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

18584. Ref Manila 15756, 15828, 15956.2 US-Philippine relations: a current reading and a projection forward.

In analyzing the Philippine situation, complete objectivity is difficult at this moment because US-Philippine relations have once again gone sour. Our major objectives are substantially unimpaired and our relations on the surface remain cordial, but consistent with the four-year cycle that makes the third year in office of each Philippine President one of reciprocal disappointments, there is now annoyance and frustration on both sides.
The Philippines has its traditional ambivalent complaints of too much American economic presence but too little American investment; too much American military presence but too few unqualified, automatic defense guarantees; too much American paternalism but not enough tangible demonstrations of paternal affection. The McCloskey statement on Sabah3 and the AP report based on it that the US had abandoned its position of impartiality on the Philippine claim opened Pandora’s box. Some Filipinos, reportedly even the President, felt the US had deliberately stabbed the Philippines in the back. Others more sympathetic felt the McCloskey statement was unfortunate and ill-advised. Sabah aside, however, most of the Philippine gripes are chronic, not acute.4
Most of the active sourness is concentrated on the American side and is created by irritation, impatience, and frustration. Marcos [Page 831]has not done all we wanted on PHILCAG. Marcos’ domestic leadership has not been up to expectations. The Filipinos often do not live up to their part of aid or trade arrangements. The Philippines has lagged behind the rest of Asia in economic development. Philippine policies on Laurel-Langley vested rights and land ownership issues promise to injure both the Philippines itself and US investors. Crime, graft, and corruption are on the rise. For the first time there was palace complicity in anti-US demonstrations. Guerrero’s tactics in Bangkok and the way Marcos has pursued the Philippine claim to Sabah have cast a pall over the bright new day of regionalism we were [garble—planning?] for Southeast Asia.
We also have a rash of other nagging irritations and complaints, related principally to the movement of military cargo to our bases in the Philippines. In the words of a prominent US official, we are fed to the teeth with the Philippines.
The Filipinos, on their side, have been conducting business with the US in a normal manner following the traditional pattern of manipulation of an indulgent, generous, permissive foster parent. To use a favorite Philippine cliche, they have taken us for granted. They have utilized, but far from the fullest, the two major levers which we placed in their hands; our need for the military bases and our desire to have Philippine troops represented in Viet-Nam. Until very recently they were apparently completely unaware of the resentment building up in the US. Showing an uncharacteristic lack of sensitivity, they failed to recognize that historical protectors and patrons of the Philippines had all but vanished from the American scene. The Philippines is now being judged on an objective standard—perhaps even somewhat more strictly since as a former US charge we expected them to be leading, not falling behind, their Asian neighbors.
Following Marcos’ triumphal US tour and President Johnson’s many favorable comments on the Marcos administration, the Philippine Government was so sure of itself and the effectiveness of backdoor diplomacy that saw no need for first-rate diplomatic representation in Washington. There has been no full time Ambassador since Ledesma departed in 1965. A diplomatic mission of monumental mediocrity provided no really effective eyes and ears for the Philippine Govt in Washington. The American Ambassador to the Philippines, in Marcos’ own words, was also the Philippine Ambassador to the US. Only within the past few weeks has the situation gradually come home to the Philippines as junketeering Philippine Congressmen, govt officials and businessmen returned from the US in a state of surprise and alarm over the frosty displeasure they found.
These reports served to accentuate a growing mood of doubt and uncertainty in the Philippine mind about the future of their relations [Page 832]with the US brought on by other events. The bombing halt and the possibility that 1969 might bring an end to the war in Viet-Nam started the Filipinos thinking that there might be a change in US attitude toward its military presence in Asia following such a settlement. The election of Richard Nixon created a whole new range of uncertainties about the policies of the new administration, and the Filipinos began to circle warily around a number of indications that Southeast Asia might decline in order of priority and the Philippines might lose the leverage which they have come to believe was a permanent aspect of their relations with the US.
Within the Philippines itself, the country is entering a period of transition which will in any event have an effect on Philippine-US relations. The President elected in 1969 will probably be the last Filipino chief executive who remembers the Commonwealth. In 1973 the post-war generation will be a major element of the electorate. The US will have lost most of its automatic “constituency,” except perhaps in the provinces, and the President elected in that year, and all those aspiring to the Presidency will have to accommodate to the more independent, internally oriented new Filipino. Marcos, as a transition President, is already feeling the conflicting pulls of the familiar security and dependence of the old US-Philippine ties and the exciting perils and promise of full independence.
The road ahead in our relations with the Philippines is in fact obscured by at least three major uncertainties. We do not yet know the full programs and policies of the new administration that will take effect next January. We cannot forsee in any detail the circumstances which will surround the settlement of the conflict in Viet-Nam, nor the results of the reassessment of our entire forward base structure which seems almost certain to follow such a settlement. Finally, we cannot forsee the nature of the extent of the post-1974 relations between the two countries on trade and investment matters.
Our relations with the Philippines in the economic field are inevitably moving toward a diminution of the intimacy that has existed heretofore. This is in part due to the operation of secular historical forces as time passes since the Philippines was a member of the American body politic. However, the pace is forced by the pressure of Philippine nationalism. In investment matters nationalism is leading them to define in narrower terms the role that foreign investment, including US investment, is to play in Philippine development. In trade matters, it is moving them toward stronger protectionism through both tariff and nontariff devices. Like all developing countries, the Philippines will continue to require substantial help from the US and the rest of the developed world, but it will increasingly attempt to obtain this help in forms compatible with its nationalism.
[Page 833]


