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

396. Ref: (A) State 290585,2 (B) State 276316,3 (C) Manila 18293,4 (D) Manila 17663,5 (E) Manila 18996 NOTAL.6 Subject: Territorial seas and innocent passage.

Pursuant to references A and B, I took the above subject matter up with the President at a meeting arranged to brief him on the findings of a joint committee on weather reporting.
As luck would have it, after we had all shaken hands in front of his desk, he asked me to retire with him to the couch and chair arrangement in the back of the room behind the pillars where Assistant Secretary Bundy and he had their last conference. When he did not raise any matter of substance right away, I took the opportunity to raise the territorial seas and people appeared to withdraw and permit us the opportunity of relatively secure conversation.
I began by saying that there appeared to be a matter on which our two governments seemed to have a serious difference of principle in which our views were shared by a number of the Philippines’ best friends. Under these circumstances, I said, I thought it best to have a frank and friendly discussion to see whether some means could be found to avoid public confrontation.
I then said that the problem had two related aspects: (A) the Philippines archipelago claim on territorial seas which we have never recognized and have so advised the Philippine Government officially, the last time in 1961; (B) the “right of innocent passage.”
I then made reference to the Malacanang press release dated December 23 which quoted the aide-mémoire to the British to the effect that “armed foreign public vessels — cannot assert or exercise the so-called right of innocent passage through the Philippine territorial sea without the permission of the Philippine Government.” I said, “As you know, it is the position of the United States Government that the right of innocent passage is firmly established under international law and that my government believes it is of the greatest importance that this right be maintained. We recognize that the Philippine Government is not a party to the convention on territorial seas but that it is our view that this convention still sets forth established principles of customary international law in this area.”
Then I stated that the USG has always supported the right of innocent passage and that it is even more important today. I said that to accept the denial of the right of innocent passage could in our view create a precedent for similar action in other parts of the world, such as the Straits of Gibraltar. Furthermore, I said, “Were we to acquiesce in such claims, denying naval access to large sea areas of the world, it would seriously affect the strategic interest of the United States, its allies, and the free world, and we believe would be inconsistent with the overall strategic interests of the Philippines itself. It is for this reason that we feel we must in all friendship raise these issues with you at this time.”
Next I recognized that because of our agreements there was no question of right of innocent passage between us but that the public statement made by the Philippine Government places us in a difficult position. Further, I said, “Both of us are aware that a number of our mutual friends—Britain, Australia, New Zealand—share our views on the importance of maintaining the right of innocent passage.” Then I said “Is there any way to resolve the issue quietly—would the President consider retracting the press statement? Would he consider holding back on enforcement?”
The President followed my presentation closely and responded agreeably. He recognized that a serious problem was posed and intimated that it was not of his making. He said that this of course was something that the legislature had done.
He said he would like time to think it over but that probably two panels could be set up to review the matter quietly.
We ultimately broke off with the idea that he would consider the matter further.
From what he said, and his demeanor, I got the impression that he had no intention of pushing this matter to a confrontation but that as of the moment he had no particular solution in mind that would avoid the confrontation, although I think he would be agreeable to finding or accepting one.
The President made no response to my question as to whether he would consider retracting the press statement, and, as I have previously indicated, I don’t think that this would be politically feasible for him to attempt. He also did not refer directly to the matter of enforcement, but as I have already indicated, I would not think that he would go out of his way to enforce or say he would enforce these provisions unless he were forced into doing so.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–4 PHIL. Secret. Repeated to Canberra, Kuala Lumpur, London, Wellington, CINCPAC, and COMNAVPHIL.
  2. In telegram 290585 to Manila, December 20, the Department of State clarified its guidelines for a discussion with Marcos about the Philippines’ position on the archipelago theory and the right of innocent passage. (Ibid.)
  3. See footnote 6, Document 372.
  4. In telegram 18293 from Manila, December 12, the Embassy responded to telegram 276316 with the suggestion that the United States should avoid controversy and confrontation with the Philippines over the issue of innocent passage and try to raise its concerns in a multilateral context. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33–4 PHIL)
  5. In telegram 17663 from Manila, November 19, Williams reported a discussion he had that day with the Australian Ambassador on the Philippines’ position on innocent passage. (Ibid.)
  6. In telegram 18996 from Manila, December 30, the Embassy suggested that to avoid giving the impression that the United States supported Malaysia in the Sabah dispute and to prevent offending Marcos, another SEATO member, such as Britain, take the lead in protesting the Philippines’ decision to deny innocent passage. (Ibid.)