260. Memorandum From the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • Philippine President Imposes Martial Law

President Marcos imposed martial law throughout the Philippines at midnight September 22. He proclaimed it officially at mid-day September 23, according to press reports, saying that it did not involve military rule and that civilian government would continue. We do not yet have the text of the proclamation, and thus do not at this point know its specifics, particularly as to whether Marcos suspended the Congress.

The situation at present is as follows:

  • —Numerous arrests of Marcos' critics have reportedly been made, according to Embassy Manila, including opposition Liberal Party Secretary General Aquino (whom Marcos recently accused of conspiring with the Communists), several other opposition politicians, and Manila Times editor Roces and several other journalists and commentators.
  • —All television stations and most radio stations have been closed, and no major newspapers appeared the morning of September 23. Radio stations are broadcasting no news.
  • —Domestic commercial flights have been cancelled, and Filipinos are allowed to board international flights only upon government permission.
  • —International cable and telephone traffic has been suspended.
  • —No U.S. citizens are known to be involved or endangered.

Background

Marcos' action followed an assassination attempt the evening of September 23 against his Defense Secretary in which no one was injured and the attackers were not apprehended. This attempt climaxed a two-week rash of urban bombings of government buildings, which have been somewhat unusual in that all occurred at night and very few have been injured. (Embassy Manila reports that public opinion remains about evenly divided as to whether these have been perpetrated by left extremists or staged by the government.)2 These acts have occurred against a backdrop of a steady growth over the past three [Page 557]years of rural insurgency—and more recently urban terrorism. Our Embassy believes that this increasing violence could render continued effective government difficult or impossible, but could not threaten its existence.

President Marcos' ambition to hold onto the Presidency after his constitutional limit of two terms runs out at the end of next year is well known. In this context, and as his first-term lustre as a reform president has dulled, he has constantly underlined the deteriorating security situation as posing a need for a strong leader and improved discipline. He is assisted in this by a growing public concern, especially among influential Filipino businessmen and government technocrats, over the declining civil order. Particularly the latter believe that badly-needed reforms are now possible only under strengthened governmental controls.

Likely Filipino Reaction

Embassy Manila estimates that the country will react with resigned acceptance, after the initial shock and uproar.3 Criticism of Marcos' action would diminish particularly if there is early evidence of movement toward meaningful reform. The Embassy believes that martial law could not be maintained over a long period without either a gradual return to normal constitutional rule or a drift toward more authoritarian forms. We believe that continued tight prohibition of dissent normally vented through the political opposition and media, important safety valves for the volatile Filipinos, would generate potentially dangerous political and social pressures.

Implications for U.S. Interests and Our Position

At least in the short term, martial law should pose no direct serious problems for U.S. security and economic relations with the Philippines. In fact, the climate for individual business operations might even be improved.

As to our position, I believe we should refrain from comment on Marcos' action, regarding it as a Philippine matter.4 This stance may well be interpreted as tacit U.S. support for Marcos' move, and result in criticism of us, particularly if Marcos does not make good use of his increased authority and the situation deteriorates. On the other hand, Marcos probably will appreciate such a stance on our part, and this should result in his continued cooperation in our maintaining effective access to our bases in the Philippines and his assistance in resolving U.S. private investment problems resulting from last month's Quasha [Page 558]decision. As you will recall, we are reviewing our Philippine policy in NSSM 155,5 and expect to forward policy options to you in the near future.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 557, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. IV. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Haig signed for Kissinger. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. In telegram 9087 from Manila, September 25. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 9087 from Manila, September 25. (Ibid.)
  4. A notation in Nixon's handwriting next to this sentence reads: “KLow key it.
  5. The NSSM 155 study was completed in early 1973 and resulted in NSDM 209, “U.S. Policy Toward the Philippines,” March 27, 1973. See footnote 2, Document 254.