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

11375. For the President and the Secretary of State.

With the receipt of the second and third volumes of the Symington subcommittee hearings on the Philippines I now for the first time have had a chance to judge personally the full impact here of the pending publication of the present “sanitized” version of those hearings.2 In my opinion the result of such publication, even two weeks from now after Philippine elections, will be an unmitigated disaster in terms of basic US interests in this country and the future of US/Philippine relations.
Beyond this I am deeply disturbed by the broader issue of principle involved in the implications of these proceedings as they seem to question, and publicly so, the control of the conduct of our foreign relations. Staff members of the committee prior to the hearings visited the Philippines and other countries of Southeast Asia and on the instructions of the Departments of State and Defense were provided with the most sensitive and highly classified information on virtually every aspect of our political-military relationships. Senior military and civilian officers summoned home from the field were the principal witnesses before the Subcommittee. These witnesses testified in good faith and spoke frankly in executive session on a series of highly delicate matters. They were continually pressed for personal opinions and judgments on policy decisions reached on the highest level of the United States Government and on conditions in the Republic of the Philippines and actions of its senior officials. They provided without reservation details of classified agreements with the Government of the Philippines.
The subcommittee is now apparently about to publish this testimony and, as I understand it, is setting itself as the final judge on what will be released. With an unfriendly committee controlling the proceedings it is inevitable that a distorted and unbalanced picture will emerge.
This applies not just to the Philippines but also to the other countries covered by the Committee’s inquiries. It becomes particularly important at this time when you are engaged in the difficult task of shaping future US policy toward Southeast Asia.
I am also concerned about what this will be taken to imply with respect to the sanctity of confidential agreements between governments and our ability to enter into them in the future. Also, other Asian nations will be looking at this to see how we treat our former ward. They will reason that if we treat Filipinos this way they can expect worse when their turn comes.
There are other matters of considerable importance involved here. The most senior military and civilian staff members in several missions abroad are going to be faced with critical quotations attributable to them specifically by name in the press of their host countries. It is not at all inconceivable that public png cases may result. In other cases the effectiveness of these officers may be so impaired that termination of assignments would seem in order. To a lesser extent it is possible that the effectiveness of your Ambassadors in these various countries may be impaired in a guilt by association sort of way in that senior staffs would be expected to reflect the views of their bosses.
As you know, the Filipino is hyper-sensitive to foreign criticism, particularly when it comes from the former colonial power. This goes [Page 420]not just for the super nationalists but for our friends as well. We are already under heavy fire for the acquittal of a US sailor for shooting a Filipino at one of our bases. The violent reaction here to the relatively calm criticism of Eugene Black provides ample evidence of the explosion which will occur if the committee’s hearings are published in their present form.
We are faced with a trying and difficult series of negotiations regarding our bases, our mutual defense arrangements, and our trade agreements, which we had hoped would normalize, and actually improve, our relationship for some time to come. Publication of the Symington hearings as they now stand will be taken as a clumsy attempt to signal future US policy and tactics in these discussions. It will play into the hands of those who are working against us and cost us most of our friends. It could eventually cost us the bases themselves.
At this critical stage in our economic relations there is also likely to be a destructive fallout in terms of our business interests. I am certain that the New York business community, with nearly a billion dollar of private investment here, would be extremely active in Washington just now if they realized what this may do to our coming efforts to negotiate away uncertainties here that are already plaguing them. Unfortunately they will not fully realize this until after publication when it is already too late.
Some of what is contained in these hearings needs to be said to the Philippine Government. But how we say it and when is the business of the Executive Branch. This is not the way to do it. It will make it that much harder, if not impossible, to say it properly later on.
I realize it may be most difficult to try to walk the cat back at this stage. At the same time I do not think the Committee’s hired staff has played fair with the information thus far given it in confidence. Indeed I am informed that the local representative of the Reader’s Digest claims to have already received a copy of the proceedings.
In short I am asking that this whole matter be reviewed once more3 in view of its very serious implications. One would hope that the Senate leadership itself could be convinced to take action on their [Page 421]own to suppress publication completely if they could fully understand its almost certain damaging consequences of serious proportions. If this is impossible a lesser alternative, undoubtedly still damaging, but far less so, would be for the subcommittee to release its findings on the hearings in its own report and in its own words, with the volumes of actual testimony remaining classified and non-releaseable to the press.
I realize this is a difficult one for you to judge as neither of you can possibly read these voluminous reports and be able to weigh for yourselves the possible effects of publication of such sideswiping material. If nothing else can be done, please consider finding some manner of disassociating the Executive Branch, to the extent it can now be done, from the whole affair.4
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 555, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. I. Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. According to an undated memorandum from Erlichman to Rogers detailing White House complaints about McClintock’s performance as Chairman of the Interdepartmental Group and his ultimate removal on November 14, the White House did not learn the basis of the deal that had been struck between McClintock and Symington until October 23, after having been kept in the dark by the Ambassador for “a long period.” According to the memorandum, “In return for deleting certain non-policy passages of some witnesses, and for deferring publication of the transcript until after the Philippine elections, Ambassador McClintock had agreed to make no substantial cuts in the transcript, in clear violation of White House guidelines.” (Ibid., Subject Files, Box 398, Symington Subcommittee, Vol. I)
  3. Telegram 11375 elicited concern in Washington and Moore (EA) drafted a telegram stating that the Embassy had been kept advised of developments with the Symington subcommittee and that, with the exception of minor adjustments, it was too late to make substantial changes in the report. (Ibid.) Haig, in an October 31 memorandum to Erlichman, noted “that efforts to reverse agreed-upon policy with the Subcommittee would poison our whole relationship with the Subcommittee and would not preclude the testimony getting into public print in a distorted and possibly far more harmful manner.” Haig also asked for Erlichman’s “written judgment as to the suitability of the course of action laid out in the proposed State reply.” (Ibid.)
  4. According to the agenda for the November 11 meeting of the White House Working Group, the transcripts were returned to the Subcommittee for publication, with the “more embarrassing sections dealing with corruption” deleted in return for Department of State agreement “to supply the exact figures for U.S. support for PHILCAG—in direct contravention of explicit White House instructions.” (Ibid.) A summary of Marcos’ corruption [text not declassified] which states that “Marcos and his wife have gone to considerable lengths to enrich their personal base. [text not declassified] estimate that they have accumulated approximately $100 million during his term in the presidential palace.” (Ibid., Box 555, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. I.)