304. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S.-Philippines Relations


  • The Philippines

    • Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos, wife of President Ferdinand Marcos
    • Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo
    • Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile
    • Ambassador Eduardo Z. Romualdez
    • Solicitor General Estelito P. Mendoza
  • The U.S.

    • The Secretary
    • Undersecretary Habib
    • Assistant Secretary Richard Holbrooke
    • Kenneth Bleakley, EA/PHL (notetaker)

Greetings. The Secretary noted that a number of our colleagues have visited the Philippines recently, particularly Under Secretary Cooper and Assistant Secretary Holbrooke. Mrs. Marcos said that another visitor, Mrs. Portillo, wife of the President of Mexico, sends her greetings to the Secretary. Secretary Romulo opined that the U.S. had sent two good men—the two Richards. In response to a joking aside by the Secretary, Romulo responded that they had behaved very well. Mrs. Marcos whispered to Holbrooke that she wished to speak privately with the Secretary and all other participants departed.

[Page 999]

Private Talks. During the private sessions Mrs. Marcos said that President Marcos faced difficult problems. He sent his personal messenger because he did not feel he should come to the United States until human rights was no longer a potential embarrassment. She explained her views about human rights in the Philippines and raised several other questions about the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) and the War Powers Resolution, which were addressed again when the full group reconvened. The Secretary reassured her on both the MDT and the War Powers questions.

Base Negotiations. When the full meeting reassembled the Secretary reported that he and Mrs. Marcos had exchanged views on a number of issues in our relationship. He asked Holbrooke to review where we stand on base negotiations.

Holbrooke invited the Philippine Delegation to interrupt with their views as he outlined his understanding on the military relationship as follows:

(1) We have agreed to constitute a task force chaired by Secretary Ingles2 and Chargé Stull to remove irritants independently.

(2) Several major problems have been identified but the specifics remain to be taken up with Ambassador Newsom after his arrival the third week of October. (Secretary Vance interjected that Newsom has his full backing and that of the President.) Both sides agreed that formal panels were not the most efficacious means to achieve our objectives of agreement based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.

(3) The specific issues, “with which Romulo may or may not agree,” are:

a. [2 lines not declassified]

b. Mutual Defense Treaty—There is a question of its present value and the Philippines has sought clarification. We are ready with a written statement but do not believe that legalistic answers to hypothetical questions best serve our mutual interest. We reaffirm our intention to fulfill our obligation under the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. Secretary Vance said “we do reaffirm it.”

c. Sovereignty—There is no issue. (Vance and Habib reaffirmed U.S. full recognition of the Philippines sovereignty. Mrs. Marcos accepted the affirmation.)

d. Jurisdiction—There is a technical issue regarding jurisdiction which can be resolved by Solicitor General Mendoza and his colleagues.

e. Compensation—This is our big problem. We must find a mutually beneficial way to meet the Philippines requirements and get [Page 1000] a package through Congress. We do not mean to be contentious but must emphasize that congressional perceptions of human rights at the time any agreement is submitted will affect greatly their reaction to the overall agreement.

Holbrooke concluded by thanking the Philippines for their graciousness and hospitality. Vance and Habib stated that the above presentation reflected their views. The Philippine Delegation did not disagree with the outline of the issues as presented. Mrs. Marcos asked her colleagues to bring up individual matters of interest.

Sovereignty/Jurisdiction. Mendoza said he wanted to demonstrate that sovereignty and jurisdiction were identical. But Mrs. Marcos interrupted by saying that Secretary Vance had stated that sovereignty is no longer an issue and that she believes mutual defense is the most important topic. Secretary Vance said sovereignty is no problem; we reaffirm it. Holbrooke said: we can reach agreement on measures to demonstrate sovereignty. We made progress last year, for example, on flags. Secretary Vance noted that jurisdiction is a complicated legal issue as he well knew from his experience on SOFAs in the Defense Department in the 1960s. This is separate and apart from sovereignty and should be discussed among lawyers. (Mrs. Marcos nodded agreement.)

Mutual Defense. Secretary Vance emphasized that the War Powers Resolution does not preclude the President from acting and taking any steps he sees necessary. The Congress must act later. Mrs. Marcos replied defensively “this was what had transpired in the past and some quarters held the President impotent.” Holbrooke noted that Congressman Lester Wolff was floor manager for the resolution and had demonstrated to her earlier that afternoon that it did not negate the validity of the Mutual Defense Treaty. Mrs. Marcos stated that Wolff was knowledgeable on the Philippine situation. She invited questions from others.

