226. Telegram From the Embassy in the Philippines to the Department of State1

6794. Deliver Upon Opening of Business. Subj: U.S. Personnel Reductions in the Philippines. Ref: State 115651; State 115652.2

[Page 480]
I called on President Marcos this morning to discuss forthcoming U.S. personnel reductions in accordance with above messages. In our continuing conversations in the past several weeks I have attempted to gradually prepare him for this type of specific information so that it would not come as a surprise. The Secretary also did a good job for us with Marcos on this subject when he was here early this month. In spite of this I think he got a bit of a jolt over the magnitude of the cuts and the fact that they would start right away.
The first question from Marcos was whether these cuts affected in any way our Mutual Defense Treaty. I said that they did not, that our commitments still stood, and after some discussion on this point I believe he accepted the fact that the air and naval defense of the Philippines was not basically affected.
Marcos then quickly focused into the three points which caused him the most concern. The first was the effect of the loss of foreign exchange earnings from the bases on their precarious economic situation and their current economic plans. The second was the loss of jobs for Filipinos that would inevitably follow such a large cut of Americans. A third point of concern was how the matter could be handled publicly in a manner which does not cause considerable damage here. Our discussion focused particularly on this latter point and prompted my preliminary warning cable requesting that no public statement be made until we could think about this matter further and I could discuss it with the military commanders.
With regard to the first two points above, Marcos asked if I could give him statistics as to what we thought would actually be involved in the way of loss of foreign exchange and loss of jobs. I told him I was not in a position at the moment to do that but would give him as quickly as I could our best estimate on these matters. He understands that they will be very preliminary “estimates” but said they would be useful to him in planning within his own government with the thought he should initiate immediately.
Marcos asked what our plans were for handling the matter publicly. I showed him a possible opening statement being considered in Washington as contained in State 115652. When he read it his first comment was “but this will serve to undo everything you and I have been trying to do.” What he was referring to was handling doubts that are widespread here about future U.S. intentions. He said he is continually being asked if the U.S. intends to withdraw completely from the Philippines. This had reached the point where he recently had been asked if the U.S. and the UK had not reached some kind of a private understanding where the British would remain in the area, thus allowing U.S. withdrawal. I said this was of course utter nonsense and he agreed, but pointed out the fact that such questions do come from responsible people.
Marcos asked what I could tell him alone and privately about the future of U.S. intentions. Specifically, was this merely the first of several cuts, and how far down did we plan to go? I told him that I felt relatively sure that there was no planning within our Executive Branch at this time for further cuts in the Philippines. I told him I was sure that our President plans a continued military presence in the Pacific area for the foreseeable future. I said that I could not of course be categorical with him on actual figures for the future, but left him with no doubt that we were not considering anything like a withdrawal from the Philippines.
Marcos asked at one point if we need make any statement at all. He said he was afraid that the draft I had shown him would really raise fundamental questions that could not be answered. He then went into a rather lengthy thinking out loud process as to whether we should not try to answer some of these fundamental questions positively and publicly. Could we for instance say that this was the only reduction planned for the Philippines under the MDT; that there was no question of U.S. withdrawal from the bases, etc., etc. I told him I did not think it was in the cards that we could publicly commit ourselves to maintain the new reduced force levels for forever-and-a-day. I did undertake to think further as to whether we might in some manner handle publicly the question of whether our commitments under the MDT were effected and also how the matter of doubts about “withdrawals” might be handled.
I never felt more the real need of long ranged strategic planning for the Pacific Area which I plugged for so hard at the Tokyo Conference than I did during this conversation. I was somewhat taken aback to have him express thoughts which resembled very closely some of my own argumentations on this subject as contained in past cables.
I am convinced that we are dealing with a subject here on which we should attempt to find the best possible answer for our own interests, as well as those of Marcos, and in some instances at least I believe we have common cause for concern. It is definitely not in our own interest to have our image here as one of possible “withdrawal.” Our problem certainly is not with Marcos, whom I can talk to directly and who has the benefit of occasional talks such as the recent one with the Secretary. Our problem is one of public understanding, and this includes not only the masses but up through the Government and legislative branches as well.
By septel I am sending a revised press statement which I think goes as far as we can towards meeting Marcos’ needs, as well as our own. I will be seeing him again on July 23 at 10:00 a.m., and same night at dinner, and if draft is acceptable, I could show it to him then.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 557, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. III. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. Telegrams 115651, 115652, and 115650, to Manila, all July 20, informed Byroade of the decisions made by the President on reductions of U.S. personnel in the Philippines (see Document 225), asked him to inform Marcos, and asked him to comment on a statement for the press describing the decisions. (All ibid.)