235. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Some Positive Insights on Filipino Characteristics

Secretary Rogers has sent you a brief but remarkably perceptive report (Tab A)2 on the political and social character of the Filipinos, prepared by the Political Counselor of our Embassy in Manila. It illuminates those positive and stabilizing aspects of Philippine society which we have been groping to understand, but which are so often lost from view amid the welter of daily events.

I agree with Secretary Rogers that this paper displays real insights. Its main points are as follows:

  • —There is no argument about the lack of visible progress in dealing with the Philippines’ major problems; graft and corruption,3 peace [Page 502] and order, the widening gap between rich and poor, government inefficiency, and the inadequacies of top leadership.
  • —If there is general agreement that Philippine society is seriously ill, there is also equally firm agreement that a revolutionary situation does not exist. The reasons for the “perverse stability of this noisy, poorly governed, disorderly, under-achieving society” are:
  • —There is a political system in the Philippines. The Constitution has been in effect for 35 years without suspension or having been rewritten by a “strong man.” Peaceful transfer of power repeatedly takes place. There is general agreement that the system needs revision, but there is equal agreement that the mechanism to bring about changes should be the Constitutional Convention.
  • —In other developing countries of Asia we are concerned because the provinces do not identify with the capital. This is definitely not the case in the Philippines. A good internal civil air network, a nationwide radio network, and an excellent newspaper distribution system provide good communication within this society.
  • —The Filipino is addicted to elections and if much energy is absorbed in the political game it fulfills the special purpose in the Philippines of serving to deal with the oriental problem of face. The Filipinos are unusual in Asia for knowing how to find a respected place for defeated ex-Presidents.4
  • —The Philippine press helps drain off revolutionary pressure. This is a compulsively open society, where the life span of a secret is measured in hours. Scandals are hyper-ventilated. After a while this produces not indignation but boredom. A comparable phenomenon is indifference to student martyrs. The normal level of casual violence is so high in the Philippines that there is no general sense of outrage when a few students are shot.
  • —The private sector of the economy works well. The road to wealth is open to the ordinary dishonest man. In most of developing Asia this road is controlled by the military.
  • —The Filipino is less interested in good government than in government that is good to him. Like a gambler in Las Vegas, the system may wipe him out, but he is no more interested than the gambler in changing it. Tomorrow he may strike it lucky.
  • —Sheltered in his extended family system, linked by dual tires of loyalty and obligation upward and downward in the social structure, the Filipino is almost never alone, either actually or figuratively. The [Page 503] individual loneliness and alienation that is deeply troubling the society of the West is almost unknown in the Philippines. This is perhaps the essential reason why the average Filipino is optimistic about the future. To the despair of the revolutionaries, he has not lost his sense of humor, he is not bitter.
  • —What are the limits? How much more can the long-suffering Filipino take before he accepts the arguments of those favoring violent change? Consensus for change develops slowly in a democracy, and if the needed change is basic as it is in the Philippines, it often takes a severe crisis to generate and sustain the consensus.
  • —The alternative to peaceful reform in the Philippines is probably not revolution but anarchy. Those who try to end the anarchy may come from either the Right or Left but they will have to accept the fact that the Filipino will not tolerate too much government. He will be intractable and rebellious if his individualistic way of life is denied him.
  • —The democratic values which the U.S. planted in the Philippines have now assumed their own indigenous forms. The roots are deep and if we have faith in the capacity of our own society to change and survive, we cannot give up hope for the Philippines.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 557, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. III. Confidential. Sent for information. The memorandum indicates the President saw it. A notation in Nixon’s handwriting to Kissinger reads “K—Do letter as I wrote.” Regarding this letter, see footnote 5 below.
  2. Tab A, Political Counselor Underhill’s report, sent as valedictory observations upon leaving the Philippines, was sent from Manila as airgram A–36, January 27. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL Rogers forwarded it under cover of a memorandum to the President on February 25. Attached but not printed.
  3. For a different view of corruption and the abuse of power in the Philippines, see airgram A–4 from Cebu, February 8. (Ibid., POL 15–4 PHIL)
  4. Nixon underlined the last sentence (beginning with the word “how”) and wrote in the margin: “Like Mexico.”
  5. At the end of the memorandum Nixon wrote: “Dear Mr. Underhill: The Secretary of State has called to my attention your Airgram of __. This is one of the most perceptive, incisive and thoughtful analyses I have ever seen in reading hundreds of such reports over the past 20 years. The Nation is fortunate to have a man of your analytical ability in our foreign service. Cc to Rogers.” Attached but not printed is an undated letter to Underhill signed by President Nixon incorporating the notation almost verbatim.