[Page 544]

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

8734. Ref: Manila 8424.2

In order to deal with the obvious complexities of the developing situation in Philippines which we have been analyzing in our recent series of cables,3 I should like to try to dissect the problem into more digestible proportions. We might first of all separate things into two categories: (1) The extension of Marcos in power by political means which are permissible under the Constitution, and (2) Extension in power by such means as martial law. There was no hint of the latter in his talk with Johnson, although he did list it as a possibility, in event the situation so warranted, with Senator Inouye.4
Barring unforeseen circumstances, I believe that Marcos can extend himself by constitutional means without our support, which, of course, he would not ask for unless he needed it. I believe he has the capability, for instance, of getting the Constitutional Convention to approve the concept of a transitional government with him as head for two years in preparation for a shift of parliamentary rule in 1975. He could do this by securing support from all those in the present Legislature who would be automatically extended, and bringing the Constitutional [Page 545]Convention (ConCon) body into the transition government to satisfy the appetities of its members there who are eager to run for public office. He could also bring drafting of the Constitution to an early enought conclusion, I think, so that (if approved by plebiscite) the parliamentary system would go into effect with national elections set for November 1973.
Having the ability to accomplish some combination of the above, I think Marcos will not ask for our help. He would only be interested in whether we would oppose him or try to thwart his plans. This may seem rather far fetched to non-students of the Philippines. But notwithstanding proponents of low profile, the position of the President of the United States and his representative here is still absolutely unique here as compared to other countries. A majority of Filipinos would even at this point in time list my position (not me) as the second most important position in the Philippines. A minority, although sizeable, would still list it as the most important. With these considerations in mind, and Marcos knows them well, our attitude on any given question is still a very important factor.
If Marcos wants to extend by constitutional means, and we intervene, (which I think we would not at this point, all things considered) we might be in a position to buy considerable benefit to ourselves by simply letting him know that we would not oppose in any way his continuation in power by constitutional means. These matters, we could say, are internal to the Philippines on which we would naturally take no position or action. However, we would want to make clear at the same time the importance we attach to the constitutional legality of these means. All of this, of course, would be quite private, and Marcos would want it that way.
At the same time we should have no hesitation at all to ask him to take specific steps in the interest of our mutual business relationships, which after all are basically good for the Philippines. Nor do I think it outside the realm of possibility that we might get a good share of them. Montelibano (principal spokesman for the sugar industry), for instance, and I think with the President’s blessing or at least knowledge, is openly advocating an extension period of 10 to 15 years for the transition of American interests (Laurel is saying this very privately). I believe that this goes byeond his own interests in the sugar quota. I think Montelibano is convinced along with many others that any quick transition will end up in drastic deterioration of the Philippine economy.
I am in favor of the proposition of getting what we want now, while Marcos is legitimately in power, in the nature of constitutional provisions and laws which could be expected to extend beyond his tenure. In my first two years here Marcos played quite above board [Page 546]with me, but this situation had deteriorated somewhat due to his doubts that we can go along with his extension in power. My own attitude is that, if Marcos can keep his fingers crossed behind his back while making agreements with us, so can we—and we can also judge the future and our position completely in our own interests as time passes.
If we are going to go down this route with Marcos, we will want to broaden our support here as much as possible at the same time, and not narrow it down to him personally. There are many in and out of government who are vitally interested in the issues of trade preferences, sugar quotas, etc. I would say we should go ahead with the above, we should find some way of getting trade preferences for the Philippines, we should find some way of assuring them on sugar, and we should go ahead with the new approach I have recommended in the security field on military assistance. Incidentally, our recommendations in the latter field do not in any way greatly enhance a military capability that can be used against the Filipino people.
The second category mentioned above leads us into the question of extension of power by extra-constitutional means. It should be pointed out at the outset that a declaration of martial law, if carried out for the purposes specified in the Constitution, is not in itself, of course, an extra-constitutional step. It could become so if its purpose is extension in power, which obviously is outside the spirit of the Constitution.
