320. Memorandum of Conversations1


  • U.S. Side:

    • Vice President Mondale
    • Lee T. Stull, Charge d’Affaires
    • A. Denis Clift
    • James A. Johnson
    • Donald R. Toussaint, Deputy Chief of Mission
    • Bruce Dayton
    • Albert Eisele
  • Philippine Side:

    • Sister Irene Davalus, O.S.B.
    • Bishop Julio Xavier Labayan
    • President Diosado Macapagal
    • Gerardo Roxas, former Senator and Liberal Party leader
    • Salvador P. Lopez, former Foreign Secretary and President of University of the Philippines
    • DATE: May 3, 1978
    • TIME: 2:15 p.m.
    • PLACE: Philippine Plaza Hotel, Manila
  • U.S. Side:

    • Vice President Mondale
    • Lee T. Stull, Charge d’Affaires
    • A. Denis Clift
    • James A. Johnson
    • Donald R. Toussaint, Deputy Chief of Mission
    • Bruce Dayton
    • Albert Eisele
  • Philippine Side:

    • Jaime L. Cardinal Sin
    • Bishop Cirilo Almario
    • DATE: May 3, 1978
    • TIME: 4:15 p.m.
    • PLACE: Malate Church, Manila


While in Manila on an official visit, the Vice President held two private meetings for the purpose of discussing the human rights situation in the Philippines: One was with a group of five religious and political leaders; the second was with Jaime Cardinal Sin.

Both meetings were private (i.e., no press or other outsiders). The meeting with Cardinal Sin was announced in advance and, at his request, took place at the Malate Church. The plan for the meeting with the group, but not the names of participants, was also announced in advance; after the meeting, the participation of individuals was acknowledged in response to questions—in all but one case (Bishop Labayan, who specifically asked that there be no acknowledgement of his participation).

[Page 1039]

All the individuals who met with the Vice President represented the moderate middle of the spectrum of human rights activists. They are skeptical and critical of the present situation, but not revolutionary. The Catholic Church, as the only mass-based organization not controlled by the government, tends to act as a human rights ombudsman. Sister Irene Dabalus and Bishop Julio Labayan are leaders in the two major Church organizations in the Philippines: the Association of Major Religious Superiors (AMRSP), and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCP). Each has activist arms in the human rights field: notably the Task Force on Detainees, and the National Secretariat for Social Action. Churchwide, however, perhaps a majority of priests and nuns is conservative and disapproves of such activism.

The political leaders—former President Diosado Macapagal, former Senator and Liberal Party leader Gerardo Roxas, and former Foreign Secretary and President of the University of the Philippines Salvador P. Lopez—in normal times would probably be leaders of the “loyal opposition,” but increasingly they regard Marcos’ imposition of martial law as having destroyed his government’s legitimacy. They have helped keep the opposition movement alive and have worked to build a legal and moral case against martial law, partly by defending detainee rights and organizing small human rights-oriented groups. The opposition movement lacks cohesion but did coalesce to some degree during the election campaign.

Jaime L. Cardinal Sin, 49, is the youngest member of the College of Cardinals, having been named a Cardinal in April 1976. A native of the Visayan Islands in the Central Philippines, he spent most of his early career there. Sin is a political moderate who personally disapproves of martial law. He avoids direct confrontation with the government wherever possible, but he has spoken out on political issues on occasion.

He is currently chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the Church hierarchy’s policy-making body. President Marcos frequently seeks his advice on Church-State relations. He is regarded as strong-minded and solid, with a keen awareness of the problems of the poor and a disarming penchant for earthy humor.


There were notable similarities in the views expressed by Cardinal Sin and the five religious/political leaders. Both are deeply concerned over serious and growing deprivation of human rights under the Marcos regime; both urge a prompt end to martial law; both see an important and continuing role for the United States in the human rights field.

There were also striking differences.

—The group sees no hope of liberalization while Marcos remains in power and believes Marcos is motivated purely by his desire to [Page 1040] retain power. Sin has respect for Marcos’ intelligence and leadership qualities, sees development benefits from his rule and has some hope Marcos can be brought to liberalize his rule.

—The group is deeply concerned that Marcos is leaving no alternative except “a move to the left” for moderate reformers and democrats, youth and the disaffected. Sin is more concerned by “the left” as it is now, seeing it as the principal threat to Philippine society.

