On 11 April 1975, with the Philippines two and a half years into martial rule, Ferdinand Marcos issued Letter of Instruction (LOI) 270, officially titled "Naturalization of Deserving Aliens by Decree." It marked the turning point in the quest of ethnic Chinese and other "aliens" living in the Philippines to acquire Philippine citizenship. In lieu of the cumbersome and costly judicial process, Marcos ordered a simple procedure that enabled mass naturalization. After campaigning for years to gain this right, ethnic Chinese almost overnight could become Filipino citizens, but it had to come from a dictatorial regime. Benito O. Lim, then a 38-year-old professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, became a key actor in a historic process. In an interview conducted on 20 July 2012, with subsequent conversations held on 1 and 14 August, Lim explains the broad context that led to this unprecedented policy, illustrated by aspects of his own personal history.
There has been no written account of this episode in Philippine history, so can you tell us the background of what happened in the 1970s that led to the opening of diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China (PRC) and President Marcos signing LOI 270, which allowed mass naturalization? What led to that LOI and could you explain why it was Marcos who granted mass naturalization to ethnic Chinese and other foreigners in the Philippines?
This is going to be a long story. The circumstances that led to Marcos's decision to issue the mass naturalization law were part of broader social, economic, and political realities in the 1960s and the 1970s. At that time most of the world, especially the West, depended on oil imported from the Middle Eastern countries. These countries, realizing that this resource is vital to world economy and that it is nonrenewable, decided to organize themselves into the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC). And in order to negotiate for more favorable returns for their oil exports they decided to form a cartel in 1970. Together with the combined efforts to negotiate for better terms with oil-importing countries, the OPEC also organized the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) whose efforts included [End Page 392] mobilization of Muslims around the world for mutual social and economic assistance. Clearly, the OPEC was using their oil reserves as an instrument of foreign policy. Then US Sec. of State Henry Kissinger panicked. His views shared by many top US policy makers triggered animosity, if not hostility, toward oil-rich countries that happen to be mostly Muslims. In fact, Samuel Huntington's book, The Clash of Civilizations [and the Remaking of World Order; Simon and Schuster, 1996] raised the "specter of Islamic jihad." The US and western European policy makers believed that, next to Communism, Islam was the other imminent threat to their security.
These external global events coincided with the growing militant consciousness of Filipino Muslims, who had long harbored resentment toward "the Christian-dominated government" they believed had ignored their demands for a fairer share of the country's resources. They also believed that the Philippine government deliberately sent Christianized settlers from Luzon and the Visayas as well as foreign corporations to take over their lands. These grievances helped fuel the formation of the Bangsa Moro organizations, but the most militant was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari, which advocated armed revolt. What made Nur Misuari's rebellion even more frightening to Marcos was when he succeeded in obtaining the support of the OIC, the political arm of the OPEC. Misuari was able to persuade the OIC that Marcos and the Christian-dominated government was committing "genocide" against all Filipino Muslims. Military offensives against Muslim rebels, displacement of thousands of civilians, and the bombing of Jolo in 1974 ordered by then Sec. of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile were proofs enough to persuade the OIC to take action in favor of Misuari.
Misuari was able to win the support of Moammar Khadafy of Libya who was also the target of attack by the US and western European countries. Khadafy allegedly provided the MNLF large amounts of funds, equivalent to...