What can we see as a likely future course of US-Philippine relations beyond the current period of transition and uncertainty? Attempting to filter out the highly subjective and emotionally charged range of irritants stemming from a relationship which is perhaps too close, certain basic and important US interests in the Philippines can be identified.
Our first interest is that we have, in the broadest sense, a base of power in the Philippines. We speak to Asia and even to Eastern Europe through VOA transmitters in this country, and communicate by the written word through publications printed in the Regional Service Center. US military bases in the Philippines include perhaps our single most important base in the Far East and provide the fulcrum through which our military power is applied in Asia. Twenty-four govt agencies maintain regional offices here. The US Govt and American private business recruit labor here for work all over Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. This broad range of operational cooperation, functioning now for 22 years, we have come to accept as the natural course of things because it has worked so well. Nowhere else in Asia is US power—again using this word in its broadest sense—exercised with such freedom and with such a degree of host country indulgence.
Although our military bases in the Philippines are indeed the cause of frequent misunderstandings and friction, we must not allow that to becloud the fact that we are more than fortunate to have large-scale, effective and efficient bases for US naval and air power in a strategically vital position in Southeast Asia. Furthermore, there is reason for optimism concerning our ability to retain this situation for a good many years to come, probably considerably longer than will be possible elsewhere in the Far East. As long as US policy dictates a requirement to maintain a significant political and military influence in the Far East, or at least in Southeast Asia, the retention of these bases must be a primary, if not overriding, objective of our US-Philippine relations.
Secondly, we have a selfish economic interest in Philippine development. The Philippines could provide an excellent field for increased US investment, if its shortsighted policies were to change. US exports to the Philippines (some $300 million) also continue to grow, even though our percentage of the market has markedly declined. A prosperous expanding Philippine economy could stimulate economic development elsewhere in Southeast Asia and stimulate further opportunities for US investment and trade.
Thirdly, we have a special interest in the almost 35 million people of the Philippines. They may no longer be our “little brown brothers” but in the eyes of Asia, and much of the rest of the world, [Page 834]they are marked to a greater or lesser extent “made in America.” Their success or failure will be to some degree a measure of the kind of people we are, how we respect our responsibilities, and how valid are our political, economic, and cultural beliefs.
This arises not only from over 50 years of domination of the Philippines, but from the fact that the Philippines have professed the same beliefs that we do and have in fact or appearance adopted us and our ways.
With no other Asian nation do we share to the same degree political, social, religious, and cultural values. It is not only that they have taken over and adapted for their own use our Constitution and political system as well as our private enterprise economy, but they have assimilated many but obviously not all of our characteristics. What other Asian society could produce a Corky Trinidad, whose excellent political cartoons run simultaneously in Philippine and US papers? In what other Asian society is there such freedom, if not license, in the press? Where anywhere in the world could you find so much American sports news in the press?
While there are differences of significance, of course, there are two essential facts of importance. Filipinos have become in a marked degree what they are because of us. On the one hand, this is a responsibility and an opportunity for us, if we believe, as we do, that the spread of independence and democracy promotes our own security and world peace. On the other hand, our credibility, our prestige, and our influence are tied with Philippine success or failure.
Fourthly, the US has been interested in the Philippines assuming a role of leadership in the development of regionalism in Southeast Asia. We were delighted when President Marcos and FonSec Ramos assumed such a posture, and were disturbed and dismayed when the Sabah affair disrupted these good beginnings.
Fifthly, we have the same normal interests in good relations with the Philippines that we have with the other nations of the world. We appreciate an opportunity to influence them in bilateral and world affairs in a direction that we deem helpful overall.

