thumbnail of In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines; Interview with Richard Holbooke
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It's almost impossible to think of the Marcos without thinking about them as a team because of the way they interacted. And he was smart, tough. I've lost my whole train of fun. Okay, start again. What the hell was he? It's tough, it's an interesting question. It's not a good place to start because he's going to join us. Yeah, let's start at the beginning. Are we rolling? When I and you want me to look at you? OK, when I first met Marcos in April of 77, they thought that since I was the new assistant sector state representing the new administration, it was very important to put on a hell of a show for me. And so the Marcos has invited me without any warning to join them on their yacht around midnight, on the second day I was there.
And they even sort of suggested that they would rather that the incumbent American ambassador, Bill Sullivan, not join the trip. So I went out to the yacht around midnight and Marcos had assembled most of his cabin, including Romulo, the legendary old aide to General McArthur, the survivor of Corrigedor. He had assembled other people. And it was what turned out, as I now realized, to be a typical Marcos evening. A full court press designed to impress you with a combination of songs, dancing, and good fun. But of course, it had very little substance to it. We got on the boat around midnight. It was just so interesting. We got on- I'm sorry. Okay. Alright. The evening began with a lot of singing and dancing on the boat, which happened to be a Japanese ship that had been turned over to the Filipinos
after World War II as part of Japanese war reparations. And it had been converted by the Marcos as into a very grand, presidential yacht. And there was singing and dancing till quite late in the evening, I think, three or four in the morning. But Marcos himself had gone to bed, and Imelda orchestrated the evening, the dancing and the singing. Then in the morning, there was another one of the Marcos rituals. Let me interrupt you. Well, now that you're trying to talk about Imelda orchestrating it, do you have any memory or a vivid, What was she doing? Here, you're meeting her for the first time. She's the first lady in this country. It's three o'clock in the morning. Well, my reaction to Imelda was very negative, although she was trying to be very charming. I viewed her almost immediately and never changed my view of her as a very insecure, under-educated, very shrewd, and extremely dangerous person. The dangerous side of it emerged more and more,
even on that first trip and much more later. I remember one session that happened four years later when I went to see her near the end of the card administration in her suite at the Waldorf Towers. She was sitting in this huge suite, which always was hers at the Waldorf, surrounded by banks of flowers that she had brought in every day at untold expense. And we talked about Aquino. This was after Aquino had been released from the jail on the Philippines and gone to the United States, and she told me with great pride how she had personally set up limousines for him to go to the airport in the Philippines, to be met in Texas when he got to Baylor for the heart operation and how she had offered him all these things. And she then said to me, and I remembered vividly, she said, "I can be very kind, but I can be very cruel too." I remember her saying that and thinking,
"I believe this, she can be very cruel." I did not, of course, at the time realize that her cruelty could extend to what I believe was involvement or collusion in the tragedy unfolded on Manila Airport a few years later when he returned. Okay, let's go back to the boat, to the yacht. I'm sorry, I got you, Douglas. But let's go back to the yacht, and excuse me. Is there anything more about Aquino that you discussed that you want to keep in that story? Not in that story, but I will describe the trip to Newton, Mass later, which is really the most important story I have for you because it involves Cory. It's the only story involving Cory, in fact, that I can offer you. Okay, let's go back on the track of the the yacht, because you're going to race. You're going to next morning, you're going to race in question today. Well, let me give you those sequence of the yacht. The morning after this dancing,
Marcos took over from his wife, and I think they operated as a team, very much in this manner quite often. The morning's chess session was going to be water skiing, and the frog men made sure that the water skiing was relatively easy. I wasn't much of a water skier, but with a boat as high-powered as the one pulling us, and with frog men holding you in the water to make sure you got up, it wasn't hard to get up, and we water skied while the cabinet clapped and applauded. And I thought this was awfully weird. And my other trips as assistant secretary state to many other countries representing the United States government, I never water skied with a chief of state, I never got involved in scenes like this. These are genuinely unusual scenes, and their purpose to charm, to seduce, to buy time for their policy was pretty obvious. But if one's representing the government of the United States, one goes through these things. It's part of the process of building up a relationship. Then after the water skiing, Marcos took us all to Corregidor, to very deliberately, to evoke the importance
of the Philippine-American tie. And here in this enormously moving island, with these ruins where so many Americans and Filipinos died side by side, he had General Romulo, his foreign minister, and the only living survivor of the Malinta tunnel, take us through the tunnels and show us the bunk where MacArthur slept and the bunk right next to him where Romulo slept. It was both moving, it was historically accurate, and it was a way of pointing out quite explicitly the depths of the US-Filipino tie. I've always felt that that tie is misunderstood in the United States. That Americans don't realize how much the Filipinos bled, how much blood they shed for the United States, and with the United States in World War II. And so that part of the trip, the trip to Corregidor, I thought, was a legitimate evocation of a very important, in fact, a unique link between our two countries. After the trip to Corregidor, we then went...
