Below are excerpts, as transcribed by The New York Times from a secretly recorded tape of an Oval Office meeting on January 5, 1973 between former US President Richard Nixon and then Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos P. Romulo.
The context of course, was that this was just a few months after the declaration of Martial law in the Philippines. Were they lying to one another? Or just in denial? Or ignorant? Or simply trying to convince themselves that the ends justified the means? Whatever their state of mind, or their true intent, future events would later prove them both to spectacularly be on the wrong side of Philippine history.
For all the talk - then and now, some by good-intentioned but frustrated and misguided folks - that democracy will never work in the Philippines or worse, that maybe what we need today is a benevolent dictatorship, this short snippet of a conversation provides a cautionary glimpse of how cavalier the powers-that-be can be about the exercise of power, and that indeed, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
It is something to think about, as we move towards 2010.
NIXON: We hope that things are calming down there.
ROMULO: That is right, very well, Mr. President. I know it’s very important to you that now there is peace and order.
NIXON: Do you prefer tea or coffee, or neither?
ROMULO: Nothing, thank you. There is peace and order. The landlords [unclear] Their guns and arms can equip five divisions.
NIXON: Did the president have to take these strong measures, or — ?
ROMULO: He had to, yes, he had to.
NIXON: I know some people here were, you know, coming in to my office and saying, we must lecture President Marcos. I said nope, not a lecture. I said that I hope that he realizes that this poses some problems. But he knows his own internal situation. I know he is dedicated, as you are, to freedom and all the rest. But you cannot have anarchy. You cannot have it. Your people —You once told me that the Philippines took all of the excesses of American democracy and improved on them. (laughter) ...
NIXON: How do your young people feel?
ROMULO: Well, they want to clean all the streets. Cleaning the graffiti on the walls. You know what, we have some of the cleanest cities in Asia.
ROMULO: The flies have disappeared because the garbage is gone.
ROMULO: You see, democracy, really, American democracy, is for a mature, highly developed, affluent society.
ROMULO: For a developing society, you need someone with strength.
NIXON: You also need it in Latin America. You need it, for example, in Korea. You’re going to need it in Vietnam eventually, you know, the truth is. I understand that.
ROMULO: But Mr. President if you had Marcos over here, your Congress wouldn’t be giving you the trouble they’re giving you now. (laughs)
NIXON: They’ve been giving me trouble for four years and we survived it.
ROMULO: Yes, might be a victory. I was with the board of editors of The Times, and I said to them — they were speaking of the power of the press.
ROMULO: [unclear] said, my friends, about the power of the press — that makes me quite doubtful about the power of the press because you went after President Nixon and you went all out for McGovern. I think the American people maybe didn’t. (laughs)
NIXON: (laughs) Ha-ha! That’s a nice chuckle.
ROMULO: Yes, I said he won all the states except for Massachusetts, and certainly it was not The New York Times that won Massachusetts for McGovern. It was the Kennedys who won that. That kept them quiet.
NIXON: That’s right.