Problems inherent in US interests

Continuing use of military bases and the protection of private national investments carry with them strong colonial overtones. These continuing manifestations of American military and economic power tend to produce strong nationalist emotions even among those intellectually aware of the substantial contribution bases and American business make to Philippine well-being.
There is also a growing tendency to see the bases as serving US national interests more than Philippine national interests. A conventional [Page 835]military threat from Communist China now seems less imminent and there are those that argue that the bases constitute a target for the growing Chinese nuclear capability. However, even of those who resent the bases, most recognize their necessity for the immediate future for Philippine security.
Our efforts to protect American business interests are challenged by elements of the elite and doctrinaire govt officials motivated by economic nationalism and/or cupidity. At a time when the developing world is competing vigorously for capital assistance from a developed world, we find ourselves in the paradoxical position of using US bargaining assets to persuade the Filipinos to preserve what in their own interest they should be seeking.
Objectives in the field of nation building have the inherent limitation that this building process in the final analysis must be accomplished by the Filipinos themselves. We can stimulate, urge and cajole, but we cannot force on them economic and political salvation. Our exhortations to get on with the job of nation building also create a pitfall. If the Filipinos come to believe that we are more anxious to see them achieve these goals than they are themselves, “nation building” becomes merely a slogan by which they extract assets from us. We also can find ourselves in the position of paying the Filipinos for the privilege of helping them, and our inputs tend to become not supplements but substitutes for the allocation of Philippine resources.

Future policy

1. In our projections of US policy we are making several basic assumptions:

The US will require some or all its military bases for a ten to twenty year period.
The Philippines will continue to be an important place for US investment and trade.
US will recognize that Philippine progress is an important element in its prestige and operations in the Far East.
US will be interested in Philippine cooperation in Southeast Asian regionalism.
US will be interested in continued good relations with the Republic of the Philippines.


25. To maintain our military base structure for ten to twenty years we should do the following:

We must impress the Filipinos that US use of bases in the Philippines are in the interests of both the Philippines and the US. In addition to the normal public relations programs, in-depth programs should be developed such as perhaps joint war games that will bring home to the Philippine military the importance of US bases and forces to their security.
We should continue military aid, particularly technical assistance, training in the US, etc., so as to preserve vital person-to-person relationships and common traditions and common equipment.
Special attention should be given to continued progressive base labor relations: strikes or slowdowns of local base workers could cripple the bases.
We should interpret criminal jurisdiction provisions of our base agreements sympathetically with every effort made to avoid incidents, including greatest possible use of Philippine buffers.
We should give sympathetic consideration to increased joint responsibility and/or visible appearance thereof, consonant with effective operational control.
In the field of mutual defense, the clearest possible definition, as authoritative as possible, of our immediate reaction response compatible with overall US policy.
We should negotiate all moves. Let Filipinos win where we should yield rather than US gratuitously give. We should yield progressively not precipitously or too late.


26. In working out with the Philippines a new basis for the economic arrangements to succeed Laurel-Langley, our policy should be one of gradual rather than sudden and wrenching change. We should recognize the painfulness for the Filipino, both in psychological and economic terms of the phasing out of the “special relationship,” even though this change is what they want. In the negotiations we should maintain a flexible position and open mind on possible measures required to ease the pain of transition in such fields as tariffs (even the continuation of preferences), commodities, investment, and perhaps even credit. This posture would be founded on a recognition that, within broad limits, a satisfactory military-political relationship will be impossible to maintain in the absence of an economic one which the Philippines regard as reasonably satisfactory.

