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

8936. Ref A. Manila 8424,2 B. Manila 8619,3 C. Manila 8734,4 D. State 171335.5

Yesterday local [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reports began to be quite specific about the imminent imposition of martial law. On top of this Bob Wales of Mobile gave me in written form his memo of conversation with Marcos the day before which generally paralleled matters that Marcos had told Johnson of Caltex previously reported. We are classifying these two documents and will send them by pouch. For purposes of brevity, I will not herein summarize the memorandum of Wales, except to report its last sentence which is as follows: “Marcos ended up the discussion by saying that it would be a tragedy if he had to declare martial law if he was not supported by his ally, the United States”.
I decided I had no alternative but to undertake quickly the potentially dangerous task of a real heart to heart with Marcos on issues as delicate as his own plans and ambitions. Last night proved impossible but I had a very long session with him this morning.
I told Marcos that to save time he should assume that I knew in detail the important matters he had discussed with Johnson and Wales, except possibly for company matters which were not my concern. I said I did not believe he should place any blame on these two individuals, as they were conscientious Americans who realized that they were getting into matters of proper concern to me and to their government. He said he understood this very well (I think it obvious all along that he assumed they would talk to me).
I told Marcos that I was not seeing him for the purpose of preparing a report for Washington. I said I had a message asking me if I thought martial law was about to be declared, and whether we thought it necessary. I said I did not come even specifically to talk abut that, but on matters perhaps even more fundamental.
I said I was not under instructions and anything I might say would at this point be just personal from me. My motive was to try to achieve better understanding so that neither one of us might make a major miscalculation. I said that if I did so, nothing more would happen other than I would get fired and go look for a new job, and history would in no way be changed. On the other hand, if he, as head of state, were to make a miscalculation based upon some failure of mine to communicate, this could turn out to be of real importance.
He asked what I had in mind. I replied, a great many things, but I supposed we might just as well start with the question of martial law. He said he thought maybe we had better not discuss it directly, because he had to remain in a position where he could say that he had not accepted my advice. I told him that I was not in his presence to advise him on such a decision that only he can make, but I thought we did have to discuss the matter and quite frankly. I told him that he himself had told me that he might have to move if there were some new and significant event. This could mean at any given time that we might be only one day away. Also that one of his last remarks to Wales had brought up the question of our support. Moreover, the question had arisen as to whether New York could not urge more Washington support for him and his government.
I said I thought it was necessary to reflect a bit on the obvious. We did not have a dictatorship, but a big sprawling bureaucratic working democracy. I said that his brother-in-law’s idea of trying to sneak into Washington under an assumed name and making a secret deal or understanding with somebody after midnight went out of vogue about the time of Teddy Roosevelt. I said that efforts on the part of New York, even with our President, could turn out utterly fruitless provided things happened where even our President could not get what he wanted in the way of legislative support, etc.
I reminded him again that it was terribly important that he understands that it was only I, a friend, talking to him personally and privately. In that context, I said I wanted to talk to him about the type of things that cause me to pace the floor. He said he understood completely and I should go ahead without hesitation. I then reminded him that we are in the wind-up phase of an extremely important election campaign in our own country. I said I thought McGovern would seize on anything like a military takeover in the Philippines in an effort to use it as the final proof of his charge that the foreign policies of Nixon, particularly in the Asian area, were a total failure. I said I thought he would scream that “even the Philippines” had been so badly messed up that the very form of government which we instituted here was now in the hands of military dictatorship, supplied by our equipment. He would probably try to make a major thing of it, proving that this was the beginning of another Vietnam “even in the Philippines.” I said [Page 552] I know Nixon pretty well, and I thought he would be greatly upset if the Philippines gave the appearance of blowing up in his face at a time like this. I returned to the idea that our hands could become so tied up that as a practical fact we couldn’t do any of the things we really wanted to do for the Philippines.
Marcos said he had made no decision to move towards martial law, and he had never considered anything beyond that, such as military rule. He did admit, however, that planning for martial law was at an advanced state. He said that under any conditions he could foresee he would not consider any extra-constitutional moves in the Philippines. We then got into a discussion as to what type of events had to happen under the Philippine Constitution wherein it would be constitutional to declare martial law. He concluded that words might have a different meaning for us and the Philippine Constitution was perhaps broader in this respect than our own.
At one point I said maybe we needed his help and the help of his intelligence people, as it was obvious that he and they must know many things in this country that we could not know. I said it was difficult for us to start off with a band of armed men numbering somewhere around a thousand, mostly in the Hills and, with assumed figures as to the extent of their base and mass support, to conclude that the Philippine Government was in danger of being toppled. He said that, of course, was true, and he did not consider the government to be under that threat at the present time, but he said the very effectiveness of government was threatened and that was enough for him to move legally.
Marcos told me at one point that guns were not the answer. He said he did not mean that over the long haul that the Philippines did not need adequate military forces. He then went into quite a brilliant description of the state of things in the Philippines and the absolute necessity for social reform. He said after all of his years in government, including seven in the Presidency, that he did indeed question the ability of the Philippines to achieve adequate reforms in time under the present system. His descriptions of its evils, and graft and corruption, of the impossibility of getting adequate legislation, and adequate resources for desperately needed reforms could hardly have been equalled by any harsh critic of this country. It is hard to escape [garble] that he thinks that his place in history might be made if he had the power of drastic reform. He might even see at this point this is his only route to regain his popularity even to the point where he could win handily in a future election, although he made no reference to either of these thoughts.
We then went on in an unusually relaxed and friendly session, even for us, to discuss many other things which will be reported separately, and with different classification.
As I was about to leave he suddenly changed the subject and said “how long is it to your elections?” I said, “about six weeks.”
Whether or not I have succeeded in at least postponing new developments here until after our elections, I do not know. I ask White House tolerance in tossing around the name of our President so freely, but it was my judgment that I should pull out all stops on this one.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 557, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. IV. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 7:14 a.m.
  2. Dated September 7. (Ibid.)
  3. Dated September 13. (Ibid.)
  4. Document 256.
  5. Not found.