219. Letter From the Ambassador to the Philippines (Byroade) to President Nixon 1
Dear Mr. President:
I feel that you will wish a more personal appraisal of some of the characteristics of President Marcos than it is wise for me to put into my general report to you, which of course will be read by several others. I wish I could do this part orally, but as this is impossible at present, [Page 466]I have asked Dr. Kissinger to prevent distribution and filing of this portion of my report.2
As I see it, Marcos is a product of the political system here, and not the cause of that system. His training in that system here has been in fact nearly all of his adult life—through the Congress, the Senate and now the Presidency. The whole atmosphere has been one of public expectancy that anyone able to move through these ranks would capitalize financially on their positions—and anyone who did not would be considered naive indeed—if not down-right incapable. This is one of the things that I predict will change—but we are only in the initial phases of this now.
Politics is still the single biggest industry in the Philippines. Candidates for public office spend huge amounts of their personal wealth in campaigns. If elected, they usually recoup these amounts while in office. Marcos is no exception to this. Marcos, like other Filipino politicians, has always been corrupt by American standards, but by Filipino standards he is no better or no worse than other Filipino politicians. Some several persons close to the President say that during his first term in office he amassed a multimillion dollar fortune, although there is no absolute proof of this. Yet when you compare his performance with that of past Filipino Presidents, such as Garcia and Magapagal, Marcos has done more for the Filipino people than many of the Presidents combined. He built more roads, pushed through miracle rice, built school houses, etc. While the opponents dismiss this with the phrase “the more projects, the more kickbacks,” nevertheless there is material evidence to show that Marcos did carry through with his infrastructure program better than anyone before him had done.
Not long after I got here a Chinese businessman of prominence said to me “You Americans are far too critical of Marcos because he is the best we ever had. Before Marcos, not even 20% of appropriated funds were put to good usage. Marcos has more than doubled that figure—and that’s progress.” I guess it’s all in the point of view!
Marcos is a typical Filipino. While money normally is power anywhere in the world, in the Philippines it would seem, many times, that money is the only thing that counts. Marcos believes that to keep the feudal-like political barons from his throat he must amass sufficient wealth to keep them in check. When you ask a Filipino who may have $20,000,000 why he continues to amass greater amounts of money, he will give you a simple but honest reply: “That’s the way the game is [Page 467]played in the Philippines.” Marcos also believes that anything can be bought in the Philippines and he may be right, at least for the time being—but as I say in my main report I believe a beginning at least is being made in a change in the system.
I have no doubt that Marcos will endeavor to recoup the private monies that he spent in getting re-elected. Whether he will have the good sense to at least stop there, I just don’t know. He is not engaged in petty or small things such as the corruption around our bases. He is a very sophisticated operator and anything he does will be well concealed through others in such things as private investment, stock market manipulations, etc.
Whatever his shortcomings, the Philippines, barring accident, has him for almost four more years, and so do we. Someday there will be a Jerry Roxas, but Jerry for all of his fine qualities, lacks one all-important one—the leadership capacity to get himself elected President of the Philippines. Marcos has been described as the greatest Filipino politician since Quezon. Politicians do not achieve greatness by insensitivity to changing demands, and I think it would be a mistake to underestimate Marcos’ capacity to adjust to a new situation and work towards goals that are both in his own and his country’s interests.
The personal relationship we have been able to develop with both the President and Mrs. Marcos are highly satisfactory—and have reached the point where I can say in all candor I do not want them to be any closer than they are now. He is easy and pleasant to work with, is extremely able and is quick in his actions and decisions. He is also, underneath, obviously quite pro-American.
I hope very much, Mr. President, that we can get at least a part of what you want here during your own tenure of office.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 557, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. III. Top Secret.↩
- Kissinger forwarded the letter to the President under a June 8 covering memorandum which summarized Byroade’s “revealing and sensitive letter” “on President Marcos and his place in Philippine politics and history.” A notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it. Attached but not printed.↩