357. Note From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:


Marcos complains to LOCKE,2 claiming we equipped only two rather than five engineer battalions.
Bill Jorden puts the matter in perspective and advises that no hasty action required.

I am having the matter looked into carefully.

Since your conversation with him is involved, I thought you’d wish to know about it right away.


Attachment A



In a private conversation with Philippine President Marcos, he said to me:

When he was promised in the U.S. equipment for five engineering battalions then, and probably five later, this was intended to mean new battalions and was not to include the three battalions which had previously been equipped by the U.S. This was made clear in private conversation between him and you.
Later the U.S. Government took the position that the first five battalions to be equipped included the three previously equipped so that new equipment for only two, not five, was secured.
He has been embarrassed by this but has “covered up” publicly, indicating the U.S. has furnished the equipment. When Speaker Laurel assailed the U.S. in Assembly, claiming Philippines “short-changed,” Marcos told him to stop his criticism, that perhaps equipment was not then available.
He feels you are not aware of the situation and that misunderstanding developed at other levels. He has considered writing you a personal letter, but preferred for me to get word to you. He wants to know what happened.

I told President Marcos I had no information about the matter, but would try to find out.

I discussed the history of the first five battalions with U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Manila, Jim Wilson. He said:

At the time of the agreement there were three U.S. equipped engineering battalions in the Philippines. These were not “engineering construction” battalions, which take far more heavy equipment than plain “engineering” battalions.
Our Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group Chief and Philippine Chief of Staff had gone over equipment lists prior to your meeting with Marcos and had agreed on what was necessary for five “engineering construction” battalions. This was furnished in full, but the equipment furnished consisted of a) full equipment for two new battalions; b) construction equipment necessary to convert the three plain engineering battalions into three engineering construction battalions.
So far as Wilson knows, the agreement with respect to the first 5 battalions as then understood by Philippine military chiefs, was an agreement to furnish 2 completely new construction engineering battalions and to upgrade the 3 existing plain engineering battalions to construction engineering battalions. Ambassador Blair had explained all this some months ago to Ambassador Romualdez, President Marcos’ brother-in-law, but the Embassy cannot be sure whether or not Romualdez in fact explained it in full to President Marcos, although, subsequently, Marcos had stated publicly he was satisfied that the commitment had been met.

It may be that President Marcos mistakenly believes that the original 3 battalions remained the same and that he only received equipment for 2 new battalions. Or it may be he recognizes the facts, but believes the agreement was to leave the 3 original battalions as plain engineering battalions and to fully equip 5 new and additional construction engineering [Page 791]battalions. He did not mention any difference between plain engineering battalions and construction engineering battalions and I doubt that he recognizes that these distinctions figured in the arrangement. I believe he feels simply that he started with 3 equipped battalions, that he was to get 5 more, which makes 8, and that he ended with 5 and was therefore “short-changed”.

I believe President Marcos resents what he believes was a failure of the U.S. to live up to an agreement he thinks he made personally with you. I believe we should correct the mistake if one has been made, or explain the fact to President Marcos personally if his understanding is wrong. I am sure President Marcos expects me to take this up personally and directly with you and it is possible that no one in his own government knows he spoke to me about this, as he did so privately, even though numerous of his Cabinet Ministers and U.S. Charge Wilson were waiting in an adjoining room presumably to discuss other matters with him and me.

President Marcos also discussed several other matters with me which are covered in detail in Manila 3760.4 The most important was the sending of additional help to Vietnam. The President will introduce the new appropriation for PHILCAG after the elections are over. He will also give additional help. He cannot politically send troops, and I told him I was sure we could not pay for an Operation Brotherhood in Vietnam, which was his choice (additional to, not in place of, PHILCAG). I believe we can get one, or perhaps even more, Army engineering battalions (which General Westmoreland prefers to another PHILCAG), for which he will seek appropriations in the Assembly, if we build for him some roads in the Clark Field area which could, in his opinion, be justified by military considerations. He believes the roads would benefit Clark Field and also increase mobility in the Huk Territory. Foreign Secretary Ramos is coming to Vietnam on the 29th, at which time I hope to have detailed discussions between him and General Westmoreland on the nuts and bolts of the battalions we want and the roads he wants.5 Embassy Manila is informed and agreeable to this meeting. I, of course, have not committed U.S. Government in any way.

