Marcos tries to polish tarnished human rights image, boost US ties

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos recently emerged into the spotlight in an effort to override months of human rights criticism and rumors of difficult relations with the United States.

The President's appearance at the American Newspaper Publishers Association (ANPA) in honolulu last week also appeared partly designed to quash rumors of bad health.

Scotching such rumors is extremely important for the President to avoid encouraging opposition groups -- or even a military coup. his US visit, the first in 14 years, came eight years after his controversial declaration of martial law. The speech gave Mr. Marcos a chance to dramatize an improving relationship with the US that began several months back. He also defended martial law as a form of authoritarianism appropriate to the third world.

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The US State Department's most recent report on human rights in the Philippines gave the Marcos government what many saw as a passing grade compared to previous assessments. At about the same time, President Marcos began sounding a more positive note toward the US, declaring it was now "a dependable ally."

He repeated this theme in Honolulu, declaring he now had "less fears of Asia being abandoned" by the US if war breaks out in Europe or the Middle East.

After a two-hour briefing by Adm. Robert Long, Us PAcific commander in chief, President Marcos said he was "convinced the US is prepared for any eventuality." But earlier comments showed some continuing doubts about US resolve.

The President called on the US to assume strong leadership and assailed "the reservations of the European countries" in relation to US policy on Afghanistan and the Middle East.

But Mr. Marcos's first visit ot the US also showed the limits of his improved relations with the Carter administration. He did not meet with President Carter , despite some speculation he would.

"Mr. Carter is busy with Iran and Afghanistan and also with Kennedy and Reagan," he said. "I don't go visiting with someone who doesn't even have time to wash his face."

Instead, he dealt with former US Secretary of State Dean Rusk as a personal representative of the President. The two men discussed the revised US-Philippine military bases agreement signed 13 months ago.

Later President Marcos said he was confident that a $5 million chunk slashed from a $105 million US military aid package would be restored by a congressional conference committee.

Mr. Marcos also apparently hoped to silence rumors of bad health by giving extensive media coverage, including being photographed as he emerged from swimming.

But the trip itself revived such speculation.

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