36. On the social page of the Manila Times (September 29, 1968) there was a big write-up about the wedding of the first grandson of the country’s Vice President Lopez. The bridegroom’s name was Pinchito Puckett (Peggy’s maiden name was Puckett). And, according to the paper, the groom’s father, James Puckett, lived someplace in Colorado but was a former resident of Roswell, New Mexico, Peggy’s hometown. Peggy wondered then if it was his daughter whose phone calls she used to often get. It’s a small world, isn’t it?
37. Through the Manila Times and Newsweek we managed to keep pretty well up on the American political scene. We considered it a mess. Although we weren’t sure who would please us, we were quite disappointed with the results of the conventions. Vietnam aside, Nixon was too conservative for us, and Humphrey seemed to take every opportunity he could to avoid taking a stand on anything. And Wallace scared us! We couldn’t imagine how 20% of the voting population favored him. If we were registered voters, we thought we’d be forced to draw straws and vote for Humphry or Nixon just to cancel votes for Wallace. Peggy wanted to know how Wallace was faring in Roswell. And whether the Birchers went pro-Wallace, or were they pro-Nixon? (The Birchers were strong in Rosewell.) We thought it was pretty sad that even if Wallace couldn’t win the presidency he was a position to decide who would.
Newsweek’s analysis of the race riot situation and the consequences if either Nixon or Wallace was elected also frightened us. Our thinking then went something like this: “if the Negroes have quit rioting and are working peacefully to improve their communities why don’t we just leave them alone? If the government gets rough when there’s no more trouble, there is liable to be worse trouble than before.”
37. The Filipino political scene was also rather discouraging to us, particularly the Sabah affair. We didn’t know who should’ve been the legal owner of Sabah: the Philippines claimed that Britain never owned the land, so she couldn’t give it to Malaysia. And Malaysia said it most certainly was her territory. People we knew who had been in Sabah told us that she didn’t want to belong to the Philippines, but the Malaysian government didn’t allow as many freedoms as did the Filipino government. Malaysian, however, seemed much more capable of leading its people. And we personally didn’t know what the Philippine government would ever do with Sabah.
Some people thought President Marcos signed a bill stating that Sabah was part of the Philippines to unite people behind him and increase his chance of being re-elected in 1969. (No Filipino president had ever been re-elected.) The Filipino people were not unified … there wasn’t really a national language and individual regions were more important to people than the nation as a whole. But everyone agreed on one thing: Malaysia had no right to Sabah. This meant that Britain was just as much a villain, especially since British warplanes were supposedly flying over Sabah.
At the same time most Filipinos assumed that the U.S would back them. After all, parents always stood up for their children. And besides, the Philippines and the United States had signed a mutual defense treaty! Then BANG … a state department spokesman popped the balloon. The U.S. said Malaysia was right … even though the ambassador and Washington afterwards said that the U.S. was really neutral. To most Filipinos then the U.S. was as much a villain as Malaysia and Britain.
Neither Malaysia nor the Philippines had an army worth worrying about. Leaders on both sides said that they would not be the one to start fighting. But Filipinos in Vietnam were recalled (supposedly because of lack of funds) and were sent to the southern part of the country. The Filipino press reminded us of yellow journalism in the States before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. A few forward-thinking Filipinos had been aware for some time that it was bad for the Philippines to be so dependent upon the U.S. These people were calling for the ouster of American oil companies, for the end to parity (which allowed Americans to do business in the Philippines with almost all of the same rights as a Filipino … but was not reciprocal), and for the removal of American military bases.
By this time many people had taken up these causes, and among the most vocal were students at the universities where I taught. And we thought they were right … thought that the Philippines couldn’t become strong as long as they were leaning on the U.S. But we didn’t think the U.S was just going to pack up and move out (which we also thought would probably cause the total collapse of the Filipino economy). Clark Air Base was especially important to the American government because of the role it played then in the Vietnam War. But even without the war Clark was a valuable asset to the U.S.
The question then was what would the U.S. do if war broke out between Malaysia and the Philippines. We thought that if it were just the Philippines against Malaysia it would all be over before anyone else could get very involved. And if Britain were to back Malaysia, we didn’t think we’d fight against Britain by backing the Philippines. Besides, we were already fighting one war. But if the U.S. didn’t back the Philippines it looked to us like we’d run the risk of having real trouble over Clark. So, we could’ve ended up in a mess whichever way we turned.
We made it clear to our parents that we were in no danger because of the Sabah dispute. Nobody blamed the Peace Corps, and there had been no harassment of individual Americans. I was never bothered on the University of Philippine campus, where there were frequent anti-American demonstrations. There were also some demonstrations against the American and British embassies, but again no one bothered us. But if the situation had worsen to the extent that we were in danger we knew the Peace Corps would get us out of the country immediately.
Peggy and Randy Ford