U.S. Policy / Philippines

Bonner, Raymond. Waltzing With a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy. New York: Times Books, 1987. 534 pages.

Drawing on nearly 3,000 previously-classified documents, Bonner looks at the diplomatic history of U.S. relations with the Marcos regime in the Philippines. CIA station chief Herbert Natzke once observed that Marcos was a brilliant man, but he has two flaws: "He can't avoid stealing everything in sight, and he can't control his wife." By 1979 Imelda was functioning almost as the head of government. Her incredible waste and consumption was an embarrassment, and the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino was clearly a government plot, but U.S. diplomats felt that we needed our bases.

After graduating from Stanford Law School, Ray Bonner was twice decorated in Vietnam as an officer in the Marine Corps. During the 1970s he worked for Ralph Nader in public interest law. In 1979 he started travelling in Latin America, and in 1981 was hired by the New York Times. After over a hundred stories filed from El Salvador, where he was one of the first Western correspondents to travel with the guerrillas, the NYT reassigned him in 1982 following complaints from U.S. officials about his alleged anti-U.S. bias. He left the NYT in 1984 and was soon writing for New Yorker magazine. In 1988 he and Jane Perlez moved from New York City to Nairobi, Kenya, where she began her new assignment as the New York Times correspondent for East Africa.


Seagrave, Sterling. The Marcos Dynasty. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. 485 pages.

Edward Lansdale had just installed Ramon Magsaysay as Philippine defense minister and planned to run him for president, but first he had to deal with the peasants. "In an area thought to be harboring a team of Huk guerrillas, Lansdale's ambushers snatched a peasant one night, punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, hung the body by the ankles to drain it of blood, then put the corpse back on the trail. When the peasants found the toothmarked bloodless corpse, the entire Huk unit moved away. The novelty of these games amused Lansdale, who slyly passed them on as combat anecdotes, enchanting his CIA superiors.... Lansdale's experiments were given top priority." (page 145)

With friends like these, the Philippine elite had little need to maintain democratic appearances. Fake war hero Ferdinand Marcos was elected in 1965, declared marshall law in 1972, and then defrauded his countrymen and partied his way into the hearts of U.S. celebrities for the next 14 years. Also included are several chapters on "Yamashita's Gold" -- the apparent source of much of Marcos' wealth. There's still $100 billion or so that hasn't been recovered, which attracted treasure-hunters such as the John Birch Society and, as recently as 1986, John Singlaub, who wanted the gold to fund his anti-communist campaigns.


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