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MARCOS, LOPEZ, IMELDA, DOVEY BEAMS, CRISIS IN THE PHILIPPINES…

January 14, 2017

The following was from the notes on the conversations between US President Richard Nixon and Henry Byroade,  US Ambassador to the Philippines as recorded in a Memorandum of Conversation dated January 15, 1971 ( from historical documents of Foreign Relations of the United States).  It tells of a broadening political crisis in the Philippines instigated by anti-Marcos forces led by Argenio (Eugenio?) Lopez, and the foreshadows of Martial law that was to be declared more than a year later.  Also,  briefly of Imelda’s political ambitions and the Dovey Beams scandal.

Ambassador Byroade began by explaining to the President that there was very little he could tell the President which was good, in fact, he anticipated the President would be more concerned than ever before with what Ambassador Byroade had to tell him. (The President observed that the Philippines was indeed a “disaster area.”) However, just to show that things weren’t entirely bad, he wanted to tell the President of progress which had taken place in three areas: foodstuffs, population control, and increased influence on the part of technically-trained personnel. On food products, the Philippines now produced all the rice needed to support the population and then some. As to population control, a very effective program had been implemented by President Marcos which enjoyed the support of large segments of society including the Catholic Church, which had resulted in the establishment of birth control clinics throughout the Philippines and a downward trend in population increase. It was estimated that by 1980 the rate of increase would drop from the present 3.3 percent per annum to 1.1 percent. Ambassador Byroade described this as a revolution which was even more important than the “green revolution,” and noted that the Philippines would probably lead the rest of Asia in the field of population control.

Turning to the influence of the “technocrats,” Ambassador Byroade said that as a result of prodding by the IMF Marcos had been induced to put fiscal controls into effect and to put trained personnel in charge of these reforms. In fact, about all the trained people the Philippines possessed were now in positions of responsibility, and these young men were becoming increasingly influential in determining Philippine policies. They were capable of understanding, for example, that discrimination against American business interests might cost the Philippines a disinvestment of close to $600 million, which would be a disaster for the Philippine economy. Thanks to the technocrats, Marcos was now considering measures to ease the pressures on American business interests. The President said that he was glad to have this information.

Turning to the political situation in the Philippines, Ambassador Byroade stated that he was obliged to report that nothing good would come out of the Philippines in the next six months. Just before leaving for Washington, he had had a long conversation with Marcos, in which Marcos had warned him of the possibility of serious disturbances in the next six-month period. Political forces hostile to Marcos were stirring up tensions and were actually preparing for an attempt to take over the key installations in the city of Manila in an effort to discredit Marcos and unseat him. Marcos had information to the effect that explosives and guns were being brought into the city, so that points such as the power station and the telephone exchange could be taken over or destroyed. Marcos had received one intelligence report that $8 million worth of guns had been purchased by opposition elements in Hong Kong—perhaps this was $8 million Hong Kong rather than $8 million U.S. since the figure seemed high.

Ambassador Byroade explained that the anti-Marcos forces were led by a man named Argenio Lopez, one of the richest men in the Philippines and the worst enemy of the United States there. The President interjected to wonder if Lopez was any relation to the Philippine Vice President, and was told by Ambassador Byroade that Lopez was the brother of the Philippine Vice President. Vice President Lopez was a fairly good man although rather stupid, but Argenio was a sour, vicious, and bitter person who wanted to drive the U.S. out of the Philippines completely. The danger was that if he succeeded in unseating Marcos, he would be able to control the Philippines via his brother. Ambassador Byroade remarked at this point that there was a 60 percent chance Marcos would not survive his last three years in office. He explained to the President that by this he meant Marcos might be assassinated.

Continuing, Ambassador Byroade said that the current crisis in the Philippines was undoubtedly of Lopez’s making. The jeepney (taxi cab) drivers had gone on strike, and this strike had now gone on for nine days; unless somebody like Lopez had been supporting the drivers it would have collapsed within four days because the drivers couldn’t normally stay out of work any longer.  In addition, there was unprecedented campaign of vilification against Marcos also against the U.S., in the newspapers owned by the Lopez interests, which comprised the majority of the Philippine press. All of this added up to a very nasty situation.

Ambassador Byroade then declared that he had a very sensitive matter to lay before the President at Marcos‘ request. At the end of his predeparture conversation with Marcos, Marcos had warned him that he might find it necessary to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and establish martial law in the city of Manila—unprecedented steps which had not been taken by any Philippine President since the late 40’s during the hukbalahap movement. What  Marcos wanted to know was: in the event that he found it necessary to declare martial law in Manila, would the United States back him up, or would it work against him? Ambassador Byroade noted that he had promised Marcos he would bring back the President’s personal reply.

The President declared that we would “absolutely” back Marcos up, and “to the hilt” so long as what he was doing was to preserve the system against those who would destroy it in the name of liberty. The President indicated that he had telephoned Trudeau of Canada to express this same position. We would not support anyone who was trying to set himself up as a military dictator, but we would do everything we could to back a man who was trying to make the system work and to preserve order. Of course, we understood that Marcos would not be entirely motivated by national interests, but this was something which we had come to expect from Asian leaders. The important thing was to keep the Philippines from going down the tube, since we had a major interest in the success or the failure of the Philippine system. Whatever happens, the Philippines was our baby. He, the President, was an activist and felt very strongly that it was far better to do something to try to save the situation than just to let it slip away from us. Ambassador Byroade said that he was very happy to hear the President say this. He acknowledged that if Marcos did act he would undoubtedly pick up some of his political enemies among those he arrested, but in general he would be attempting to do the right thing.

Ambassador Byroade went on to remark that in the event the worst happened, and Marcos was in some way displaced by the Lopez faction, the U.S. would need to face up to two options: whether to stay out of Philippine affairs entirely, or to intervene in some way. (The President again remarked that he believed in taking action rather than standing idly by.) If we did intervene, the question would be how? One situation which he foresaw was that in which Mrs. Marcos would come to us and ask us to back her up in calling for a special Philippine Presidential election in which she herself would run as a candidate. This would not be desirable. The President expressed surprise that Mrs. Marcos would have presidential aspirations of her own, and was interested in hearing that Mrs. Marcos very definitely had such aspirations. The other possibility which Ambassador Byroade envisaged would be for us to keep hands off until the situation got so bad that the Philippine military decided to take action and would request our support. Ambassador Byroade believed that in this event we should respond favorably. The Philippine military leaders were reliable—he pointed out they were all West Point and Annapolis graduates—and despite their tradition of not getting involved in politics could be relied upon to do their best for their country if compelled to act. The President asked if they actually had the political skill to run the country, and Ambassador Byroade replied that they didn’t but that they would find someone to do the job for them. Ambassador Byroade observed that things now were nowhere near as bad as the circumstances which he had described, and that the crisis point, if it came, was still quite a bit of time away. We would need to keep watching the course of events, though. The President agreed.

The President wanted to know how Marcos was getting along with respect to the Dovey Beams case. Ambassador Byroade said that the case hadn’t really caused Marcos all that much difficulty, since Philippine mores were quite different from our own. The only criticism of Marcos appeared to be over the fact that he got caught out. Whatever he did, he shouldn’t have let Miss Beams make tapes of his liaison. According to Ambassador Byroade, Miss Beams was still trying to keep something of a hold over Marcos.

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