The Philippines was a world apart from us, running a different style of politics and government under an American military umbrella. It was not until January 1974 that I visited President Marcos in Manila. When my Singapore Airlines plane flew into Philippine airspace, a small squadron of Philippine Air Force jet fighters escorted it to Manila Airport. There Marcos received me in great style – the Filipino way. I was put up at the guest wing of Malacañang Palace in lavishly furnished rooms, valuable objects of art bought in Europe strewn all over. Our hosts were gracious, extravagant in hospitality, flamboyant. Over a thousand miles of water separated us. There was no friction and little trade. We played golf, talked about the future of ASEAN, and promised to keep in touch.Read the rest of the excerpt here.
His foreign minister, Carlos P. Romulo, was a small man of about five feet some 20 years my senior, with a ready wit and a self-deprecating manner about his size and other limitations. Romulo had a good sense of humor, an eloquent tongue, and a sharp pen, and was an excellent dinner companion because he was a wonderful raconteur, with a vast repertoire of anecdotes and witticisms. He did not hide his great admiration for the Americans. One of his favourite stories was about his return to the Philippines with General MacArthur. As MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte, the water reached his knees but came up to Romulo’s chest and he had to swim ashore. His good standing with ASEAN leaders and with Americans increased the prestige of the Marcos administration. Marcos had in Romulo a man of honor and integrity who helped give a gloss of respectability to his regime as it fell into disrepute in the 1980s.
In Bali in 1976, at the first ASEAN summit held after the fall of Saigon, I found Marcos keen to push for greater economic cooperation in ASEAN. But we could not go faster than the others. To set the pace, Marcos and I agreed to implement a bilateral Philippines-Singapore across-the-board 10 percent reduction of existing tariffs on all products and to promote intra-ASEAN trade. We also agreed to lay a Philippines-Singapore submarine cable. I was to discover that for him, the communiqué was the accomplishment itself; its implementation was secondary, an extra to be discussed at another conference.
We met every two to three years. He once took me on a tour of his library at Malacañang, its shelves filled with bound volumes of newspapers reporting his activities over the years since he first stood for elections. There were encyclopedia-size volumes on the history and culture of the Philippines with his name as the author. His campaign medals as an anti-Japanese guerrilla leader were displayed in glass cupboards. He was the undisputed boss of all Filipinos. Imelda, his wife, had a penchant for luxury and opulence. When they visited Singapore before the Bali summit they came in stye in two DC8’s, his and hers.
Marcos did not consider China a threat for the immediate future, unlike Japan. He did not rule out the possibility of an aggressive Japan, if circumstances changed. He had memories of the horrors the Imperial Army had inflicted on Manila. We had strongly divergent views on the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia. While he, pro forma, condemned the Vietnamese occupation, he did not consider it a danger to the Philippines. There was the South China Sea separating them and the American navy guaranteed their security. As a result, Marcos was not active on the Cambodian question. Moreover, he was to become preoccupied with the deteriorating security in his country.