunteers and substantial USIS and AID missions. The Ambassador will, therefore, need to be a man with considerable executive talent.

The Ambassador will need to know Asia. The main thrust of Philippine nationalism is to carve out a place for the Philippines in Asia. Filipino membership in SEATO, its role in Viet Nam, its participation in Asian regionalism, and its relations with its Asian neighbors are essential elements in Manila’s policy. One who doesn’t understand Asia can easily be trapped by history and superficialities into thinking of the Philippines as somehow less than completely Asian. But there can be no health in the U.S./Philippine relationship unless it is based on a mutual acceptance of the Philippines as an Asian state rather than an American protege. One who understands Asia will know this in his bones. One who does not understand Asia could easily destroy his utility in Manila before he learns it.

In short, the U.S. needs a paragon in Manila. He must be an adept politician. He must thoroughly understand the development process and be able to advise President Marcos in his efforts to revivify the Philippine public sector. He will have to work with a substantial U.S. [Page 786]military community in harmony. He will need to understand the problems of business and to deal with an influential American business community. He will preside over an impressive official U.S. community and will need to be a person of executive talent. He will need a substantial amount of personal charm to operate effectively in the Filipino atmosphere. He will need to be impervious to unfair and sometimes vicious press attacks, both of a personal and political nature. Most of all, he will need to be extremely tough-minded in grappling with a whole series of problems, which no one has been able to deal with effectively yet, but on which progress must now be made without delay as a matter of high national policy. He will need the sensitivity of a chihuahua, the stamina of a Great Dane, and the skin of a rhinoceros.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Philippines, Vol. IV, Memos, 8/67–11/68. Secret. A copy was sent to William Jorden.