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″Cut And Cut Cleanly,” Laxalt Advises Marcos In Dramatic Call

February 25, 1986 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Paul Laxalt, a close friend of President Reagan, said he told Ferdinand E. Marcos it was time to ″cut and cut cleanly″ after the embattled Philippine leader telephoned him desperately searching for ways to cling to power.

Laxalt said at a news conference Tuesday that he was in the middle of a top-secret briefing on the Philippine crisis Monday afternoon when an aide told him he had a telephone call from Manila.

It was Marcos.

″I was frankly very surprised,″ said Laxalt, who went to Manila last October, carrying a plea from Reagan that Marcos reform his government to deal with economic crisis and a communist insurgency.

The two men struck up a friendship and Laxalt said Marcos called him several times in the intervening months. The Nevada Republican said he received a call late last week but refused to talk to Marcos until presidential envoy Philip Habib had returned from Manila.

Laxalt and other congressmen were listening to a briefing by Secretary of State George Shultz and Habib about U.S. efforts to solve the impasse between Marcos and Corazon Aquino when he got another call.

This time, said Laxalt, he decided to do what he could and left the briefing about 2 p.m. to speak to Marcos.

The first thing Marcos wanted to know what ″whether the message delivered by the State Department was valid,″ said Laxalt. That message contained Reagan’s call earlier Monday for Marcos to step down.

″I said it was,″ said Laxalt, who indicated that Marcos did not believe what lower-level State Department officials had been saying about U.S. wishes for Marcos’ future.

Marcos wanted to know if ″something could be worked out″ so he and Mrs. Aquino could share power, but ″I said I thought that was impractical.″

Marcos also wanted assurances that if he came to the United States, he would not be punished and Laxalt said, ″I indicated that was no problem.″ And then Marcos said he had ″considerable support″ and still considered himself president of the Philippines.

Laxalt told Marcos he would talk to Reagan. He and Shultz then drove from the Capitol to the White House for a hastily called meeting with Reagan about 3 p.m.

Reagan also cast cold water on the power-sharing idea, said Laxalt, and indicated that Marcos and his family ″would be welcome here in the United States.″

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Laxalt then called Marcos back. Although mid-afternoon in Washington, it was the middle of the night in Manila.

″I asked if he had been up all night,″ said Laxalt. ″He said he had. He said they thought the palace would be stormed.″

Marcos also said ″there were reports that U.S. Navy ships were sailing up the river and would aid the rebels and I said I didn’t believe it.″

Marcos asked if Reagan wanted him to quit and Laxalt said that it was not Reagan’s place to tell another sovereign leader what to do.

″Then he asked me the gut question, ’Senator what should I do?‴ Laxalt said. ″I wasn’t bound by diplomatic niceties. I said, ‘Cut and cut cleanly. The time has come.’

″There was the longest pause,″ said Laxalt, ″It seemed to go on for minutes. It lasted so long I asked him if he was still there. He said, ‘yes’ and then he said, ’I am so very, very disappointed.‴

Marcos hung up, without revealing what h intended to do, Laxalt said.

In that final, 15-minute conversation, said Laxalt, Marcos ″was a desperate man, clutching at straws. ... He was hanging on, looking for a life preserver.″

During the conversations, Laxalt said, Marcos said he did not want to the leave the Philippines.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed that view in discussing Tuesday’s developments.

″He is reluctant to leave,″ said Lugar, who said ″my understanding is that he will spend the night at Clark and then decide where to go.″

Rep. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., a member of the House subcommittee on Pacific and Asian affairs said Marcos should not be granted asylum in the United States although but did not oppose his coming here temporarily.

Lugar praised Reagan for ″moving decisively in these days when violence could be avoided. ... I think the president’s movements have been well- timed.″

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he was ″very pleased″ that Marcos was leaving, saying ″had he stayed and toughed it out for a while, there would have been a real bloodbath.″

″I think we came close to botching it by sticking with Marcos for so long,″ said Leahy, ″but the way it ended, I think we can work with Mrs. Aquino. She is going to need a lot of help and I think the United States can provide it in a way that is going to stop the corruption that has existed there.″

Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., said the United States should be cautious in its response to the new government in the Philippines.

″Now we’re in the post-Marcos era. We have to find out what the new government thinks of us,″ Dole told reporters. U.S. officials should ″review a lot of the statements she (Mrs. Aquino) made in her campaign with a little more care.″

Rep. Stephen J. Solarz, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters he will fly to Manila next week to confer with Mrs. Aquino.

Solarz commended the administration for its role in arranging a peaceful transition of power to the Aquino government, and said Reagan’s offer of asylum to Marcos was an ″appropriate″ price to pay to avoid a bloodbath.

Sen. James Sasser, D-Tenn., said, ″Mr. Marcos decision to leave and thus avoid a bloody civil war was a wise one.″

Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., said, ″Today, I am satisfied that the facts are in and our president has acted wisely.″

Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., said Congress would not likely approve a quick increase in military aid. ″It’s the economic conditions that create the (communist) insurgency,″ he said.

Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., said he was ″pleased and releived that President Marcos is apparently in the process of giving up power and that large-scale bloodshed has been avoided.″

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said, ″In recent days, the Philippine people have demonstrated again the power of the idea of democracy.″

Sen. Robert Kasten, R-Wis., called Marcos’ decision ″a victory for democracy.″

To Sen. Lawton Chiles, D-Fla., Marcos’ leaving ″is a plus for the United States, a plus for the Filipino people, a plus for the democracy.″

Sen. Dan Evans, R-Wash., said the United States should grant more help to Mrs. Aquino if she needs it.