—The group believes U.S. aid to the Philippines (economic and military) helps to legitimize and prop up Marcos; they insist, at a minimum, the U.S. make no trade offs between U.S. security interests and human rights in the Philippines. Sin expressed concern the U.S. might abandon the Philippines and urges the continuation of U.S. assistance.

—The group left little doubt they see themselves as the opposition out to get rid of Marcos. Cardinal Sin was careful to make clear in words and demeanor he looks upon himself as a critic but not opponent of Marcos. End Summary.

I. Meeting with Group of Religious/Political Leaders

The first meeting opened with a frank comment by Roxas that the Vice President’s trip was ill timed. It would help to legitimize the Marcos regime shortly after the sham and shameful April elections, among the most fraudulent in Philippine history. He noted two facts which are the measure of the fraud:

—Manila has traditionally gone to “the opposition” in Philippine politics; a clean KBL sweep is simply not a credible outcome.

—Similarly, it is simply beyond belief that a man of Aquino’s stature and reputation would pull fewer votes than the lowest KBL candidate.

Roxas said the Marcos government is responsible for many, far more serious violations of human rights than fraudulent elections, including torture. He cited the case of Teotido Tantiado as the most recent example. Teotido Tantiado was a young aide to one of the Jesuit priests arrested on April 9 for participating in a demonstration protesting the conduct of the April 7 elections. Tantiado’s death in mid-April, despite a government investigation and announcement to the contrary, is believed by many to be the result of torture by security personnel. Clearly, the government has sought to cover up the fact that Tantiado was very roughly handled, perhaps tortured and that his death was the result of that treatment.

Father Labayan interjected that the list of missing persons—people who just disappear and are never heard from again—is definitely on the rise. He said the regime often seeks to justify arrests made on ground of “subversion.” The definition of subversion under martial [Page 1041] law, however, is so wide and all encompassing that many clergy simply cannot accept it as a crime.

When Roxas commented that Bishop Labayan was typical of the increasing number of clergy opposed to martial law, Labayan agreed and added that the clergy has considerable apprehension about being identified with a political group or party. The Church stands for human rights and a “God-given mission.” If the Church becomes lumped with a political group, its force is diluted and its human rights mission becomes suspect. (Bishop Labayan was the one member of the group who insisted that there be no publicity on or acknowledgement of his meeting with the Vice President.)

Ambassador Lopez then made the most forceful intervention of the meeting. Noting martial law had been going for five and a half years, he said that it had long ago outlasted the justifications made for it—the insurrection in Mindanao, the chaos and civil disorder elsewhere in the country, the threat from the New People’s Army, etc. It is impossible not to conclude that Marcos intends to continue martial law for an unlimited period into the future. Lopez noted there has been trouble in Mindanao since time immemorial. The Marcos justification of martial law as “a necessary tool for social reform” also makes it sound eternal since there will always be a need for social reform. What the Philippines faces is plain and simple dictatorial, one-man rule—an abuse of martial law beyond anything previously experienced in this country. Lopez said the Filipinos resent this situation in large part because of the values they learned during 50 years of American rule. “We have been good or at least ardent students of American democracy and we now see the chance that, through the work of one single person, the experience and efforts of 50 years will go down the drain.” Noting this was a painful thing for a nationalist to say, Lopez said he hoped the U.S. would and could do something about this situation—a situation so serious that all avenues must be explored, including help from outside. He said the job of change and reform must be done by the Filipino people—but “we need your help.”

Roxas joined in to say that the U.S. should, at least, avoid making it difficult for those in the Philippines who seek reform. U.S. actions, including economic and military aid, can have the effect of propping up the Marcos regime—and the U.S. must avoid using its foreign policy tools in a way which perpetuates unhealthy or undesirable regimes.

Roxas then said one of his greatest concerns about the present situation is that there is no place for the moderate opposition and moderate reform elements to turn—no place to fit in; as a result, such elements are being forced to move to the left. He sees this happening in many elements of society, particularly the young. “This is becoming a very real and very serious danger.” Bishop Labayan nodded his complete [Page 1042] agreement and said there are many in the clergy who are gravely concerned “about the radicalization of the opposition” in the Philippines. Their concern is so great that they even talk about the Philippines becoming another Vietnam.

Sister Irene took the floor to air four concerns which she said were hardly radical or unrealistic:

—there must be an end to mass arrests, prolonged detention and torture of political prisoners. The answer her group urges is amnesty.

—there must be a restoration of the rights of labor; i.e., the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike. Otherwise, the status of Philippine labor will continue to move downward—and it will become the worst in Southeast Asia.