I asked Marcos yesterday if he were about to surprise us with a declaration of martial law. He said no, not under present circumstances. He said he would not hesitate at all in doing so if the terrorists stepped up their activities further, and to a new stage. He said that if a part of Manila were burned, a top official of his Government, or foreign ambassador, assassinated or kidnapped, then he would act very promptly. He said that he questioned Communist capability to move things to such a stage just now and asked my views. I said I thought it a bit premature in their plans, but the present atmosphere undoubtedly increased their recruiting capability. He said 3,000 students were no longer in greater Manila universities (implying they have allied themselves with the dissidents—a figure we cannot sustain), and that if it were inevitable he would just as soon see them go for big things now in order to get this period of indecision over with!
Marcos could be encouraged in this course by a growing popular concern over the deteriorating law and order situation, particularly on the part of the influential Philippine business leaders, as well as government technocrats. The latter have felt for some months now that a firmer hand at the tiller is necessary to control this situation and the spreading corruption, as well as to remove political and legal obstacles [Page 547]to greater social reform. A rather surprising number of people seem to be in the mood of letting Marcos go ahead and take over with the hope he can straighten things out. This does not mean any great shift of popularity, although his position is somewhat better as reported elsewhere than say three months ago. Rather it is more a philosophical resignation to “who else is there?” There is without doubt a growing feeling that social reform under the present system just may not be possible. A legislature that represents the “status quo” will never agree to meaningful reforms. Also, nearly every action, even including clearance of obstacles from drainage canals which helped cause greater damage in the recent floods, can be stopped by hundreds of court injunctions. Among the articulate there is a growing feeling that revolution, “from the bottom” is inevitable unless “revolution from the top” is prompt and effective.
Romulo, in an amazing toast to the Korean Foreign Minister recently compared progress in Korea with that in the Philippines in a very unfavorable light for the latter. He concluded that under the present system of “complete democracy” the Philippines would never be able to keep pace with their Asian neighbors. On that same occasion he put his hand on my shoulder and said that “your brand of democracy clearly cannot get the Philippines out of its dilemmas and start her on the road to real progress.” He said that our system was for developed countries and developing countries could not afford this luxury. Later on I told him that in my opinion our brand of democracy really worked best while we were still in the process of development. He said that his people were different and the Filipino would never get out of their deterioration without a very strong hand to take them out.
Imposition of martial law, or an abandonment of the democratic constitution, would present us in America with a problem. Thailand, for instance, can change its governmental system with hardly a ripple felt in the United States. I do not believe this would be the case with regard to the Philippines, where we introduced our own brand of democracy.
This message brings you up to date both on reporting and analysis as we see things from here. We are working now trying to formulate as specifically as we can what seems to be reasonable positive action that might possibly be handled by the Supreme Court, the Legislature, and the ConCon. When we get this to you, you may have an easier task in providing Washington comments than has been the case with our reporting so far.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 557, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. IV. Top Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. Dated September 7. (Ibid.)
  3. In addition to telegram 8424 from Manila, these included telegram 164964 to Manila, September 9; telegram 8619 from Manila, September 13 (both ibid.); and telegram 8652 from Manila, September 13. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, FN 9 PHIL–US) The main issue of these telegrams was Marcos’ maneuvering to continue in power and to gain the support of the United States for such a development. The telegrams also dealt with economic issues, especially the ownership of property in the Philippines by Americans, including America-owned oil industry property and rights. Marcos intimated that U.S. economic concerns would be best met by U.S. support of his political moves. U.S. concern over the property rights of Americans in the Philippines was occasioned by a court case called the Quasha decision which, according to telegram 164964, “would appear not only to deprive U.S. citizens of their right to continue after 1974 to own land which they have acquired in good faith under Philippine law, but would also appear to put into doubt the current validity of their titles to such land, including the ability to convey good title to a would-be purchaser.” During the first week in September, however, the Marcos-dominated Supreme Court overturned the Quasha decision, a move which Byroade theorized in telegram 8424 may have been one of Marcos’ “first big moves to get our blessing, or at the minimum our acquiescence, to his extension in power.”
  4. According to telegram 8424, Senator Inouye gave Byroade an oral report of his “considerable time alone with Marcos.” Inouye said that Marcos had given him a long statement as to why it would be good for the Philippines if he remained in power. No other record of Inouye’s meeting with Marcos was found.