“Magsaysay would wear a very colorful sport shirt, and he looked like sort of a playboy except he was very burly and built husky. I was in uniform, and my principal job, often very first contacting people was to explain to the troops, the officers, or whatever they were, that this man was really a cabinet officer, he was Secretary of National Defense. He looked anything but it.”
In other papers, Lansdale also tells of occasions when he would sit at Cabinet meetings of then President Elpidio Quirino and discuss about the counter-insurgency campaign. Apparently, rubbing elbows with the President and his Cabinet secretaries, would pale in influence compared to how he held the dice in war situation rooms together with Magsaysay. Lansdale reveals that many strategies against the Huks were plotted secretly right in the defense secretary’s home in Sampaloc, Manila:
“We (with Magsaysay) sat up what was in essence a small OPD of bringing these folks [Filipino intelligence men] together for seminar sessions and going into the nature of the enemy, the nature of our armed forces, the nature of our tactics, the nature of our strategy, and what would be the best way to go out and solve the problem. So we had folks that would just come on in, spend maybe a couple of hours sitting there in a meeting and tossing out ideas, and tossing out ideas on which they knew very well their lives were at stake.”
In separate Philippine accounts, Lansdale is described as having engineered Magsaysay’s election to the presidency in 1953. Quirino, who was seen as being soft on the communist threat, lost his re-election bid owing partly to a corruption issue that would be considered trivial in today’s standards: about a supposedly gold-plated spittoon inside the presidential bedroom. The much-publicized issue was a psywar gimmick crafted, according to independent accounts, by Lansdale himself. It was also in the 1953 presidential race that the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) was formed chiefly through U.S. assistance and the AFP, through Lansdale’s influence, was mobilized to guard the ballot presumably to make sure that Magsaysay was elected.
But Magsaysay died in a mysterious plane crash in 1957 and was succeeded by his vice president, Carlos Garcia. American officials were peeved by Garcia’s Filipino First policy that called for boosting the country’s manufacturing industry and preferential treatment for Philippine-made products. Later, Garcia would mend Philippine-U.S. relations asking Foreign Secretary Felixberto Serrano, according to a CIA memo to the U.S. defense department sometime 1960, “to soften his previously abrasive approach…toward Philippine-American relationships and to desist from surfacing one irritant after another.”
A separate CIA paper from the Lansdale collection on the 1961 presidential race where Garcia ran for reelection against the Liberal Party’s Macapagal, contains annotated recommendations to “attempt by indirect action to dissuade Garcia from running or, failing that, attempt to impede his chances to win.” It also called for “discontinuing support to PP [Progressive Party] and GA [Grand Alliance] in order to consolidate opposition [Macapagal]; to “concentrate on indirect non-identifiable support to opposition by building anti-Garcia sentiment”; and “work with Phil. press to expose graft and corruption.”
Lansdale also operated in Vietnam in the late 1950s-1960s as a CIA operative and helped set up the corrupt Ngo Dinh Diem government in Saigon. He went on to become chief of the CIA’s undercover operations in Indochina. In this new assignment, Lansdale was able to have some key Filipino intelligence officers sent to Vietnam to help him wage a bloody counter-insurgency campaign that was basically molded from the Philippine experience.
Lansdale also helped form the Special Forces, a brainchild of President John F. Kennedy. He retired in 1963 as a U.S. air force major general and died in 1987 at the age of 79.
The CIA operative is said to be the model for characters in two novels involving guerilla warfare in Southeast Asia: The Quiet American by Graham Greene and The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer.
The CIA’s deep operations in the Philippines were in pursuit of the U.S. cold war policy of confronting the “communist threat” throughout the world – a policy that critics said however was only used as a pretext for promoting the emerging American Empire’s economic hegemony throughout the world. The Huk resurgence in the Philippines was seen in particular as part of this international “menace”. The underlying U.S. foreign policy in the country was laid down in PPS/23, a policy prescription issued in 1948 that called explicitly for maintaining the Philippines as a vital part of America’s economic and security objectives. To do this, according to other policy directives, it was important that the Philippine government remained friendly to the U.S. Posted by (Bulatlat.com)
*This 2-part special report was originally published by the Philippine Graphic magazine in an early January 2008 issue.