The Guide

A US President In Manila

As the Philippines’ capital and seat of government, Manila has seen various heads of state and government who have come here for state or working visits in the country. However, for many Filipinos, there is no greater impact of such visits than that of the President of the United States. Then again, that should come as no surprise given the United States’ position today as  a global superpower and more importantly, the historical ties that existed ever since the Philippines first became an American colony in 1898.

Thus, the high level of anticipation being seen at this time for the upcoming state visit of US President Barack Obama on April 28. It will be a given that the visit will be about strengthening US-PH ties, (something that is being stressed out as of late due to those issues we are having with China over disputed areas in the country) but it will be interesting to find out what else will be on the table when Obama and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III meet. Will we get back the Balangiga Bells?  Will Obama announce new investments in the Philippines? Will Obama get to wear and barong and how will he look with it? On another note, will Obama get to try balut or other Filipino delicacies?

As we await and see what history will be made, if any, from the upcoming Obama state visit, let us look back at the US presidents who came before him who visited Manila in the past through this new edition of the Urban Roamer’s Guide. We will deal here strictly with those who visited the country in their official capacity as President of the United States. Thus, we will not be counting William Howard Taft, (who was here from 1900-1904 as US civil governor before he became president) Ronald Reagan, (governor of California state when he visited here in 1969) George Bush, (who came here in 1981 as US Vice President) and Jimmy Carter. (no longer president when he came here in 1999)


Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first sitting US president to visit the Philippines as he came on June 14, 1960 for a two-day visit. It was an important state visit, given that the Philippines was a key ally of America at a time when the Cold War was at its height. It was quite a packed schedule as the activities included meeting with then Philippine President Carlos Garcia, giving an address at the Philippine Congress hall, a speech at Rizal Park, and receiving an honorary doctorate degree at the University of the Philippines.

Eisenhower and PH President Carlos Garcia, 1960. You can view this and other media from the Eisenhower visit from this site:

Then again, that should not come as a surprise as Eisenhower spent his formative years of his military career in the country as second-in-command to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. One can say there is an element of sentimentality with that Eisenhower visit.


The next sitting US president to visit the country was Lyndon Johnson. He arrived on October 24,1966 to attend the Manila Summit Conference, a 2-day event that was organized to help solve the problem that was going on Vietnam. Along with the leaders of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Thailand, the leaders of US-backed South Vietnam also attended the summit. Being a meeting of leaders all belonging to the same side, it should not be a surprise to see the communist-led North Vietnam absent in this event and why this summit eventually failed  in its supposed aim.

Johnson, Marcos, and their respective first ladies, 1966. You can view this and other photos from the Johnson visit here:


Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon also made his way here from July 26-27 1969. He met with then President Ferdinand Marcos to talk about the usual stuff about strengthening US-PH ties. What makes this visit interesting in retrospect is the idea that two leaders whose names are now synonymous with being crooks, leaders who now bear negative impressions, actually met face-to-face.

Nixon and Marcos at Malacañang, 1969. credits to

It should be noted that it was not Nixon’s first time to be in the country. He first visited  in 1953 in his capacity as Vice President under Eisenhower and got to meet Ramon Magsaysay who was the Philippine president at that time.


Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford made a state visit to the country on December 6-7 1975. At that time, martial law was in full swing as Marcos strengthened his grip on power. The trip was a show to the rest of the world that Marcos that America has his back and the US views Marcos as an ally, human rights abuses and corruption aside.

Curiously, there are not much available documents online about the Ford visit, save for a couple of photos, including this curious one below.

Ford dancing the tinikling while Marcos looks on, 1975 (photo courtesy of Getty Images)


BILL CLINTON, 1994 and 1996

After almost 20 years, Manila and the Philippines got to welcome an American president again in the person of Bill Clinton, who even got to visit the country twice during his tenure. The first one occurred in November 13-13, 1994, which not only saw renewal of US-PH ties with his counterpart Fidel Ramos in the wake of the removal of the US bases 3 years ago, but also saw  Clinton visit Corregidor Island as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Philippines’ liberation from Japan during World War II. The second visit happened two years later, on August 24-25, 1996 for the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) which was being held in the country in the former naval base of Subic Bay outside Manila.

Clinton in Filipino barong garb, 1996, (photo courtesy of The Guardian)

Apart from the photo how good Clinton looked in barong, the Manila visit of 1996 also became memorable due to recent revelation that terrorist group Al-Qaeda plotted to kill Clinton when he was here, a plot that managed to be foiled by the Secret Service. Details of this plot can be read here.


En route to the APEC Summit that was to be held in Thailand, Clinton’s successor George W. Bush made a day tour of sorts to Manila on October 18, 2003. His activities included not only meeting with his counterpart Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, (who like him, is an offspring of a former head of state as well) but also addressed the joint session of Philippine Congress as he was drumming up support for America’s “war on terror” which became controversial  especially when it was used as pretext for his administration to invade Iraq early that year.

George W. Bush at Malacañang grounds, 2003 (photo courtesy of the White House website)


Barack Obama’s upcoming visit will him the 7th sitting US President to visit the country. Whatever will come out of this visit, one thing for sure is that this event will be a noteworthy one as it has always been for a visiting US president in the country.

acknowledgements as well to the US State Department website and the Inquirer

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