Testing Aquino

BECAUSE of hard times in their own country, many Filipinos have sought work in other lands in recent years. In one such country, a Filipino maid was asked recently what she thought about the dramatic changes that have taken place in Manila, and whether she would now go home.

``Not me,'' she said; ``I'm waiting for the revolution of the dark skins.''

Her remark underlines the problem confronting the new government of President Corazon C. Aquino. It is the perception of many ordinary Filipinos that hers is a revolution of the rich (and often lighter-skinned) against the rich, and that it has not yet touched the masses. Politics and moneymaking in the Philippines have long been dominated by a few dozen powerful families. Mrs. Aquino comes from this class, despite her obvious concern for the well-being of her countrymen at large.

Now the question is whether the new elite can improve conditions fast enough for the 70 percent of the people who live in rural areas, as well as the urban poor. Mrs. Aquino can count on renewed support from the United States. In his weekend phone conversation with former President Marcos, President Reagan properly dampened Mr. Marcos's talk of a comeback. Mr. Reagan made it clear that the US supports the Aquino government.

Reagan had earlier phoned Aquino and underscored that support. Tangible evidence was the US decision to increase its aid to the Philippines by about $150 million even in a time of budget hold-down.

Aquino may also visit the US later this year -- her first American visit since becoming President. It would be a mistake to underestimate her determination. She it was who emerged from relative political obscurity to assume the cause of her murdered husband and capture the imagination of millions of Filipinos. She it was who made the tough decision that President Marcos had to leave the country.

Not many people know of another tough tactic by Aquino. Although former President Marcos has indicated his desire to find asylum in some country other than the US, no government has so far been willing to take him. One reason is that Aquino has taken a strong position with governments that toyed with the prospect. She wants Mr. Marcos in the US. She believes the best chance of bringing successful legal action against him for his misdeeds is in American courts, and has warned other governments against accepting him.

Still, there are rumblings of discontent with the new regime in Manila, and Aquino appears to be having a very short political honeymoon. On the right are those Marcos supporters who have been increasingly vocal in recent days. They see their political spoils either disappearing or being threatened. They are being encouraged by defiant pronouncements from Marcos.

On the left are the Communists -- the New People's Army, between 15,000- and 20,000-strong. In the new elite that now rules in Manila there appears to be some naivet'e about the strength and commitment of the Communists. So far, Aquino has been unsuccessful at defanging them. Assassinations, ambushes, and military operations continue to be mounted against the Army by the guerrillas.

Within Mrs. Aquino's ruling coalition there is criticism, and powerful individuals are biding their time before perhaps making their own moves for power. Vice-President Salvador H. Laurel wanted the presidency for himself and is close at hand, should Aquino stumble. Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, a man of ambition, played a key role in the recent turnover of power. It is difficult to believe he has ruled himself out as a possible successor to Aquino.

And beyond all this are the needs of the poor and the frustrated to be met.

As has been said before, the departure of Mr. Marcos did not solve the problems of the Philippines. It merely marked a new beginning.

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