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

5107. Summary: Ambassador and EmbOff separately have had serious talk with Senator Aquino about his current anti-American stance and efforts to publicize and have investigated our usage of military bases in the Philippines. While our previous analysis that Aquino’s actions are primarily for domestic political reasons still stand, it may be that some of his actions have been based, at least in part, upon a misunderstanding of facts or even miscalculation as to future U.S. policy and posture in the Pacific area.

Department should probably know that I recently used fairly strong words with Senator Aquino at a social affair. As I saw Aquino coming through the receiving line for Army Secretary Froehlke at Lagdameo’s [Page 537]house, I began maneuvering to the opposite side of his group of 120 guests as I had no desire to talk to him. Aquino, however, came directly to me with a query as to whether I had seen his most recent article. (I still do not know what he was referring to.)
Making certain that we were not overheard, I told Aquino I had seen several of his other articles and letters which concerned me deeply. I said I could only conclude that he had made some basic miscalculations based upon mis-information. I said I thought I detected in some of his moves and words a feeling that we might lose in Vietnam. I told him most emphatically that that was not the case. He said “But what are you going to do?” I finally got his shifty eye and made it very plain that we would do anything we had to do not to lose. He began to appear a bit uneasy and said, “But it is proven that the South Vietnamese will not fight.” I told him there again he is quite wrong, saying that he must be relying too heavily on press reports of sometime ago which were in general quite distorted.
Being careful to remain courteous and polite, I told him that as a distinguished Filipino citizen he was, of course, fully entitled to his views, and of course to make them public. I said he must remember, however, that we of course are entitled to our own feelings, and that we could hardly help but be concerned that he would mount an apparent attack on the use of our military bases at the very height of the current intensified Vietnam conflict.
We then got more into details and at times it appeared that Aquino was honestly surprised by some of the things I told him. For instance, when he referred to GI’s loading bombs underneath airplane wings at Clark I told him such reports were undoubtedly true. I said he must know that Clark is utilized for gunnery training by air force pilots both from the Philippines and other areas in the Pacific. The bombs closely resembled real ones but were most often filled with smoke marking material, concrete, etc. I said there had never been any secret about such things, reminding him that Marcos and I over a year ago had gone to Clark and handed the trophies to the Philippine air force, who in that gunnery competition had won over our own air force. I told him that he did not have to get conscientious objectors from Clark before a foreign senate body to find out such things. I asked why he did not ask Philippine pilots whose F–5–E’s are standing right next to ours on the alert ramp at Clark. I had assumed he would know this, as Clark is in his area, but he seemed flabbergasted. The conversation was broken at this point as we were seated at different tables for dinner. PolOff Ron Palmer was at Aquino’s table and he reported that Aquino told him that he was quite shaken up over his conversation with me, remarking that I had told him many things which he did not know and seemed contrary to what he had heard. The conversation was quite extensive, with Palmer answering his questions frankly and openly.
Aquino told Palmer that his experience at the Fuji Seminar on Japan’s role in world affairs in the 1970’s in late March had had quite an effect upon him. He said that Thanat Khoman and several other important people from the general area were there. He said it seemed to be the majority feeling of the delegates that the U.S. was in fact headed towards a “pull out” from the Asia area. He had thereupon begun to think what the Philippines should do to get prepared for this type of situation. Palmer reminded him that that conference was before President Nixon had shown the whole world, by a series of bold moves, that the U.S. was not going to lose in Vietnam. Aquino admitted that this was the case, but said that when he read the President’s conditions for getting out of Vietnam (i.e., cease fire and return of prisoners only), he had taken it as a clear signal that we were going to bug out. Palmer replied that if he were more up-to-date on our massive actions re Vietnam, he probably would feel differently about it.
The evening ended with Aquino asking Palmer if he would be willing to meet and talk about things some more. Palmer replied at the time that he had enjoyed the conversation and would like to talk again. I told Palmer the next morning he was free to do so. Now I find that Aquino that same morning called long-time American resident, Dave Sternberg, saying (falsely) that apparently doors in the Embassy were closed to him and asking to see Sternberg.
There is no doubt in the minds of either Palmer or me that Aquino took our conversation seriously. While our assessment of Aquino’s motives previously reported remains unchanged, I am inclined to think that maybe he has not been as well informed as we generally assumed. The pace of his daily activities is so great that he may not have spent the time on “facts” that we would have assumed.
In all of this, however, I find his remarks about the seminar in Japan most interesting. I have not been so concerned of late about the deleterious effect of the “American withdrawal” bugaboo that has concerned me so much in the past. In looking back I guess I had assumed that our present actions in Vietnam, beginning with the mine laying, had laid this one to rest for the time being. I do not, of course, assume for one minute that Aquino was necessarily telling the truth, while tacitly acknowledging his own ignorance, but on the other hand it would probably be unwise to be too sure that he was not. We will be watching for his next public utterances with interest.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL US. Confidential. Repeated to CINCPAC.