—steps must be taken to preserve the rights of tribal Filipinos to their lands and their cultural heritage.

—the charges against opposition candidates in the recent election must be dropped completely. It is an absurd situation to charge such candidates with “subversion” since most of them had been encouraged to run by the government.

Macapagal then made some lengthy comments. He said the emphasis of the Carter/Mondale administration upon human rights has infused some hope among opposition elements in the Philippines. He thought the policy, as pursued in the Philippines, has demonstrated that President Marcos is amenable to outside pressure on human rights or humanitarian questions. Since it has been shown such pressures produce results, the real question boils down to this: can Marcos successfully intimidate the U.S.—as he has successfully intimidated the Philippine people? Macapagal said Marcos began to try such intimidation immediately after the Vietnam war and has continued it ever since, using the bases as his primary leverage. Marcos looks upon the bases as his major tool or weapon in persuading the U.S. to accept, even collaborate with, his dictatorial rule. He was successful in getting the Ford administration to agree to negotiations for rental or compensation for the bases. He is hopeful of pursuing the same effort with the new U.S. administration; his aim is to get money which can be used to strengthen his own forces and his own position.

Macapagal said there is no urgency at all to conclude negotiations about the bases. The present agreement is valid until 1991. Any agreement to pay rent or provide compensation at this point will simply involve the U.S. in “aiding and abetting the oppressor of the Philippine people.” He asked whether the U.S. stake in the bases is so great and so intense that it takes precedence over the other values for which the U.S. has long fought. He said the greatest contribution the U.S. could make to human rights in the Philippines at the present time would be [Page 1043] to delay the base negotiations until there is a restoration of democratic rights and the institutions to protect them. Ambassador Lopez enthusiastically supported this thought—adding there “should never be any trade off between bases and security interests of the U.S. and the human/political rights of the Philippine people.”

The Vice President, after expressing his sincere appreciation for the group’s interest in meeting with him, explained the essence of the new approach being taken by the Carter administration is to bring traditional American values into the conduct of foreign policy. He cited due process, supremacy of law, and independence of judiciary as examples of the type of values or institutions which have served so well the growth of American society. He noted that one reason President Carter and he had been elected was the fulfillment of certain human or political rights by an important minority in the United States.

He then explained briefly some of the steps taken to bring human rights into foreign policy (e.g., an Assistant Secretary of State in the human rights field,2 a procedure for reviewing loans in relation to the human rights record,3 etc.). He stressed that the effort is a pioneering one, no one is sure which elements of the effort will prove successful and which ones may have to be altered. It is, however, a fundamental and long-term change in American foreign policy.

He said the timing of his trip had been considered very carefully. It had been decided to reschedule it after the completion of the Panama Canal debate4—a debate which, in itself, was in many ways a human rights problem since the previous canal regime was the last vestige of American colonialism. It had been decided to proceed with the trip to Southeast Asia—in part because of the belief the visit itself would generate thinking and action in the field of human rights.

II. Meeting with Cardinal Sin

The Vice President began by noting he was on a difficult mission. He said there are many practices and institutions in the Philippines which come from the United States. He was interested in knowing how the use of such institutions could be improved—how the record in the human rights field, for example, might be bettered. Perhaps we [Page 1044] saw the difficulties being faced in this field as a reflection upon us, since the Philippines is our only former colony.

Cardinal Sin said it should be remembered that martial law still exists in the Philippines. There are definitely two sides to this situation. The negative side consists of detention without trial, allegations of torture and lengthy imprisonment. The positive side consists of a greatly improved road network and an impressive and growing physical infrastructure. Cardinal Sin commented that he seeks to let the government leaders, including President Marcos, know the truth; this means telling them frankly about the negative side of martial law. He commented that there is tremendous friendship for the United States in the Philippines—including the countryside—because the U.S. had saved the country from Japanese occupation.

Asked how he saw the future and whether he could foresee the end of martial law, the Cardinal expressed the hope that, with the election of the new parliament, there will be some new thinking about ways of moving away from martial law. Asked about the recent elections, the Cardinal said real opposition had shown itself only in the Metro Manila area; the rest of the country had been free of such opposition. He said there had been some fraud and cheating in the election—but it was not for him or the Church to say how much. He had urged everyone to participate in the elections and to faithfully report any instances of fraud or misrepresentation. As a result, he said, his house had been converted into a Comelec (Commission of Elections) office—what some in the Church call a “house of Sin.” “Files and files” of complaints about misdeeds during the election have been collecting in his house. He had become the channel for citizens’ complaints—in effect, performing the function of senators and representatives. The Cardinal asked his Secretary General (of the Catholic Bishops Conference) to comment on electoral fraud. Bishop Alnamo replied that it was difficult to speak generally and he could verify significant fraud only in his own diocese of Las Pinas.

