(First of two parts)
Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, and Ferdinand Marcos share a common knot that binds them together: They served as Presidents of the Philippines at the peak of the Cold War between the United States, on the one hand, and the USSR and China, on the other. Their presidential terms, from 1953 at the start of Magsaysay’s ascendancy to 1986, when Marcos was ousted by people power, were closely monitored by the U.S. government that treated the Philippines as a strategic security outpost in its global war against communism.
BY BOBBY TUAZON
Posted by Bulatlat*
Vol. VII, No. 48, January 13-19, 2008
Washington, DC – Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, and Ferdinand Marcos share a common knot that binds them together: They served as Presidents of the Philippines at the peak of the Cold War between the United States, on the one hand, and the USSR and China, on the other. Their presidential terms, from 1953 at the start of Magsaysay’s ascendancy to 1986, when Marcos was ousted by people power, were closely monitored by the U.S. government that treated the Philippines as a strategic security outpost in its global war against communism.
Until today, U.S. interest in the Philippines during this period, which includes influencing the outcome of presidential elections and counter-insurgency, is underplayed particularly in many conservative circles, the academe, and in the media itself. A CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) operative, Col. Edward G. Lansdale, was supposed to be pivotal in installing the Huk hunter of the 1950s, Magsaysay, as president but even this behind-the-scenes feat remains a contentious issue.
This debate may now be put to rest thanks, in no small measure, to a treasure of top secret documents, letters, and other papers that are part of Lansdale’s unpublished collection. The “collected papers” of Lansdale (2,099 pages, Archive File No. 87-0346-DOD-033), declassified in 1992 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), are now available for researchers at the National Security Archives, George Washington University, in Washington, DC.
The Lansdale papers unravel the CIA operative’s covert operations in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Central America and include original drafts and assessments of counter-insurgency programs as well as secret memos on presidential politics. More significant, they also reveal untold stories about how Garcia was junked as a presidential reelectionist in 1961 and how Marcos, through an intermediary, approached Lansdale to intervene in the presidential race of 1965 for fear that Macapagal would rig the elections and force his opponent (Marcos) to instigate a civil war.
In the early 1950s, Lansdale, an Air Force colonel using a cover as advisor to the Philippine Army under the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG), headed the CIA’s mission in the country when he was able to have Magsaysay appointed as the defense secretary en route to Malacañang. On July 3, 1962, at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute in Washington, DC, the CIA operative, then a brigadier general, reminisced about his exploits in the Philippines particularly his association with Magsaysay, in his own words:
“In working with Magsaysay it quickly became apparent that we would have to make the Philippine leadership against the Communists a military one in the person of the Secretary of National Defense, and since the senior military officers in their armed forces didn’t seem to have this little X factor of leadership that would make men willingly go along with them, why, we have to make a civilian Secretary in effect a military leader for his armed forces….’here, you direct it this way,’ and so we would sit down and put together a directive and on it would go.”
Lansdale, in the same state department meeting, also revealed: “I did this identical thing with a number of other Asian leaders in other countries as well as the Philippines, and every last time the right answer would come out, and one that the United States of course could go right along with.”
The two, Lansdale and Magsaysay, instantly became buddies and the war against the Huk guerillas in the early 1950s brought them together in many military operations. Lansdale again:
“We would sometimes go in liaison aircraft, sometimes jump in the car and drive places. If we went in the liaison aircraft, L-5s, we would land in a corn patch or on a road and then go out on the road and bum rides in trucks, and so forth. I used to carry a razor and a toothbrush in my pocket because I never knew when I was going to get home again.