27. Our economic policy should contain the following major elements:

We should make a special report to bring home to the Filipinos the advantages of good business climate and the manifold contributions of foreign investment.
As a complementary effort we should resist the anti-foreign thrust of Philippine policy on investment matters. We should do so in part because we have a legitimate duty to ensure that American interests receive equitable treatment, and in part because foreign investment is keenly needed for Philippine development.
We should recognize that despite its well-known weaknesses and inequities, the free enterprise economy of the Philippines is a vital dynamic force. It is a good calculated risk.

Philippine nation building

28. Our assistance to the Philippines in the process of nation building should include the following elements:

We should continue to provide feasible economic assistance particularly in the technical area for nation building and as a means of maintaining close man-to-man relationships and common interests between the President and the Ambassador and between other US and Philippine officials.
We should encourage miracle rice expansion through proper storage, milling, marketing, and export programs. This should be followed by diversification to field and feed crops, and pork, poultry, and beef programs to maintain labor intensive, profit making agri-industry.
We should encourage road and infrastructure development programs.
We should provide assistance to law and order programs consistent with Philippine inputs.
We should continue to encourage the growth of legitimate labor unionism and the economic advancement of the working people.
We should give selective encouragement to manpower training to meet the needs of existing and new industries. At the same time we should recognize that with the end of the Viet-Nam conflict there may be a sudden return of many skilled or semi-skilled workers who could disrupt labor market and cause unrest.
We should continue to provide support to Philippine programs of population control and family planning.
Peace Corps and other agency programs to improve the ability of Filipino teachers to teach their students to think, rather than memorize, as well as Peace Corps programs in the field of agriculture, economic planning, public health, and community development, should continue.


29. Regionalism, if it is to grow beyond acronyms, must meet what the nations of Southeast Asia see themselves as a pressing need. Our capacity to persuade the Filipinos to recognize this need is limited, but we can by current programs of quiet backing of Asian initiatives, as well as tactful indirect support of regional cooperation, speed up this process.

30. The Sabah dispute is currently a significant obstacle to regionalism. Here again, our capacity for successful direct intervention is [Page 838]limited, but we can continue to give behind-the-scenes support to Asian efforts to find a solution.

Good relations

31. We should continue our efforts to put our relations with the Philippines on a basis which recognizes sovereign equality and mutual respect.

32. We should broaden our contacts with the non-establishment side of Philippine society—the youth, labor leaders, intellectuals, younger military leaders, that are working for change and will play an increasingly important role in shaping the destiny of this country.


33. The Philippines and the United States have a broad community of interests. As a new US administration takes over we must recognize that on the Philippine side this parallelism is imperfectly perceived. As the Philippines develops, however, there will be a growing recognition that our relations are not based merely on sentimental friendship and a patron-client dependency, but rather on a broader and more secure base of compatible, complementary, national interests and objectives. The strength of these ties make us optimistic for the future.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL PHIL–US. Confidential.
  2. See Document 370 and footnotes 2 and 4 thereto.
  3. On September 19 Department of State Spokesman McCloskey stated that the United States recognized Malaysia in 1963, and the press concluded that he had stated that the United States recognized Malaysia’s claim to Sabah. On the next day, September 20, McCloskey stated that recognition of Malaysia in 1963 was in no way a departure from U.S. neutrality toward the competing Philippines and Malaysian claims to Sabah. The United States recognized countries with territorial disputes without taking sides, as was the case when the United States recognized India and Pakistan without reference to Kashmir. (Telegram 15394 from Manila, September 21; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 32–1 MALAYSIA–PHIL)
  4. In telegram 17833 from Manila, November 22, the Embassy reported that Mrs. Imelda Marcos had complained to Embassy officer Rafferty about the deterioration of U.S.-Philippines relations. She specifically mentioned rumors that Edward Lansdale and the United States were “looking for a candidate to support against Marcos.” Mrs. Marcos stated that steps had to be taken to improve U.S.-Philippines relations. (Ibid., POL PHIL–US)