The Cardinal said the businessmen are not talking very much about the recent elections or the political situation; they are too concerned for their own prosperity. The professional people and intellectuals are similarly not talking very much; instead they tend to rationalize. Those doing most of the talking are those who are the unhappiest—the poor and disadvantaged people. He had made all these points to Marcos—pointing out the poor and disadvantaged constitute the majority in the Philippines. He said much of this seemed to come as news to Marcos; this in turn suggests the people around him do not know or are unwilling to tell him the truth.

The Vice President said it was difficult to tell whether Marcos is irretrievably committed to authoritarian rule or whether he might, on [Page 1045] his own, decide to lift martial law and move toward a more normal political situation. Cardinal Sin commented that President Marcos is an extremely intelligent and competent individual—and he should be able to see the importance of moving away from martial law. This is a crucial time for the Philippines since the country is not surrounded by communists and the threat from abroad is, at most, a potential threat for the future. He thought the visit of the Vice President at this time was a good idea—that it would serve to give courage and enthusiasm to those seeking long-overdue changes. The Secretary General commented that an ending of economic assistance by the U.S. would serve only to hurt poor people in the Philippines. Similarly, the ending of military aid would subject the country to increasing communist pressures.

The Vice President noted this view differed from that of the group he had met earlier. He said the USG had come to the judgement that, even where the human rights record is deficient or very bad, it is necessary to help meet certain basic human needs of the rural and urban poor. He said the USG had also reached the conclusion, after careful review and assessment, that there is a need for the USG to demonstrate its staying power in the Pacific.

Cardinal Sin nodded his total agreement, adding that unless the U.S. continued to help the Philippines, there would be more severe suffering among the poor. The Cardinal said there had been “rumors” recently that the U.S. was thinking of abandoning the Philippines. He was glad to hear no confirmation of these rumors in anything the Vice President said. The Vice President said it was important for Marcos to realize the need for remaining in touch with the people. He is so competent and appealing in many ways that it seems very likely he would continue to command popular support even if martial law were ended.

Cardinal Sin said he, too, in his talks with President Marcos has consistently urged the ending of martial law. Marcos replies that it is not time yet—that there are still security problems in the south and elsewhere in the islands. Marcos also likes to remind the Cardinal that before martial law there was chaos, disorder and terror. Cardinal Sin said he senses that President Marcos knows there are deep concerns about the present situation among the Filipino people. This knowledge arouses some hope that the President will take steps toward reform and change.

The Secretary General then raised the question of forced sterilization, maintaining that the USG through AID is supporting coercive sterilization and also abortion methods. When Chargé Stull interjected that this is not the case, an attending Bishop replied that the inducements and sanctions for such methods in the family planning program [Page 1046] were such as to constitute compulsion. Cardinal Sin said that the Church does not oppose family planning per se, but rather the methods cited. The Vice President said the U.S. is not imposing family planning on anybody, but the Cardinal noted that there is at least American encouragement. He asked if AID was in a position to suspend all family planning programming. The Chargé acknowledged that AID support for family planning is necessarily institutional and effected through and in collaboration with GOP programs and institutions. (On May 5 the Chargé offered, and the Cardinal accepted, a dialogue between Church and USAID staff5 concerning USG support for family planning in the Philippines and the concerns of the Church in this regard.)

  1. Source: Carter Library, Donated Historical Material, Mondale Papers, Overseas Assignments—Trip Files, 1977–1980, Box 21, VP’s Visit to the Pacific, 4/29/78–5/11/78: Philippines (5/2/78–5/4/78)—Meeting with Church and Opposition Leaders [2]. Confidential. Drafted by Toussaint.
  2. The Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, with Patricia Derian as Assistant Secretary, was established in October 1977. Documentation on the evolution of the Carter administration’s human rights policy is in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. II, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.
  3. Reference is to the Interagency Group on Human Rights and Foreign Assistance.
  4. After much debate, the Senate approved the Panama Canal Treaties in March and April. The treaties were signed in September.
  5. No record of this meeting has been found.