Mar 172013



                                          Roland G. Simbulan

(Book review of Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy by Raymond Bonner.  This review was originally published is The Manila Chronicle, August 7, 1987)

     FORTY – ONE YEARS after formal political independence, the Philippines is still in the process of defining a foreign policy consistent with its interests.  Not only political activists but also academics and politicians have believed for decades “that continuing U.S. domination and intervention in the Philippines ” is not only a reality but an unalterable fact of life.

     This perception is reinforced in Raymond Bonner’s “Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy”.

     Bonner, a lawyer -investigative journalist for the New York Times and author of “Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador”, has pieced together an impressive study on the relationship between five American presidents and deposed dictator Marcos, who ruled the Philippines from 1965 until early 1986.

     Bonner unearthed new material which deepens our understanding of the extent of U.S. involvement in the Philippines and its profound influence on Philippine domestic policy.

     Bonner’s book shows how routine U.S. interference in Philippine politics has become,  as in the following instances:

     In the early 1950s, cold warrior Col. Edward Lansdale began his career in the Philippines.   His mission was to run Ramon Magsaysay’s presidential campaign.  The CIA offered five million dollars for Lansdale’s mission in Manila, but he said he needed only one million dollars, which was delivered to him in suitcases – in cash.

     Another American, Gabriel Kaplan, with instructions “to help Lansdale elect Magsaysay” and under the cover of the Committee for Free Asia (which later became Asia Foundation) used agency funds to help set up the original Namfrel (National Movement for Free Elections).

     According to Bonner, some of the Filipino community leaders involved with Namfrel were “later moved over to Laos and Vietnam as the nucleus of Operation Brotherhood, a CIA-funded and controlled humanitarian organization.”

     The United States knew in advance that Marcos was going to impose martial law in 1972 because the CIA had infiltrated Marcos’ inner circle — known as the “Rolex 12”, as each was given a gold Rolex watch by Marcos in appreciation of his loyalty.

     The CIA station in Manila thus had a copy of the martial law 1081 proclamation several days before Marcos closed Congress and started arresting all his political opponents.

     Marcos also talked with then U.S. President Nixon before he declared martial law.  Henry Kissinger, as Nixon’s national security adviser, issued a one-page National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) in March 1973 which accepted martial law and Marcos’ decision by stating that, ” the United States government will continue to deal with the Marcos administration as the effective government of the Philippines. “

     This would remain the American policy toward Marcos under four American presidents for 14 years.   In the early years of the impresonment of Marcos’ most formidable opponent, Senator Benigno Aquino, the U.S. State Department declined to work for his release.

     U.S. opportunism is also clearly manifest in the fact that it was not the Ninoy Aquino assassination which precipitated a change in the Reagan administration’s pro-Marcos stance.  Rather, the impetus for change in U.S. policy was the realization that Marcos was losing effective control to the communist-led National Democratic Front.   This was perceived as a catastrophic development for U.S. interests in the Philippines, especially the future of its bases.

     U.S. policy makers base their support for Philippine politicians on their willingness to accommodate not only American business interests, but , first and foremost, the U.S. military bases.  The U.S. also discovered that it was easier to negotiate a bases agreement in the Philippines in 1979 and 1983 under Marcos because ” agreements are much easier to strike when you have an authoritarian figure in power such as President Marcos,” a U.S. State Department officer said.

     After Marcos announced the holding of “snap elections” in 1986, the U.S. embassy in Manila, aided by American liberals, used its influence to assure that Corazon Aquino would be the opposition candidate.

     The United States covertly funded Namfrel and Radio Veritas which were to figure prominently in the 1986 “snap revolution.”

     During the election showdown between Marcos and Cory Aquino, the White House and the U.S. State Department were in opposite camps.  Reagan administration conservatives wanted to stay with Marcos, their long-time anti-communist ally, their inclination reinforced by Aquino’s then position on the American bases (she had signed the Convenor’s Group declaration which demanded, among others, the withdrawal of U.S. bases).  There was also the fear by American conservatives that she wouldn’t be tough enough on communism.

     At the State Department, however, the tilt was clearly in favor of Aquino.  Bonner however, qualifies that the U.S. was not the leading instigator in the events  that led to Marcos’ ouster since the outcome was uncertain, but that once the process began, the U.S. embassy was “on board.”


The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on  Jan. 10th 2008



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