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Attachment B



You will be receiving promptly a message from Ambassador LOCKE to the President regarding “misunderstanding” about equipment for Philippine army construction battalions. Think you will wish to reassure President that this matter not as critical as might seem at first blush.

Marcos talked with me about same matter. I assured him that I would look into it on return to Washington but I thought there had been no reference to “new” battalions. President Johnson had said we would supply equipment for five battalions this year and would consider doing same for five next year. We had done both. Marcos seemed fully satisfied that we would check in good faith and did not push question. Certainly there is no “misunderstanding” on part of Americans or Filipinos who worked out details of the equipment deal. In my opinion, President Marcos is (1) looking for excuse for not doing more for us in Vietnam; (2) on edge because of rough political campaign underway here; (3) possibly feeling us out on whether equipment for another three battalions may not be in the cards. Assure you this is not of such urgency that it cannot wait until my return. President said he wanted to see me again before departure and if that works out I will do all possible to reassure him as to facts.

You will of course wish to ascertain whether our President’s recollection of this agrees with Marcos concept which might have developed in private talk. But ensuing negotiations between Filipinos and U.S. strongly supports view that understanding was as described above.

Separate message from Locke through State channel describes other aspects of his talk with Marcos.

He is right: Combat troops probably not politically possible—except as element of U.S. forces and that has obvious drawbacks. On basis of “volunteers” for U.S. forces we could probably get two divisions, but that has “mercenary” flavor and other deficiencies.

If we play our cards right, another Philippine Civic Action Group or engineering battalion is possible. In my opinion, Marcos would accept some compromise that would recognize his political problems and our common needs.

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He badly needs some kind of regular briefing on situation in Vietnam—including growing evidence of problems on the other side. Jim Wilson agrees this would be desirable and hope something can be worked out with Ambassador Bunker and Westmoreland. A monthly visit to Manila by Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, J–2 would be valuable, with possible occasional visit by Westmoreland.

Regarding reference discussions with Secretary Ramos on this matter (paragraph 5 of cable to State),7 this is not the best way to approach matter. Any serious talk about this should be done in Manila or Washington, preferably former. We will get nowhere on this unless it is with Marcos and his Defense Department.

Talk of U.S. construction contractors is a non-starter, road building is one thing Filipinos are doing very well on their own.

Take paragraph on Huks with a grain of salt. There are other reasons for not cracking down.

I have been operating on assumption that full report on my return on experiences here and Vietnam and observations thereon was preferred course. If you wish fuller report on these matters earlier, please inform. This has been damn profitable trip. Regards.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 5 (D) (1), Allies Troops Commitments, 3/67–1/69. Secret.
  2. Marcos invited Deputy Ambassador to Vietnam Eugene Locke to visit the Philippines and discuss with him Philippine aid to Vietnam. (Telegram 8420 from Saigon, October 13; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL PHIL–US) The Department suggested that LOCKE use his visit to encourage Marcos to think about what more the Philippines could do in Vietnam, most usefully another Philippine Civic Action Group (PHILCAG). LOCKE should encourage Marcos to support “really practical and useful” projects rather than ineffective “grandiose schemes.” (Telegram 54265 to Saigon, October 14; ibid.)
  3. Telegram 464 from Manila, October 24 (Secret; Priority), [text not declassified]. The telegram as received in the White House before it was retyped for the President is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 5 (D) (1), Allies Troop Commitments, 3/67–1/69.
  4. See Document 358.
  5. A report of this meeting between Ramos and Westmoreland is in telegram 9951 from Saigon, October 30. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL PHIL–US)
  6. Telegram 465 from Manila, October 24 (Secret; Eyes Only), [text not declassified]. The telegram as received in the White House before it was retyped for the President is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 5 (D) (1), Allies Troop Commitments, 3/67–1/69.
  7. See footnote 5 above.