305. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • U.S.

    • President Carter
    • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs
    • Mike Armacost, Staff Member, National Security Council
  • Philippines

    • Mrs. Imelda Marcos
    • Ambassador Eduardo Z. Romualdez, Ambassador to the United States
    • Juan Ponce Enrile, Minister of Defense
    • Estelito P. Mendoza, Solicitor General
    • Carlos P. Romulo, Minister of Foreign Affairs

The President expressed appreciation for the letter from President Marcos which Mrs. Marcos had given him at lunch.2 He informed Mrs. Marcos that he had instructed Dr. Brzezinski to examine it and to consult with Harold Brown and Cy Vance to assure expeditious follow-up. The President affirmed the U.S. desire to strengthen mutual defense arrangements with the Philippines. He said he regarded President Marcos’ proposal for an overall analysis of mutual defense plans, a constructive idea. In particular he believed that joint assessment of Philippine defense requirements was in order. Out of such an assessment could come specific recommendations concerning air defense, improvements in radar coverage and provisions for war reserve stocks in the Philippines.

The President acknowledged Philippine concerns over the question of sovereignty over the bases. He affirmed that the United States Government understands that sovereignty over the bases rests with the Philippines and indicated that we would be happy to reaffirm this understanding publicly. He added that there is one area in which we have a problem—namely, criminal jurisdiction cases. We have arrangements for dealing with this issue with other allies, and these arrangements—which appear to be working satisfactorily—establish limits on the adjustments we can make in our procedures in the Philippines. But we would be glad to discuss this issue if the Philippine Government has a problem.

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The President took note of the fact that the new U.S. Ambassador, David Newsom, would be taking up his new assignment in Manila in late October. When Newsom arrives in the Philippines, he said, one major task would be to work out satisfactory arrangements for sustaining or modifying our base arrangements. The President expressed the belief that we have a good opportunity at this point to terminate slight differences that have existed in the past and he said he attached great importance to this effort.

Mrs. Marcos expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet President Carter. She expressed the hope that those deficiencies in our defense arrangements to which President Marcos had referred to in his letter could be worked out with Ambassador Newsom. She emphasized the serious problem the Filipinos faced with the Muslim insurgency in the south. She suggested that while the acquisition of radar, all-weather planes, and other modern defense equipment were important to the Philippines, these would not be in and of themselves a sufficient deterrent to subversion—which she added posed greater dangers in Southeast Asia than direct conventional attacks.

She noted that the Philippines finds itself in a somewhat beleaguered position, located close to neighbors with alien systems and ideologies, and occupying an intermediate position between the East and the West and between Christianity and Islam. In this situation, she said, the Philippines requires strong leadership. “Without a strong leader like Marcos, we would long since have disintegrated.” While Mrs. Marcos allowed the inference that her government has various foreign policy options, she affirmed that the Filipinos have always been most comfortable with the United States, and prefer to maintain close ties with the U.S.

She urged understanding on the human rights issue; asserting that the Philippines sought to approximate the United States’ political system within the limits imposed by its economic development and security situation. Mrs. Marcos said that her husband had asked her to convey to President Carter his own desire to come to the United States when he could come as an asset to the President rather than as a liability.

The President indicated that President Marcos would always be welcome and that he considered him a firm friend of the United States. The President also affirmed that we consider the Mutual Defense Treaty to be binding upon us; the Philippine Government need have no concern that we would violate its terms. Our friendship is important, the President said, not merely for its benefits to the Philippines and to the United States but because it contributes to the stability of the region. The President then noted that he did not fully understand how the acquisition of advanced aircraft and enhanced radar coverage would [Page 1005] enable the Philippines to deal more effectively with the primary security problem of internal subversion.

