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US views Marcos with gloom, skepticism

By Paul Quinn-JudgeSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / November 4, 1983


The attitude of United States officials here toward the government of Ferdinand Marcos seems to have changed sharply in the last two months. Immediately after the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino at the Manila airport on Aug. 21, the US attitude seemed to be one of cautious support for an embarrassed ally. Diplomats here appeared disposed to accept the government's claim that the killing was the work of the communist underground.

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Today, the sympathy and complacency have apparently disappeared. US officials are reportedly gloomy about the country's economic and political prospects.

They are also critical of the government's handling of the crisis, deeply skeptical of the official version of the murder, and concerned at the role the military may play when Mr. Marcos leaves the scene.

And they are described as lobbying the President, so far without success, to make concessions that will alleviate the present crisis.

The main cause of this change appears to have been the response of the Filipino middle class to the assassination. The massive, seemingly almost universal, sense of outrage that has brought millions of people out into the streets of Manila appears to have shaken US diplomats here.

''These people - the business class, the middle class, and the professionals - are the future of the economy,'' a high-level US official says.

If the government is unable to restore its credibility in the eyes of these people, the official says, it would be unable to obtain the vitally needed ''new money'' - investment to revive the economy rather than simply pay the country's debts.

The loss of middle-class confidence, the senior US official reportedly feels, has precipitated the current economic crisis. The Philippines' foreign reserves are dwindling fast. They are thought to stand at around $300 million, enough to pay for two weeks' worth of essential imports. The country's balance-of-payments deficit stands at an all-time high - $2 billion - and foreign bankers are not rushing to lend more money.

The government has to restore confidence fast. The present economic and political crisis has what one source close to the US Embassy calls a ''short time fuse.'' It has to be resolved by the end of the 90-day debt moratorium declared by 10 of Manila's largest foreign creditors on Oct. 14.

A reliable source here says that the US has been urging President Marcos to take a number of measures to restore middle-class confidence. These include:

* Demonstrably impartial and exhaustive investigation into the murder of Mr. Aquino.

* Changes in the electoral rules here, which are seen as favoring the ruling party.

* A clear formula for succession, should President Marcos die or be incapacitated in office.

These measures have not, however, been taken, although recent changes announced in the electoral rules have ''heartened'' the business community, says the source close to the US Embassy here.

On the other hand, US diplomats are apparently suspending disbelief on the new commission of inquiry, which held its first session Thursday, Nov. 3.

''At least it can't be discounted at the outset like the first commission,'' says the source.

But Marcos's statement on the succession earlier this week has reportedly worried rather than reassured American officials. The main point of concern is the important role assigned in the succession formula to the secretary-general of the ruling Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (Movement for a New Society, or KBL).