Philippine President asks for more aid, gets warm applause. Congress demonstrates its approval of leader, but dollars may not follow
Washington — Philippine President Corazon Aquino made a pitch to Congress yesterday for increased foreign aid to her debt-ridden country. Yet despite a tumultuous welcome by members of the House of Representatives, Senate, Reagan administration, and the Washington diplomatic corps assembled in the House chamber, observers continued to doubt she would get additional economic assistance. ``Half our export earnings, $2 billion out of $4 billion, . . . went to pay just the interest on a debt whose benefit the Filipino people never received,'' Mrs. Aquino said, referring to payments on her country's $26 billion foreign debt.
She also said she would resort to force if necessary in her attempts to quell communist insurgents. Her frequently-professed reluctance to utilize force in dealing with Philippine guerrilla movements, preferring instead to rely on incentives and negotiation, has been hotly contested by members of her cabinet.
Aquino's defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, has urged a hard line toward the communist guerrillas and hinted that he might try to mount a coup to overthrow the Aquino government if they are not firmly dealt with.
Citing the challenge faced by Abraham Lincoln during the US Civil War, Aquino said, ``I must explore the path of peace to the utmost, for at its end, whatever dissapointment I meet there, is the moral basis for laying down the olive branch of peace and taking up the sword of war.''
``Like Lincoln, I understand that force may be necessary before mercy. Like Lincoln, I don't relish it. Yet I will do whatever it takes to defend the integrity and freedom of my country,'' she declared. ``As I came to power peacefully, so shall I keep it. That is my contract with my people and my commitment to God.''
The remark earned sustained applause, one of 11 such interruptions during the 20-minute speech.
The atmosphere at yesterday's session in the House chamber was enthusiastic, almost adulatory. Some three-quarters of the members of Congress were present -- an unusually strong turnout for a foreign head of state, one House staff member said. Nearly all of them sported yellow roses. Yellow became Aquino's unofficial color during the presidential campaign, when she usually wore yellow dress in her public appearances.
The roses came courtesy of House majority leader Jim Wright (D) of Texas, who had the flowers flown in from his home state.
But such sartorial displays will not necessarily translate into support for the $200 million aid package some lawmakers would like to see approved. Congress has already agreed to $536 million in aid to the Philippines this year, and is fighting to shield US domestic programs from as much of the pain of budget cuts as possible. Meanwhile, the White House has done nothing to promote the $200 million package.