Mrs. Marcos explained the requirement for advanced planes, radar, and patrol boats in terms of potential threats from the outside, e.g. Vietnam. But she emphasized again that the most immediate threat derived from the Mindanao secessionist movement supported by some outside elements. She referred to President Marcos’ belief that if the United States cannot relate its defense treaty to this pressing problem, then the Philippines would have to extend its own military self-reliance. Mrs. Marcos pinpointed the primary Filipino concern: (1) their inability to secure necessary equipment in a timely way, and (2) resentment at having to ask for aid like mendicants when the Filipinos regarded this as a legitimate quid pro quo (rent) for the bases.

Dr. Brzezinski asked what military threats worry the Philippines the most. Defense Secretary Enrile indicated that there are two problem areas. First, there are internal problems. The New People’s Army poses problems in the north; the Muslim separatists pose a threat in the south. Some, he said, define the problem in the south as an internal problem, but there is an international dimension given the support provided the Muslims from countries like Libya. Secondly, the Philippines faced possible threats from outside, most notably from a unified Vietnam which asserts claims to some islands close to Palawan. President Marcos has asked the Defense Department to undertake an assessment of what was needed to cope with these threats. With regard to the external threats, Enrile suggested improved radar coverage, additional naval capabilities to patrol Philippine territorial seas, and a more credible air defense are among priority requirements.

Dr. Brzezinski asked why the Philippines needs a more advanced interceptor aircraft, and he pointed to the impressive performance of F–5s in the Ethiopian-Somali conflict.

Enrile indicated the Ethiopians have F–5E’s; the Filipinos have older F–5A models.

The President asked what kinds of threats did the Philippines foresee at sea.

Enrile said they need a capacity to cope with interference in their territorial seas by foreign vessels up to destroyer size. Specifically, they wanted additional patrol boats equipped with missiles like the Gabriel or the Harpoon.

The President suggested that we should start with a joint examination of mutual defense needs in the Philippines.

Enrile said that they had been thinking of requesting U.S. help in analyzing the defense position of the Philippines. This assessment could then be used to provide a basis for a joint plan for Philippine defense and for determining equipment priorities.

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The President said he felt it would be best that he and President Marcos review the same assessment.

The President asked what were the most urgent equipment deficiencies.

Enrile said that the most urgent need was for the replacement of equipment lost in fighting in Mindanao, particularly 105 howitzers and armored personnel carriers. While the U.S. had promised to provide these items to the Philippines, he said, delivery is not scheduled until 1981.

Dick Holbrooke suggested that recent developments put us in a new era culminating in the letter from President Marcos. The primary task now is to capitalize on this new emphasis on mutual benefit and mutual respect to negotiate a mutually satisfactory base agreement. He identified the key difficulties as problems of timing and of securing Congressional support.

The President said that a fruitful beginning could be made by looking jointly at requirements. He said he saw no major differences between our views and those expressed in President Marcos’ letter. If we come to slightly different assessments of Philippine defense needs, we can work that out later.

Mrs. Marcos noted that there had been a complete change in the atmospherics of US-Philippine relations in recent months. In the past it was difficult to get through to Washington. There was no response to Filipino requests. U.S. officials were not prepared to look at problems in a comprehensive way. Thus she expressed satisfaction with the straight-forwardness of the Americans who had recently come to Manila to discuss economic and defense issues. A new leaf has been turned, she said, toward a relationship of equality.

The President said he should be frank about one matter, namely, the Congressional and public perceptions of the human rights situation in the Philippines. He said he was gratified by President Marcos’ recent statements on this issue, but noted that a question still remains in the minds of many Americans. He suggested it would be especially beneficial for Philippine accomplishments in this field to be widely publicized. Initiatives and implementation of President Marcos’ plans ought to be widely known. The President added that the United States also has problems in this area, that we expect to be criticized when criticism is warranted, and that we intend to disseminate information about our own progress widely.

Mrs. Marcos said that she expected “normalization” soon. When the “southern problem” cools down, normalization (i.e. national elections) will occur—perhaps within the next several months.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Armacost Chron File, Box 5, 10/1–14/77. Secret. The meeting took place in the Presidential Suite at the Plaza Hotel.
  2. See Document 303.