Let's just change it After the trip to Corregidor, we then went on to the next scene, which was to play ?Pilate? in a private Pilate court on the Bataan Peninsula, where Marcos had a beach house. I'd never played Pilate before. Marcos was in very good shape in those days. He was in his early 60s, and of course, it was another demonstration of his physical energy. After that, we got down to business. Going back on the yacht, he and Imelda, and I sat alone in his state room, while he and I discussed the overall state of U.S. Philippine relations at the beginning of the Carter administration. There were two central issues on the table, the bases and human rights. They were both important to the United States. It is impossible to differentiate between the two.
Under the previous administration, there had been problems with both. The base agreement was under review, and in December of 1976 in Mexico City, Romulo and Kissinger had been unable to reach an agreement, and the Filipinos had rejected a Kissinger offer, which totaled all up amounted to over a billion dollars in aid. That problem was on the table. At the same time, a second equally important issue, human rights, was very much on the table. The previous administration had never raised the issue from the time of martial law in 1972, until Carter became president in 1977. This issue simply didn't come up. And when Aquino and Lopez and Osmeña and other political prisoners were incarcerated in the mid-70s, some of them in solitary confinement, nothing had been done or said about these people by the United States government at an authoritative level. So I raised both issues with Marcos.
For tactical reasons, we said we would take it slowly on the basis. Now, I want to stress, we had come to the conclusion that the bases were of importance to the United States strategically. Let me go back over that sense. [background noises] Do we directly need to? [soft laughter] I want to stress, in regard to the bases, that we had come to the conclusion by the spring of 1977 that they were of strategic importance to the United States. And in the United States, national interest as well as interest of the region to continue those bases. However, because of our problems with Marcos on human rights, because of tactical considerations for how to deal with them, I decided on that April 1977 trip
to play the bases in low-key and put human rights up front. So when he talked about the bases, I simply said, we'll be getting back to you. And I left him with the impression, which was not entirely correct, that we were subordinating the bases. I did that because I wanted to get more leverage on human rights. And in the first meeting, in the cabin on that ship, I raised the names of three people, Aquino and two others, Lopez and Osmeña. I remember vividly the reaction to the Marcoses. Imelda Marcos got quite agitated and began attacking Aquino immediately, calling him a Communist, saying wild things about him. I never had met her before, so I didn't understand her tactic. I now realize that she was just freelancing. She was just saying whatever came into her head to see how much of it I would buy. Marcos himself was much cooler, much more reserved, thinking about what I was saying.
He said, if we release Aquino, what guarantees that do we have that the United States government will not lionize Kino, the word "lionize" he kept using? I said, I cannot give you any guarantees on what we will or won't do with Kino, except to say that I know he has an offer from Harvard to teach there. We do not see any justification for his continued imprisonment and this is a serious impediment to US-Philippine relations. He kept hammering at the issue of lionizing. And I said, I don't know what you mean by lionizing, but I can assure you that the United States will not treat him in an inappropriate manner. How we fenced over the words. My objective here wasn't to make deals about how we would treat him in the United States, it was to get him out of prison in the Philippines. That set of conversations ended without any outcome, but it obviously began the dialogue with Marcos.
