363. Intelligence Note From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hughes) to Secretary of State Rusk 1

No. 223

SUBJECT

  • Malaysian Reaction to the Disclosure of Philippine Plans to Subvert Sabah

Malaysia, long aware through its own intelligence service, of the Philippine clandestine training program for subversion in Sabah, has been prompted to formal diplomatic protest by the public disclosure of the training camp at Corregidor.2 Although incensed by Philippine behavior, Kuala Lumpur continues to hope that Manila’s response will permit the maintenance of diplomatic relations.3

Malaysian Efforts to Kill the Philippine Plan. The Malaysian government has known since May 1967 through its own intelligence service that the Philippines was involved in preparing a program for infiltration and subversion in Sabah in support of the Philippine claim there. Early in December, Malaysia learned that Philippine guerrillas were being trained in the southern Philippines. While top Malaysian officials were incensed that an ostensibly friendly country and a fellow member of the recently created Association of Southeast Asian Nations would plot to subvert a part of their territory, they were confident that their own security forces could repel any Philippine subversion effort and that the political situation in Sabah was not susceptible to Philippine influence. The Malaysians hoped that, by quietly making known their awareness of the Philippine plans, they could persuade the Philippine government to drop the project, thus preventing any rupture in Philippine-Malaysian relations.

Malaysia’s Formal Protest to the Philippines. The unexpected revelation of the secret Philippine training program at Corregidor, which was given wide publicity in the Philippines and Malaysia coincident with the arrest of twenty armed Filipinos attempting to enter Sabah illegally, persuaded the Malaysian government that it must take formal if low-key notice of the Philippine program. On March 23, accordingly, a [Page 808]protest note was handed to the second secretary of the Philippine Embassy by a medium level official. The note stated that Malaysia took the news of the Corregidor camp “most seriously in view of the recent arrest of more than twenty Filipinos with arms — who were unable to explain their presence in Sabah.” Malaysia would have “no alternative but to regard such activities as a most serious breach of good faith and friendly relations” and requested “a full explanation.” The Malaysian note also said that Malaysia had instructed its representative at the UN to bring the matter to the attention of the Secretary General.

Malaysia was not reassured by Philippine reaction to its note, even though Foreign Secretary Ramos told the Malaysian Ambassador that the Philippines was “not trying to instigate a revolt in Sabah” and that the Philippines would answer the Malaysian note soon “in a friendly, moderate tone.” It was clear that the Philippines was annoyed that the Malaysians were reporting to the UN Secretary General. One Philippine diplomat called this action “presumptuous” and said Malaysia was elevating the issue unnecessarily. The Malaysians were further disturbed when Marcos and Ramos insisted that the Corregidor training camp had been established for counterinsurgency training following reports of communist activities in Mindanao and the Sulus and when Manila in its secret reply to Malaysia’s note accused the Malaysians of infiltrating the Philippines from Sabah. On March 25, the Malaysians issued a statement demanding that, in the interests of friendly relations between the two countries, the results of both President Marcos’ and the Philippine Congress’ investigations of the Corregidor training program be made public and describe the objectives of the training.

Prospects for Philippine-Malaysian Relations. The Malaysian government hopes that, having presented its low-key formal protest to Manila, no further diplomatic action on its part will be necessary and that it will not be pushed toward a break in diplomatic relations. Its ability to maintain this policy depends, however, on the Philippine diplomatic response, on Malaysian press and public reactions to the further revelations that may result from the official investigations of the training program, and on the reverberations produced in the Philippines by these investigations.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–7 MALAYSIA. Secret; No Foreign Dissem.
  2. In Intelligence Note 226, March 27, Hughes informed Rusk in more detail about the Corregidor Clandestine Camp. (Ibid., DEF 6–5 PHIL)
  3. The Philippine claim to Sabah, pending since 1962, was an irritant to Malaysian-Philippines relations even after the Philippines recognized Malaysia in 1966. In 1963, under the Maphilindo agreement, the Philippines and Malaysia were committed to resolving the dispute by peaceful means. (Intelligence Note 27 from Hughes to Rusk, January 10; ibid., POL 32–1 MALAYSIA–PHIL)