206. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • The Riots in Manila

The Causes: The proximate cause of the student riots was a student demand that the political parties (i.e. specifically President Marcos) not influence the elections next November for a Constitutional Convention to frame a new Constitution. With Marcos’ recent overwhelming victory, fears are growing among the students and others that he may perpetuate his power, and that a last chance may be lost to reform Philippine politics.2

The Liberals, disgruntled by their recent defeat, may have thought it useful to egg on the students to “get even” with Marcos. Some of his political competitors in his own party may be trying to generate pressures against a third term. Beyond this is a widespread sense of post-election letdown in the Philippines. The balance-of-payments crisis is tightening, and some people are being hurt by the Government’s new austerity measures. In every previous Philippine election, frustrations could be blamed on the President who had just been defeated; Marcos’ unprecedented re-election means that the natural scapegoat is still in office. Frustrations over the venality and lack of direction of Philippine political life have been growing, and some observers believe that church and parental authority was probably sympathetic to the strikers rather than being a restraining influence.

What Happened: The demonstration was originally organized by a moderate student grouping anxious to keep it peaceful. To avoid violence, they were in the process of dispersing, and their leaders were actually in the Malacanang talking with Marcos, when an extremist student group arrived with their supporters, looking for trouble.

During the period that followed, four or five students were killed, of some 15,000–40,000 involved. It was by all odds the largest and most violent demonstration in Philippine history.

The violence may have been fanned by professional Communist agitators, but this is still very moot.

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The Reaction: The principal current reaction is shock and introspection. President Marcos has gone on the air and, in an effort to divert attention from the fact that he personally was the target of the students, has blamed the violence upon leaders “influenced by… the ideology of Mao Tse-tung,” and upon Communist and non-Communist conspiracies. He has further magnified the importance of the riot by closing schools for a week.

The Implications: Marcos has been put very much on the defensive in a remarkably short time following his election landslide. Popular discontent and political jealousies have focussed on him. It is much too early, however, to say whether he will be seriously weakened, or whether he will be deflected from an effort—which we surmise he has been making—to insure that the Constitutional Convention is malleable to his interests.

At its most serious (and fed by current economic troubles), an attack on Marcos could expand to an attack on the present political structure, but we have no evidence that the forces with the will and power to press for fundamental changes have coalesced.

We may hope that the riots will encourage Marcos to put a priority on social and economic reform, but this is by no means certain.

At the least, it is reasonably certain that Philippine politics will be inward-turned in coming months. Some journalists have, as usual, blamed the US, but the US will probably not become a major target, unless the power balance moves sharply to the left. Marcos has heretofore tended to monopolize the “nationalist” line, but his decision to blame Communists for his present troubles limits his flexibility to seek better relations with them. Because of the economic importance of good relations with us (and to avoid adding problems with the US to his other problems), Marcos will probably move very slowly on opening Military Base Agreement negotiations with us, and will probably seek to continue to defer negotiations on the Laurel–Langley renegotiation.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 962, Alexander M. Haig Chronological File, Haig Chron—Feb. 1–7, 1970. Secret. Sent for information.
  2. The President underlined the last two lines of the first paragraph and wrote: “(They need the reform!)”
  3. The President underlined the phrase “negotiations on the Laurel–Langley renegotiation” and wrote: “1) K—I want every possible step taken to reduce U.S. presence in Philippines—Let’s not press for extended base operations. 2) Did we cut down on our military personnel in the base areas?”