Throughout this entire period, it seemed to me, the Marcos has had an understanding with each other over how they should work. This was a political marriage. Remember that Marcos had married Imelda Marcos, Imelda Romualdez, as she'd been then called, 11 days after they'd first met, and a famous whirlwind romance in the Philippines. The relationship between them was a one of mutual need, mutual use. She was the front edge, the more overt greedy side of his nature. But the theory that what she did was not approved by him, a theory which many people toyed with in the 60s and 70s, does not to me seem correct. He must have known what she was doing, the corruption, the graft, the brutality. She wasn't out of his control, but she did operate to a certain degree without checking with him. We'll pick it up now. Since you mentioned a little bit about your impressions
of him, I'd like to just add something. At some point in the end, it would be helpful to us if you could describe your general view of martial law. This is a very good detail, which you had given us. If you could also describe what you and the administration felt just a generality about the fact that these guys were in jail, what this represented in a big picture. Sure. Why don't you pose the question so that I can... Let me just go before we go to that. Since you started getting on your impressions of them, maybe not picking up on them. But I mean, what was Marcos like to deal with? Marcos...Dealing with Marcos, was... Give me a pause when you do it. Dealing with Marcos, Dealing with Marcos was an extraordinary experience, unlike any I ever had in any other country. He was very smart. He was extremely tactical.
Everything could change on a dime. He performed differently in front of different audiences. He would summon you in front of his entire cabinet and act in a very macho way on behalf of his country. Then he'd dismiss them all and take you into the little backroom and sit down quietly with you and start to horse trade. He'd pull you aside. He was obsessed with the United States. He was the last of the generation of Filipinos, to whom the United States was everything. He and his wife knew the names of movie stars from the 1930s and 40s. They knew American songs of that period. They were imbued with American culture. To them, New York City in the 1940s, the Waldorf Astoria, Walter Winchell, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, these things mattered a lot. I remember them reciting the American Pledge of Allegiance to us, to show us how deeply tied they were to the US.
But the interesting thing was that when they recited it, they didn't include the words under God, because those who were added after the Filipinos got independence in 1946. So to them, the Pledge of Allegiance didn't include those two words. America was everything to them. They had this love-hate relationship with us and more than anything else in the world, members of the Marcos generation of Filipinos wanted to be accepted by Americans as co-equals, not as little brown brothers, but as co-equal brothers. And the fact that this was not possible for Americans, because of historical, cultural, geographic, and economic reasons, I think rankled a whole generation of Filipinos. Nothing I'm saying is a defense of the Marcoses. Their behavior was unconscionable and greedy. Their corruption wrecked their country, and they stole the Philippines blind. But in their relationships to the United States, the desire to be loved, the latent hostility,
the ambivalence, the obsession with American culture and American values, they were very typical of Filipinos of their generation. Aquino was also, although somewhat younger. Before we go on to that, if they were so obsessed, why didn't that give us more leverage over them or didn't we exercise that leverage? I mean, did we realize that since they really wanted to be loved and approved by the United States, why couldn't we use that to get what we wanted from it? In regard to American leverage towards the Filipinos and general and towards Marcos, since particular, we had a certain amount of leverage, but we always had to understand that the leverage was in the framework of one critical issue, and that was Marcos would do anything at all to remain in power. If we pressured him, as I did in 1977-78, he would hold an election, and the 1978 election,
which Romulo once told me they called Holbrook's election, was obviously an election filled with fraud. They did, however, under our pressure, let Aquino run while keeping him in jail. They let him campaign on live Philippine television, on the Philippine version of Meet the Press, while he was in the Philippine jail in Manila. But when the outcome was threatening to them, because Aquino was running directly against Imelda for the same National Assembly seat in Manila, and when in honest election, clearly, would have elected him over Imelda, they, of course, fake the results. In regard to the bases, however, we had enormous leverage and we used the leverage, the final deal that we cut with the Filipinos in 1978, was for a total package only half the size of the package offered two years earlier by the Ford Kissinger administration. Go back, that's not going to tell us anything. Tell us what the package was.
