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An Interview with Ferdinand Marcos

6 minute read

“My wife is not going to be President”

The scene at Manila’s Malacañang Palace leaves little doubt that the two most powerful people in the Philippines are both named Marcos. While President Ferdinand Marcos receives a constant stream of visitors in his study, which is just off the main reception hall, First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos holds court next door in the music room. Last week, a few days before leaving on his trip to the U.S., the President discussed at length his wife, human rights and other issues with TIME Hong Kong Bureau Chief Ross H. Munro and Manila Stringer Nelly Sindayen. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. In your statements about the U.S. trip, you leave the impression that you consider yourself a good friend of the U.S. but one who has sometimes been badly treated.

A. That’s quite true. It’s time the two countries—the leadership of both countries—look at these matters with more maturity than has been demonstrated so far.

Q. Is there one particular example you’d want to give, when you and the Philippines were treated badly?

A.. We go all the way back in history: [Admiral George] Dewey and his promises, the proclamation of independence. When the veterans had to send a mission to the U.S. to claim their rights after the second World War. The Bell Trade Act [of 1946] was a symbol of one-sidedness: we were obligated to allow all American products to come into our country free. But eight principal Philippine products were given quotas by the U.S.* And the U.S. reserved the power to impose restrictions on any product imported from the Philippines that would compete with any American product.

Q. What about during the Administration of Jimmy Carter, with its emphasis on human rights in foreign policy?

A. It’s not a matter of foreign policy. I would presume it’s more a matter of implementation thereof. We have no quarrel with a policy that seeks to support human rights. In your financing institutions, the instructions under President Carter were either to vote against Philippine projects or to cast a neutral vote on the ground that we had violated human rights. Many projects had to be delayed. Some of those projects [approved only recently] had been pending for ten or 15 years.

It’s a question of arriving at conclusions based on distorted media and embassy reports. We felt that the Philippines was entitled to more attention in the matter of really determining what was happening. These statements about torture, about alleged misuse of power and things like that insulted the Filipinos more than their leader because it was made to appear as if Filipinos would tolerate a leader who would torture his own people, who would utilize his executive prerogatives for abuses.

Q. First Lady Imelda Marcos recently hinted that if the U.S. treats the Philippines shabbily, the Philippines could turn toward the Soviet Union and China.

A. She must have said that impulsively. She knows that option was closed a long time ago. So long as I’m President, Communism will not thrive here. But that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want to do, hurt the Philippines as much as you want, and still hold the Philippines. You may just lose the Philippines—if, for instance, the Philippines were to follow a policy of neutrality. It doesn’t necessarily have to join up with the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China.

Q. Lately, you have repeatedly expressed a desire to know about U.S. contingency planning, what the U.S. would do in…

A. Let us be frank. Is the U.S. really ready to fight a land war in Asia after Viet Nam?

Q. If the Philippines were to be attacked, for instance?

A. Yes. Or not just the Philippines; suppose there’s a land war in Asia.

Q. Do you believe that the U.S. has a special obligation to come to the Philippines’ assistance because the U.S. has two key bases on your soil?

A. That’s what I want to know. After all, those key bases were abandoned in 1941.

Q. Will you be seeking that sort of commitment from President Reagan?

A. No, no, no. I would like to know what the plans are. You see, America has always stated that it is ready to fight 1½ wars. Now they have changed this into two wars, which means that they are ready to fight in Europe as well as in Asia. Now you tell me, can they? Are you ready to fight two wars?

Q. You have placed special emphasis recently on arrangements for choosing your successor. Why the urgency at this particular time?

A. Because I’m going on a trip and anything may happen. Nobody is impervious to misfortune.

Q. You recently said that you had days when you felt like taking a vacation for six months and leaving business in the hands of the Executive Committee. Is that a realistic option?

A. Yes, I would like to see whether my supposed successors can really operate the government without causing a crisis. If by 1987 I decide not to run, those fellows who take over had better know how to run the government. What better way to find out than to let them run it, for a while, when I’m around and can rectify any mistakes?

Q. You have always denied that your wife would succeed you, yet she was named to the Executive Committee last month. How do you explain that?

A. Members of the K.B.L. [the ruling New Society Movement] caucus said, “Let’s talk now about what should be done in order to strengthen the leadership that may follow you.” This was their argument: Any new President must get the support of the First Lady, otherwise there may be division in political leadership; so we have to agree that while she is a member of the Executive Committee, she is not going to be President, she’s not going to be Prime Minister.

* Sugar, cordage, rice, cigars, scrap and filler tobacco, coconut oil and pearl buttons.

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