366. Action Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Reduction of size of Philippine military force in Vietnam (PHILCAG)

President Marcos has been having trouble for several months in getting from his Congress an appropriation to cover PHILCAG. Marcos and other Philippine officials have repeatedly told our Embassy it might be necessary, in view of the Congressional pressure, to reduce the size and change the composition of PHILCAG (for instance medical units instead of engineering battalions).

We have made a vigorous effort, including your letter of April 14,2 to persuade Marcos to maintain the size and the integrity of PHILCAG. On several occasions he has assured us, and has stated publicly, that he would do so.

Nonetheless, withdrawals have taken place. From an original strength of 2,050, PHILCAG is down to 1,810. The Philippine Secretary of Defense and Armed Forces Chief of Staff have now informed our Embassy that they are planning a weekly reduction of 35 men until PHILCAG is reduced to a strength of 1,400. That would constitute a better than 30% reduction from the original PHILCAG strength.

Attached is an extremely stiff cable to our Embassy in Manila authorizing the Embassy to find out if the reduction has Marcos’ approval.3 If so, the telegram authorizes4 our Charge in Manila to speak in very blunt terms to Marcos about the dim view we take of this development. Among other things, the message says that we will suspend further shipments of equipment for Philippine army engineer construction battalions (a matter of great personal interest to Marcos and a program which stems from his visit with you in 1966). We also plan to suspend activity regarding procurement in the Philippines of our needs in Vietnam (another matter stemming from the communiqué issued at the end of Marcos’ visit with you). Finally, the cable raises [Page 812]the possibility that at some point the reductions of PHILCAG might render the Philippines ineligible to sit in the councils of troop-contributing countries to Vietnam.

The cable has been personally cleared by Secretary Rusk.

But I have my doubts that this cable will do the job. In the first place our Charge in Manila is not at all likely to go as far with Marcos as this cable will permit him to go. The cable should serve, however, to clarify Marcos’ intentions and precipitate a dialog with our Mission on the best approach to the problem of keeping PHILCAG intact. Eventually, we may want to resort to another letter from you. That, however, depends on Marcos’ reaction, and this cable is a necessary first step.

One good reason for precipitating this issue without delay is to try to get it out of the way before Mennen Williams arrives in Manila, in about a month.

There is one danger in this of which I think you should be aware. Thus far, the reduction of PHILCAG has taken place with virtually no publicity. Manila is a sieve, and a tough approach by us will probably become known and focus publicity on the PHILCAG reduction. However, that is sure to happen anyway, sooner or later. I think it is time to bite the bullet with the Philippines.

I recommend you approve the cable. Whether or not you approve you might want to discuss the problem at the Tuesday luncheon.

Walt

Approve

Put on Tuesday lunch agenda5

Disapprove

Call me

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 5 D (2), Allies: Troop Commitments and Other Aid, 1967–69. No classification marking. A note on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid.) See also footnote 2, Document 364.
  3. The draft cable is attached to a memorandum from Read to Rostow, May 11. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–3 VIET S)
  4. Rostow wrote the following note at this point: “Not: instructs. See final para.”
  5. The President checked this option and wrote the following instructions: “Ask Clifford & Rusk to study very carefully. L.” At the Tuesday lunch meeting on May 21, attended by President, Rusk, Clifford, Wheeler, Helms, Rostow, and Christian, with Tom Johnson taking notes, the issue of the Philippines engineering unit was discussed. Wheeler noted that the Philippines could not support the unit until June and Clifford stated that the Philippines wanted to reduce it from 1,800 to 1,400. Wheeler remarked that a seventy man reduction per week, as contemplated, “isn’t getting much attention.” The President moved on to the question of Korean troops in South Vietnam. Presumably the reduction was accepted and the cable was never sent. (Notes of a Tuesday Lunch Meeting; Johnson Library, Tom Johnson Notes, 5/21/68)