Okay. I mean how- Okay? Yeah, we're almost good, go ahead. In regard to the Philippines, we had two equal priorities, the base agreement and human rights. They were co-equal. I believe that you could get them both, and indeed, if you handled it correctly, one would reinforce the other. As a result, we did manage to get a base agreement, and at a level which was substantially lower than the rejected Kissinger offer of 1976, only two years later, an agreement in which we offered, and they accepted half the total amount of the previous offer by Kissinger. And we also managed to get some political prisoners out of jail, some amelioration of the conditions, but certainly not enough. In my view, we set the conditions for what unfolded later, although we certainly didn't anticipate the tragedy of Aquino's murder. All right, let's go on to this meeting with Cory in 1980. You don't want to do the thing about Aquino
and meet the press as a comic. Yeah, well, we have that on film. Him saying... Yeah, he's CIA, we have the tape. All right, okay. I thought you wanted as an example of the comic opera. Okay, go ahead. I think that the Philippine-US relationship has both elements of comedy and tragedy to it. Their obsession with the United States, American culture means, among other things, that they have less of a sense of their own national identity than any other Asian country. In some ways, there's a Latino quality of the Philippines, even though it's in the Pacific, partly the overlay of the Spanish era, which I think is much more important than most historians realize. Partly, the fact that it's an island nation. There's also that heavy, Chinese subculture, Marcos, and many of the senior people in his government and other governments are of Chinese extraction. So there's a subtle class and racial differentiation, but the Filipino obsession with the United States
can be epitomized by many stories. A one that really comes to my mind is during the 1978 legislative election, where you had a combination of events that couldn't be matched any other way. Aquino in jail, campaigning on live Philippine television, on Philippine Meet the Press, because of American pressure, saying from jail that he had a close association with the CIA when he worked for President Magsaysay in the 50s. The government in the presidential palace, Marcos and company, putting out an attack on Aquino, for trying to exaggerate his relationship with the CIA. This is extraordinary, and almost every other country in the world. People are running from any potential association with the CIA. But both the Aquino and Marcos saw an association with the CIA as a possible asset in an election. So they both tried to either hype it or deny it, depending on their point of view.
Okay, let's go on to this. You're going to talk about meeting with Cory. Oh, well, that's much later. Well, we don't have to go through this whole thing step by step. Do you have any further meetings with Marcos in another? In 1977 to 1978, we continued, at first, to stall Marcos. And then when we thought the time was right, we sent a new ambassador out to Manila. David Newsom. Are you going to start that again? Because it's not clear. It's only stolen on what on the base issue. All right, I'll start again. After my initial trip to Manila in April of 77, we decided to stall the Filipinos in regard to negotiating the bases, while pressuring them on human rights all through the summer of 77. When we thought that situation had reached the right point, we sent a new ambassador to the Philippines, one of the most senior foreign service officers in the world, David Newsom. And then when he was called back to Washington to become under Secretary of State,
we sent Richard Murphy, now the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Strike that because he won't be by the time you come out. Let's skip the name. I'm sorry. Okay, just go ahead. Just pick it up. We continued on the human rights thing and forget the names of the ambassadors. Okay. We can...after the April 1977 trip, we continued all through the summer to put pressure on human rights and make no movement on the basis. Then in the fall of 1977, we decided to pick up the pace on the base negotiations. At this point, we had the American Embassy in Manila putting heavy pressure on the Filipinos to hold an election, to lift martial law, to release political prisoners, including Aquino, to stop torture. We had some very ugly reports of torture of some political prisoners, including a woman named Trinidad Herrera, and we made a very big point of that. And then in 1978, we got down to a very tough negotiation on the bases while continuing the pressure on human rights.