Secretary Enrile said, “we have our reservations about the Mutual Defense Treaty. I am not here to complicate exploratory discussions and believe that we can discuss military cooperation at the proper time. What is important now is to know what the U.S. intentions really are.” Secretary Vance replied “we stand four square behind the treaty and there is no question about it.” Enrile said that the Philippines has been assured repeatedly by U.S. officials, still believes that the Philippines must contribute to mutuality in defense but is not in a position to do so. The Philippines has the manpower but requires some assistance to develop its own capability.

Insurgencies. Enrile talked of the serious threat in the Southern Philippines. He stated that though the insurgents were receiving foreign support the GOP had no intention of involving the United [Page 1001] States in the problem by invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty. He and Mrs. Marcos stated that they did not wish to alarm their people about renewed fighting in Mindanao but they did need equipment, particularly small arms. They need a military arrangement with the U.S. to provide adequate external defense (e.g., the Southern Philippines is blind to external attack due to lack of radar. They cannot see if an air or sea attack is coming and need patrol ships.) Vance said these are issues we can discuss and Holbrooke added that Bleakley had already taken up the concerns previously outlined by President Marcos, such as radar, with CINCPAC.

Compensation. Enrile said that, knowing the Philippine situation, they know their request for assistance is right. They don’t want to ask for grant aid from Congress every year and seek a more clear cut form so that people will know that it is not really a gratuitous allotment but rather a legal contribution for use of territory free of political questions, not based on outright dependency on the U.S. Mrs. Marcos added that the Philippines are a magnet for attack but do not have the capability to defend themselves and the President is apprehensive. Enrile said, “the U.S. has given strong words, but before you can act there is a time gap: in the interim we must defend ourselves.” Mrs. Marcos added that they were not talking of a sophisticated defense. She returned to the subject of Southern Insurgency.

Mrs. Marcos and Enrile talked of Libyan and Russian cooperation with Moro leaders3 and Philippine need for small weapons rather than sophisticated equipment to counter the threat in the South. Enrile stated that Libya was elevating the Moro question to the Islamic Conferences and that if they provide more help the Philippines will be in a terrible situation. The GOP has been afraid to alarm the people but two APCs have just been destroyed, overall 3,000 Philippines troops have been killed in action and 15–20,000 civilians have died. Enrile said 10,000 Muslims had been killed. Mrs. Marcos claimed 30,000. They repeated that they did not want to complicate relations with the U.S. but needed equipment and appreciated our help in the past. They did not want to seek alternatives from the Soviet bloc or others. “You use our bases; please help.” Vance noted that we are resolving questions about our cooperation and Mrs. Marcos said “yes.” Holbrooke noted that some aspects will require Congressional approval and that we will have to discuss timing which is important and has not yet been resolved. Vance indicated we can work this out as we go along. Enrile said that Marcos has given him permission to say “we will take care of our internal [Page 1002] problems; we need your assistance in providing equipment. The communists are active.”

Communist Threat. Secretary Vance asked if the communists were active all over. And Enrile said they were active in Luzon, the Visayas and Northern Mindanao. He said the Philippines could handle it but wants to avoid fighting on two fronts, especially with the Southern Secessionist Movement. In response to a question from Secretary Vance he indicated that the Peking oriented communist forces had around 2,000-armed regulars and that they caused problems around our bases. Mrs. Marcos added that they stole PX goods and threatened base security. In response to Vance’s questions on the type of equipment, Enrile enumerated “M–14s, grenade launchers, assorted M–16s, 80 millimeter mortars, Russian P–14 rockets, land mines, AK–47s in the south, and Belgian firearms.”

In response to another of Vance’s questions, Enrile said the insurgents were well trained, particularly those who trained in Sabah. President Marcos has moved to resolve the Philippine claim to Sabah. Holbrooke interjected that this was a statesmanlike action which strengthened ASEAN. Mrs. Marcos said that President Marcos as a former guerilla leader was aware that not much training is needed to make a guerilla as effective in the mountains as regular troops. Enrile noted that the Philippines had survived before but Mrs. Marcos countered that despite the eternal optimism of the Philippines there would be many sleepless nights ahead if the fighting goes on. Enrile concluded by stressing the Philippine desire not for compensation in dollars for the bases but rather that the U.S. provide equipment for mutual defense as allowable under U.S. law. Holbrooke stated that the most hopeful sign was President Marcos’ imaginative and creative attempts to arrive at a new approach to the issue. Vance said he would keep a personal eye on developments.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, 1976–1978, Lot 81D5, PCH Log, Sept. 17, 1977–October 31, 1977. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Kenneth Bleakley (EA/PHL); approved by Wisner (S/S) on October 11. The meeting took place at the UN Plaza in New York.
  2. Jose Ingles, Philippine Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Reference is to the Moro National Liberation Front.