Monday, May 16, 2005

PPS/23 (Policy Planning Staff memorandum 23)

PPS/23 Defines U.S. Policies Towards the Philippines (February 1948)
By Jorge Emmanuel

Copyright © 1999 Jorge Emmanuel. All rights reserved. Synpopsis

PPS/23 (Policy Planning Staff memorandum 23) was a top-secret State Department document that defined U.S. policy towards the Philippines.

PPS/23 established an interventionist policy to keep the Philippines in hands which the U.S. could "control and rely on" even at the expense of "human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization." The secret policy explained many historical events since the 1950s including secret U.S. counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines, covert manipulations of national elections, and support for the Martial Law regime after 1972.

Description of Historical Event

In February 1948, a top-secret U.S. State Department document, known as Policy Planning Staff memorandum 23 (PPS/23), was formulated. It defined U.S. post-war policy in Asia, focusing in particular on Japan and the Philippines. The policy paper had been drafted by George Kennan, the first director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. PPS/23 stated that the United States government should see to it that the Philippines and Japan should "remain in hands which we [the United States] can control and rely on." The Philippines was to be permitted independence in internal affairs but was to be preserved as a "bulwark of U.S. security in the area." The reasons behind this policy were stated quite candidly in PPS/23:

"We [Americans] have 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of the population. This disparity is particularly great between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming.... We should cease to talk about vague, and for the Far East, unreal
objectives, such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight
power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better."

Historical Background

In 1947, then Secretary of State George Marshall appointed George Kennan to head a Policy Planning Staff which was established to develop U.S. foreign policy from a long-range perspective. Kennan became known as a proponent of the domino theory, the notion that if one country in a region turned to communism, other countries would "fall" like dominos. In 1948, he completed PPS/23 which set the course for an interventionist U.S. policy towards the Philippines that showed little respect for Philippine sovereignty. Many years later, Kennan seemed to have a change of heart as, in 1977, several years after the declaration of Martial Law, he called for immediate and complete withdrawal of U.S. bases from the Philippines arguing that there was no "serious need" for the bases and that Marcos' demand for military and economic aid in exchange for bases was tantamount to "paying huge annual bribes as a form of hush money."

Even though PPS/23 was declassified in the 1970s, its existence was known only to a few scholars and policymakers. In 1984, Professor Richard Falk of Princeton University, a well-known authority on international law, drew attention to this previously classified document at an international conference on the Philippines held in Stony Point, New York. Falk argued that PPS/23 was given the highest level of classification to keep Americans ignorant of the true nature of U.S. policies in the region.

As the journalist Raymond Bonner explained, PPS/23 was put into effect a few years later as the United States waged a secret counterinsurgency war against the Huks (short for Hukbo ng Bayan Laban Sa Hapon or People's Army Against Japan), a peasant-based guerrilla army originally formed in 1942 by left-wing labor and peasant leaders to fight the Japanese military during World War II. PPS/23 also explained why the U.S. government, through manipulations and funding by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, made certain that only presidential candidates favorable to the U.S. would win national elections. U.S. policies in light of mounting human rights abuses during and after the declaration of Martial Law in 1972 were also consistent with PPS/23; these policies included U.S. consolidation of police forces, massive infusion of U.S. military aid including counterinsurgency weapons and riot-control equipment, and U.S. training of Philippine security forces accused by human rights organizations of systematic and widespread abuses.

Significance to the Filipino Community

Disclosure of PPS/23 by Princeton University Professor Richard Falk at a 1984 conference of American religious leaders and delegates from the Philippines helped consolidate a solidarity movement among church people in the United States working for human rights and democracy in the Philippines. The conference became an annual gathering called the National Ecumenical Conference on the Philippines (NECP), organized by the Church Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (CCHRP), and played an important role in supporting the human rights movement in the Philippines. As a result of Professor Falk's presentation, many Filipinos who became aware of PPS/23 were forced to re-evaluate critically the history of U.S. foreign policy towards the Philippines.

Because PPS/23 challenges myths about U.S.-Philippine relations, it can be a valuable lesson in critical analysis of history. An understanding of PPS/23 may encourage Filipinos in the U.S. to become more involved in the political process especially in shaping a more equitable and mutually beneficial U.S. foreign policy towards the Philippines and other less developed countries. Some have argued that an unequal and oftentimes exploitative treatment of the Philippines by the United States (which has been described as "neocolonialism") will always be an underlying obstacle for Filipinos in the U.S. struggling for civil rights and full acceptance and participation in U.S. society. PPS/23 is important for the Filipino community in the U.S. because it helps us understand the nationalist movement in the Philippines as well as the solidarity movement of non-Filipinos in the U.S. working to change aspects of U.S. foreign policy.


Richard Falk, "The National Security Doctrine," in Cry of the People: Challenge to the Churches, a report of the International Ecumenical Conference on the Philippines, Stony Point, New York, 1984.

T.H. Etzold and J.L. Gladdis, Editors, Containment: Documents on American Policy and Strategy, 1945-1950, Columbia University Press, 1978.

"Review of Current Trends, U.S. Foreign Policy," PPS/23, Top Secret; published in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948, Vol. I, part 2, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1976.

Raymond Bonner, Waltzing With a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy, Times Books (Random House, Inc.), New York, 1987.

Jorge Emmanuel, "The Philippines and East Asia-Pacific as Theaters of Intervention and Nuclear War," Diliman Review, Volume 33, No. 4-5, Quezon City, Philippines, July-October 1985.

George F. Kennan, The Cloud of Danger: Current Realities of American Foreign Policy, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1977.

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