By the end of 1978, we had come very close to base agreement. And then, as we all know, the Filipinos responding to American pressure released Aquino using the excuse of his medical condition as a way of getting him out of jail and out of the country without appearing to make a concession to the United States. But of course, Aquino's release from jail was under American pressure, because the operation in question was one that they were fully capable of doing in Manila. They have very good medical facilities there. But instead, they got him on a plane sent him to the United States were remained for the next three years. In December of 1980, after President Reagan had been elected. I made my last trip to the Philippines as assistant secretary of state. The power had left the Carter administration. Everyone was waiting for the transition to Reagan. I arrived on the last day of 1980 in Manila
and immediately went by plane with our ambassador, Richard Murphy, up to their palace in northern Luzon in their home province of Iloces Norte. It was a very memorable trip. First, I remember most vividly that all over the palace up there, Imelda had put pictures of herself and her husband and the Reagans, which had been collected from Reagan's one trip to Manila when he'd gone as a representative of President Nixon in 1972. And they had- Sorry, stop. He was 69, so just pick it up. Sixty-nine? Okay. I thought he went there into Taiwan on a later trip. Okay. I'll yield to him. I don't want you to [inaudible]. Okay. All over the palace, Imelda Marcos had put photographs of the trip that the Reagans had made to the Philippines in 1969
as a representative of Richard Nixon. The message was unmistakably clear. "We don't need to worry about you Human rights fanatics anymore. We're going to deal with our friends now." And Imelda Marcos thought that she and Nancy Reagan were really going to be friends. Her social aspirations fitted in with her vision of Nancy Reagan. On that day, I remember vividly many things. One is that she took me on a bus tour of Marcos' hometown. And she took me to his museum. She drove us around in this big bus, kind of a plexiglass bus, like the touring bus of a rock and roll group. And as we drove through these little rural roads, scattering chickens and pigs on the road, she was in there singing along with Frank Sinatra over the PA system and the bus. "Have yourself a merry little Christmas." Here we were in the middle of this tropical scene in northern Luzon.
We went into the museum of Marcos' birthplace, which I'd never seen before. And there were these statues of Marcos wearing his national dress, the Barong, wearing his golf clothes, wearing his tennis clothes, wearing the black tie outfit in which he'd been inaugurated and so on. And there were pictures everywhere of Marcos doing this and that. There was a lengthy billboard of the newspapers of the trial where he was accused of murder in 1939, where he was accused of killing the opponent of his father with a .22 pistol. And what struck me was that the way the presentation was put forward, it was designed to suggest that maybe he'd done it. There was no effort there to suggest he was totally innocent. The ambiguity obviously suited their purposes. I remember also on that extraordinary trip that she took us to meet the old mother of General Ver
and I thought that was very revealing of how close she must have felt to Ver that she would make a symbolic New Year's trip to this old lady in her house in Northern Luzon. And of course, I think that Imelda Marcos in General Ver were both implicated in Aquino's death afterwards. So that's why that trip rests in my mind. Okay. Now. I want to get to Ninoy at. [clears throat] During that farewell trip, I said to Marcos- Wait, you got to go again because don't say during the farewell trip, but whatever, "I said to Marcos in 1980." Okay, during my last trip to the Philippines, December of 1980, I said to Marcos that I would be flying directly from Manila to Boston. And I would be seeing Ninoy Aquino. And I wanted to know what messages they were
and particularly whether he was ready to try for reconciliation. Marcos gave me some very general messages which were hardly of any value at all. He knew Reagan was about to become president. He didn't care much about dealing with the lamest of lame ducks and assistant secretary of state from an outgoing administration. But I did fly to Boston and I said, "Look, Marcos is sending positive messages. I don't know what they're worth." Sorry, you flew to Boston, are you talking to Nino right now? Did I say Marcos? No, you didn't say anybody, so you're going to take it. Okay. From Manila, I flew to Boston at the beginning of 1981. And I arrived there right after New Year's and I went and saw Ninoy Aquino at his house in Newton, Massachusetts. I said to him, I'd just seen Marcos and that Marcos had conveyed some general positive words about how he'd like to talk to Ninoy And he thought maybe they could work things out but there was nothing specific.
