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

9362. 1. I am fully aware that this highly restricted channel should not be overdone, and hope things will develop so that perhaps this can be the last in this series for a while.

2. This message is to state that, both in my own opinion and that of my entire senior staff, we believe that we should now consider very seriously whether we have any sensible options left other than to accept and—in so doing—to assist as we can the effort by Marcos to build a “new society” in the Philippines. Our general reporting had indicated widespread local acceptance of his announced intentions and first firm steps in the direction of achieving reforms, registered in almost all levels of society here. What has been missing so far is any specific indication of the position we felt the USG should take in this matter. This is quite proper up to a point, but we are arriving at the stage where it will be desirable, we think, for private indicators to begin to be given. Also more and more—on a daily basis now—we are being faced with decisions that will in one way or another give some clue to our view, or, at least, be interpreted as such. As you will see later on in this message I do not visualize the need for, or recommend, any U.S. public statement of support.

3. The Liberal Party is in obvious disarray, with a sizeable grouping apparently ready to give public support to the measures Marcos is [Page 563]taking. But lest anyone think we should be too concerned over the plight of the opposition party, let me say the following: with the exception of a very few very solid people, patriots without doubt, the rank and file of the Liberal Party are nothing one could pin any great hopes on for the future of the Philippines. Were they in a position to come into power—the chances of which are now remote (but weren’t good anyway)—this would not have represented a real hope of moving the Philippines toward meaningful reform. Dedicated as some very few of its leaders are, they do not seem to have the strength and guts to really control their followers. In general, a Liberal Party victory, which I think very unlikely in the near future anyway, would in time simply have renewed the old process of putting new hands in the till, with disappointment again for real change in the Philippines.

4. I conclude now that we should quietly continue business as usual with the GOP, including Marcos, watching all the while for any abuse of his new powers. For the short term, at least, I feel almost certain he will not do so. He knows now, in my opinion, that he is literally on a “life or death” course. He also knows that our support for meaningful social reform programs will be critical in the year ahead. There is real question in our minds as to whether the GOP can muster the minimum pesos for a sufficient effort without support from our own planned expanded programs. They can, I think, get off to a good start alone, but thereafter much will depend on us. At that time our ability to perform would depend on active program planning now on present programs and prompt consideration of such changes as we may want to recommend.

5. For our part, I do not believe we should be impervious to the apparent fact that a majority in this society have spoken out more quickly than we anticipated along the lines of giving Marcos a chance for meaningful social reform. Certainly we would not want doubts and hesitations on our part to build up any belief that we do not want the same thing for the Philippines. If reform can happen at least to the degree that would preclude the label “failure” from resulting, it cannot help but be beneficial to our own interests and future relations. And, alternatively, if the current efforts of Marcos come to be labeled “failure” there would be the prospect of very serious troubles, indeed, in the Philippines which could affect not only our business interests, but also our security interests as well. It is worth noting in this connection, that at least so far there has been no hint, in the trends that government pronouncements are taking, to blame the past and present ills of the Philippines on the foreigner, which has so often been the case in underdeveloped countries around the world in efforts to move to reform their societies. Our own interest would seem to dictate that we try to keep it this way.

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6. As I say, I don’t see the desirability of the USG taking any public role in explicit support of Marcos, or even of publicly expressing mild hopes that much needed reforms can come to the Philippines. This could be useful to offset some quite unbalanced reporting by temporary press visitors (in contrast to that of the wire services which has been much better informed and balanced) but even so I don’t see such a need to commit us. On the other hand, I think we are already in a period where nothing positive in our programs should be held up in a “wait and see” attitude. For instance, if it becomes possible to announce the grand aid reconstruction funds now being discussed with our Congress—then I think we should go right ahead without delay. This of course would be an indirect indicator, but even so it is for a good and popular cause, and there can be no conceivable gain from delay. Monies such as this are not actually spent in the very short term anyway, and we will have opportunities along the way to delay or withhold actual dispersement if things later on seem to be going sour.

7. I have had a fear that staff action in Washington on all matters re the Philippines may be suspended due to uncertainty following the declaration of martial law. I hope this is not the case, and at this point we would like the record to show that we want this Mission’s recommendations over the last few months to stand, and we hope staff work can continue on them. I know some of these recommendations cause you difficulty, but I want to repeat that as of now they still remain the recommendations of this Mission concerning what we believe is best for US interests. (We have the tape of Marcos’s talk with Till Durdin. He still is planning an across-the-board broad scale talk early next year with us on economic and security matters, as he told me some time ago.)

8. In making your assessment of this situation, I suggest you keep in mind that a long drawn out posture of “hesitation” on the part of the United States would indeed be, or at least should be, considered as an important and definite decision on our part. We may very well soon want to adopt the posture, here at least, of pursuing every reasonable avenue that may be available to us in trying to ensure that this situation comes out right.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 557, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. IV. Top Secret; Priority; Nodis.