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Whitlam – Visit to the Philippines (1974)

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clip Manila Bay cruise education content clip 1, 2, 3

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

The then Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda Marcos host a Manila Bay Cruise on 12 February 1974 for the then prime minister Gough Whitlam and his wife Mrs Margaret Whitlam.

Curator’s notes

On the third (second full) day of his busy Philippines schedule in February 1974, Gough Whitlam and a selection of his touring party were taken on a cruise on Manila Bay to historic Corregidor, aboard the Philippines presidential yacht 'Ang Pangulo’. It was the second of two meetings with President Marcos and a brief chance for some relaxation. Marcos exhibited his water skiing prowess, while the Whitlams took a swim.

Gough had been a member of the forces which liberated the Philippines from the Japanese in the Second World War and Marcos was also a war veteran. At a stop off on the Bataan Peninsula, the party came across some ex members of General Douglas MacArthur’s staff, who were there on a sentimental pilgrimage. At Corregidor the party toured the batteries and paid homage to the island’s monumental wartime role. The cruise ended and it was back to Manila for more scheduled engagements.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows the then prime minister, Gough Whitlam, during the third day of his visit to the Philippines in February 1974 on the final leg of a six-nation tour of South-East Asia. It depicts Gough and Margaret Whitlam on a cruise on Manila Bay hosted by Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda. During the cruise the party stops at Corregidor Island, which was one of the last Asian defences to fall to the Japanese during the Second World War. The clip shows the Whitlams attending a function that evening with local and foreign press. The narrator says that during the cruise Whitlam and Marcos held talks on bilateral and regional cooperation, and that later in the day Whitlam visited the Asian Development Bank.

Educational value points

  • The clip provides an insight into the relaxed and informal settings that can accompany formal visits between heads of state and which can help facilitate shared understandings between leaders. The images of the Marcos’s and Whitlams enjoying swimming and water sports might surprise viewers used to high levels of protection from the media for politicians and public figures. The relaxed nature of the yacht scenes may have been facilitated by the fact that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos visited Australia late in 1973, the first full year of Whitlam’s term in office.
  • Edward Gough Whitlam (1916–) travelled overseas more extensively than had any previous Australian prime minister, and while the federal opposition and tabloid press dismissed these trips as junkets, visits to Asian countries were a symbolic and practical means of cementing relations in the region. As seen in the clip these visits provided an opportunity for leaders to meet in relaxed and informal settings, to visit places of historical and political interest such as Corregidor and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
  • The Asian Development Bank (ADB), visited by the Whitlams on this tour, has its headquarters in Manila. The ADB was established in 1966 to improve the welfare of people in Asia and the Pacific, where two-thirds of the world’s poor live, through the provision of loans and technical assistance. The ADB is owned by 66 member economies, 47 of which are in the region. Australia is the fifth-largest shareholder and has contributed $2.93 billion in capital subscription and $1.42 billion to special funds since joining the ADB in 1966. The ADB staff, a number of whom are Australian, include academic and other experts in the areas of agriculture, civil engineering, economics, public policy and finance.
  • The clip shows Australia’s growing relationship with nations in South-East Asia during this period, in this instance the Philippines. Prior to the election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972, Australia’s foreign policy was closely aligned firstly with that of Britain, and after the Second World War with that of the USA. However, while Whitlam sought to maintain a close relationship with the USA, he pursued an independent foreign policy that emphasised regional engagement. Whitlam believed that Australia’s foreign policy should address the nation’s interests rather than be tied to the global objectives of the USA. The focus on the Asia–Pacific region was prompted by Australia’s location in the region and a desire to strengthen relationships with neighbouring countries in the interests of national security and trade.
  • Corregidor was a significant site for Whitlam to visit. This island fortress at the entrance to Manila Bay was, during the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42), the site of allied headquarters under the command of US General Douglas MacArthur and the temporary location of the Philippine Government. After the Philippines fell into Japanese hands 13,000 US and Philippine troops held out at Corregidor for 27 days against a 75,000-strong Japanese force before surrendering on 6 May 1942. The action may have thwarted Japanese plans to invade Australia.
  • During the Second World War, Whitlam served in the Royal Australian Air Force as a navigator-bomb aimer, and was initially stationed at Gove in eastern Arnhem Land, where his squadron protected convoys off northern Australia. He took part in bombing raids on Japanese-held positions and shipping as far away as the Philippines. Marcos served in the Philippine army and maintained that he had led a guerrilla unit against Japanese forces. However, it was later revealed that his service had been far less distinguished than he claimed.
  • Ferdinand Marcos (1917–89) was president of the Philippines between 1965 and 1986. While he was initially elected by popular vote, a deteriorating economy led to social unrest and in 1972 he declared martial law and assumed dictatorial control of the country. Marcos’s presidency was marked by government corruption and political repression, and he himself embezzled millions of dollars. Eventually he was ousted by a popular uprising. Marcos was committed to regional cooperation and in 1967 helped found the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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