And we began to talk. And I remember vividly sitting in his living room in Newton with he and his wife. And we were talking about this and that, whether he should go back and so on. And suddenly he turned to her and he said, "Cory, you should leave the room. This is Man's talk." and the subject was whether or not he should go back to the Philippines. And I remember this vividly because, of course, she was afraid for his life if he went back and his decision to go back cost him his life. And at the same time, set in motion the sequence of events which have led to her becoming president of the Philippines today. You're jumping ahead and then you're going to come back again. You went into the room, but went into the room and you said, "This is Man's talk and then let's get to it." I mean, don't give us the... Didn't that what I said? I know, but I mean... That's all he said. I know that, but wait. That's the whole story. So what did he say in when it's Man's talk? What was the conversation? Oh, okay. I got to go back and do it all. No, you had to do it all, right? Pick it out from... He said to Cory.
Okay. "This is Man's talk and you're gonna..." He said, "Cory, this is Man's talk. You should leave us alone." The subject we were talking about was whether or not he should go back to Manila. She was opposed to it. She feared for his life. He was ambivalent, but he thought that he had a special relationship with Marcos. They had been fraternity brothers even though they were 15 years apart in age. When Marcos had visited him in jail, they had even given each other the fraternity, secret handshake. They had called each other brother. And he thought that despite the fact that Marcos had jailed him, there was a special relationship between them because they each respected the other's intelligence. They each saw that they were the two heavyweights in the Philippines politically. And they were. But Ninoy, I underestimated the depth of cruelty and desperation which was to occur several years later. So he thought that he could go back,
take the risks and survive. She was opposed to it. Let's go back a moment to the... Just talking about your period as assistant secretary. Did you have a sense of Marcos and Imelda bankrupting this country and wreck the Philippines? And wait a second, what could we do about it? I mean, let's talk a little bit about the limits of American power. If I look back on my relationship with the Philippines over the last 15 years, I would say that the thing that I was most wrong about was the level of the Marcos' corruption. I knew they were corrupt. Everyone knew they were corrupt. But the level of it, the dimensions of it, the fact that they literally stole the country blind at a level which makes a palpable difference, even today to the balance of payments. And the viability of the Philippine economy
was beyond our imagination. No one in the United States government, not the CIA, not the intelligence community, ever dreamed that it was at that level of corruption. Go ahead. The human rights situation in the Philippines was serious in our estimation. I'm sorry, let me change it. We just rolled the [inaudible] It's always some guy that says well. Human rights situation in the Philippines in 1977 was serious. Although, frankly, it wasn't the worst in the region. There are other countries in East Asia at that time which had worse human rights situations. I would say including South Korea then. But it was serious. And because of our special relationship with the Filipinos, truly special, a much overused phrase but absolutely applicable to the Philippines. And because we had more influence in the Philippines than almost any other country. And because of our feelings for that country,
I think it was incumbent on us to make more of an issue there than we might have in some other country. So we did. We found that there had been an absence of attention to this issue for the preceding eight years under President Nixon. And we tried very hard to raise the level of importance of the human rights issue. In doing this, we found significant opposition in the right wing in this country among the so-called neo-conservatives, the Jean Kirkpatrick's, the Al Haig's, the Jesse Helms's, people who thought that if you raised the human rights issue, you undermine our strategic interests. We didn't feel that way. Personally, I felt that advancing human rights was in our strategic interest. You couldn't differentiate between the two. A popularly supported, popularly-based government was a stronger government.
A stronger government was in our national interest. A narrowly-blased, repressive government increased the strength of the NPA, the communist guerrillas. And that was not in our interests. So I felt that it was compatible with our strategic interest to advance human rights, not a conflict as some people thought. Did it occur? Did you ever think that? That's alright, Drew? Yeah, it's good. Did you ever think that, after Marcos declared martial law, that if the martial law was very popular at the beginning? That was before I came in. All right, but still, I mean... I don't know. Everyone tells me that I wasn't there. No, but the point I'm trying to make is that- Was it really? Were you there at the time? Yeah, I mean it was the most popular. Okay, the point is, it goes bad because...I'm asking you to be a student of the areas is not so much. It goes bad because he starts screwing it all up because of the corruption.
If he had given the economic growth, if he had given him stability, if he had given him one order, if he'd run a good authoritarian government, I mean, does democracy have to, does the ?soapies? have to be democratic? It's been argued that martial law was popular when Marcos declared it in 1972. I can't say one where they're there if that's true because I wasn't involved at that time. But I will say this, even in a country with economic progress under martial law, like South Korea in the 60s and 70s, after a certain amount of time, people with rising educational levels, rising incomes, want to participate in their own political destiny. And just as democracy has now come to Korea, on rising economic strength, and just as martial law had to be abandoned in Korea, so eventually it would have happened in the Philippines. Marcos held on for an astonishing period of time, considering the corruption of the country
and its economic collapse. But one way or another, with a good economy or with a weak economy, the future martial law in the Philippines would have been negative. It would have come to an end. Okay, let me go back again because we're talking about American leverage and so forth. Again, I'll ask you for generalization here. There are limits to how much power the United States can exercise in some other country. If you want to make comparisons, I mean, we can't tell these other countries what to do. If you want to have martial law, if he wants to do this, and how much leverage do we have over other countries? Our leverage over different countries varies from country to country. The Philippines is a country where we have a substantial amount of influence, probably more than any other country in East Asia, probably more than almost any other country in the world. Why?
Because of our special historic relationship, because it is literally our only former colony, because the Filipinos were brought up under the American system, because we're so culturally related, because the leaders have been American-educated and American-influenced right down to this day. We have more leverage there, and we should use it. Human rights is not just some abstract thing, which liberals want, because it's a good thing to do. Human rights strengthens the viability of a government, because it increases the support that the people give to the procedures and processes and structures of government as opposed to individuals. And individuals come and go. People have to support a system because they feel part of it. And if they support the system, it strengthens the governmental structure, if not an individual. And that's in our national interest. And I might stress, a properly supported governmental system
as opposed to individuals, weakens the communist guerrillas. Why are the bases important? When I became assistant secretary of state in 1977, we were less than two years after the fall of Indochina to the communist in 1975. There was a real dispute about the future of the United States and Asia. Most people in the region and the Soviet Union thought that the end of our position in Indochina was the beginning of our end in the Pacific. And that the next thing that would happen would be we withdraw from other places. In fact, we were out of Thailand in 1975, under Ford. But in 1977, when the Philippine issue came up, we determined that this was where we should draw the line. These two huge bases, Clark and Subic, were strategically important to the United States as our forward positions in the Western Pacific.
And as a place from which we could move into the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, and if necessary into the Middle East, through an alternative route, that bypassed our bases in the Azores, which might be denied to us under a crisis, which in fact had been heavily disputed in 1973. So I came to the conclusion in that these bases were important. Strategically, militarily, politically, and symbolically. And while eventually, they might have to be relocated to some other part of the world or to some other area like Guam. There was no place better than the Philippines. Furthermore, it was my view that despite all the frustration that the presence of the bases causes for Filipinos, despite the social dislocation, despite some of the corruption, both economic and cultural and social with those bars and those hostesses and all that, which are very unattractive.
Then in the long run, it was the Filipinos preferred to have the bases there. They were part of the self-image of the Filipinos, including the negative side of it, but nonetheless unbalanced positively. So on every ground, I thought that Clark and Subic were important to us, to the Filipinos and to the region. However, I did feel that a change in their status was essential. Up until 1979, the American flag had flown continuously over Clark and Subic since the turn of the century, with the exception of the four years that the Japanese had occupied the Philippines. I felt that the time had come to make a formal transfer of sovereignty in a highly symbolic fashion. So I worked out a system whereby the bases would become Philippine bases with American facilities inside them. That may sound like semantics to people, but it did significantly reduce the area that was formally designated an American base.
Clark Air Base was the size of the state of Rhode Island. And we didn't need to control all those fields, which could be changed into sugar fields. We didn't need the responsibility for maintaining all of that. It was in our interest to turn that over to the Filipinos and maintain only the facilities inside Clark, which were essential to the operation of that air base. We had to change the mentality of the American military, which saw them as a vestige of the good old days when the Philippines were called PI, Philippine Islands, and were just a kind of an American colony. And we had to change the attitude of both the Filipinos and the American military towards those bases, but yes, they were important. I think when you're brushing that thing, it's, maybe, I don't know if it'll be audible, but I can hear it, so. Come, it's not separate tracks.
You can see, did you see Ninoy again, after that first meeting that you [inaudible]. That was the only time you saw him. Talked on the phone. Never saw him again. But talks on the phone. I mean, has he anything significant, has he planned to go back? Did you try to display it here? No, let me say one thing. Let me make a general comment and then use it. Why don't you look okay? After Reagan, let me start again. All set? After Reagan became president, my involvement in the Philippines obviously diminished substantially. I was disturbed by the fact that the Reagan administration in 1981 downgraded significantly its relationships with Ninoy Aquino and with the opposition in general. I felt that was a mistake. In 1981, the Reagan administration was hell-bent on reversing the human rights priorities of the Carter administration and they really went wildly overboard. By 1985-86, with Steve Bosworth as our ambassador in the Philippines
and Mike Armacost as the other secretary of state in Washington, a very significant evolution had taken place. And when the crisis began after Ninoy's murder, I think that the Reagan administration, led by people like Bosworth and Armacost and Secretary of State Shultz did a very, very fine job of easing a remarkable, nearly miraculous transition. Miraculous because it was so bloodless from Marcos to Aquino. Now, the Philippine people did that themselves, but the American role was critical. And I particularly credit Steve Bosworth and Mike Armacost. Do you want to give us any personal impressions of Ninoy? I mean you only saw him once though? No, I saw him several times, but I didn't know him that well. Yeah, I will give you a few of them. We got plenty of that stuff from his mother and his sister and so forth, but I just wondered if... That's very smart. How about Cory?
I mean, did you think that you played any role in the Cory election or the swing? Me personally? How would I have? I went out there and that would be very self-serving. Okay. I will say one thing about... In contrast everything else you said? [Laughs] Everything else I said is accurate. I mean, this is accurate too, it's an opinion, right? No, but I did some stuff for them, but it wasn't important.
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Series
In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines
Raw Footage
Interview with Richard Holbooke
Producing Organization
Pearson-Glaser Productions
Contributing Organization
Pearson-Glaser Productions (Kittery Point, Maine)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip-3291629dc66
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Description
Raw Footage Description
Richard Holbrooke was the US Assistant Secretary of State in Asia from 1977-1981. He recalls his first meeting with Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos at a late-night party which Marcos hosted on his yacht. He recalls his initial impression of Imelda Marcos which was very negative; he describes the following morning after water skiing, when President Marcos took him to Corregidor and to the ruins where so many Filipinos and Americans died side by side during WWII – a setting which underscored the historic relationship of the US and the Philippines. He describes how he raised two important issues with President and Imelda Marcos: the US military bases and human rights violations in regards to the treatment of political prisoners under martial law, including Benigno "Ninoy” Aquino. Holbrooke talks about how smart and tactical Marcos was and how he and Imelda were obsessed with the US, with American culture and American values, and how they wanted to be accepted by Americans as co-equals. He describes the deal they cut on the bases in 1978 and power relationship between the Marcoses, when it came to interacting with other political figures. Holbrooke recounts his interaction with Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino in 1981 when he visited him in Newton, Massachusetts and how they discussed whether or not he should go back to the Philippines, a decision which ultimately cost him his life.
Asset type
Raw Footage
Genres
Documentary
Interview
Topics
History
Subjects
Marcos; Human Rights; Military Base
Media type
Moving Image
Duration
00:45:43.529
Credits
Interviewee: Holbrooke, Richard
Interviewer: Karnow, Stanley
Producing Organization: Pearson-Glaser Productions
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Pearson-Glaser Productions
Identifier: cpb-aacip-5cef510a152 (Filename)
Format: Betamax
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Citations
Chicago: “In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines; Interview with Richard Holbooke,” Pearson-Glaser Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 21, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-3291629dc66.
MLA: “In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines; Interview with Richard Holbooke.” Pearson-Glaser Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 21, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-3291629dc66>.
APA: In Our Image: The United States and the Philippines; Interview with Richard Holbooke. Boston, MA: Pearson-Glaser Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-3291629dc66