AFTER his initial hesitation, President Reagan has conceded that Ferdinand Marcos's ``victory'' in the Philippine presidential election was based on massive fraud, intimidation -- and, in some cases, violence. Washington should no longer make any pretense about maintaining an attitude of evenhanded ``neutrality'' between the Marcos regime and the democratic opposition headed up by challenger Corazon Aquino. Either the United States believes in the democratic process -- the underpinning of its own constitutional political system -- or it does not. It is time for the United States to be true to its highest democratic ideals -- and to the well-being of the Philippine people.
The election issue goes beyond the Philippines itself. For the US to be perceived as backing the Marcos regime at this point cannot help having an adverse impact on the way other authoritarian allies of the US deal with their own populations. One wonders what lessons President Chun Doo Hwan may have drawn from the Reagan administration's initial post-election waffling on Philippine democracy as he continues his crackdown on political dissidents in South Korea.
No matter what happens during the days and weeks ahead, the long-range credibility of the Marcos regime has been seriously undermined by the election. Who will ultimately replace Mr. Marcos? Will it be a democratic alternative?
Or will it be a communist tyranny of the left that comes to power in part because of disillusionment with Marcos-style ``democracy'' and a feeling by the Philippine people of betrayal by the United States?
The US should forthwith suspend all aid to the Philippines, except for humanitarian assistance, until such time as Marcos undertakes genuine reforms within the Philippine political-economic system, steps down from office, or announces a date for a new and genuinely fair election -- an election whose results his ruling party would not tamper with.
A bill to suspend aid has been introduced in the Senate by Jim Sasser.
Military and economic assistance to the Philippines should be put into an escrow account, pending reforms.
Until reforms are undertaken, vital humanitarian assistance -- aid that may be used to fund specific health or other essential projects -- should be channeled through religious or private relief agencies, rather than the Marcos government.
Finally, the US should maintain close contacts with the democratic opposition, which is now mounting nonviolent protests as well as an economic boycott. The US still enjoys a large reservoir of goodwill within the Philippines. To take the wrong actions, such as continuing tacitly to support Marcos, will squander this goodwill and drive the democratic opposition toward the communist left.
Mr. Marcos has hinted that his government might cut off access to the US military bases, or demand a ``renegotiation'' of the bases, if the US terminates its foreign aid programs. Washington should not be intimidated by such threats.
To begin with, the bases are popular. And existing US contracts on the bases run until 1991. The US could surely hold out against Mr. Marcos for that long if it had to. Meantime, the US should begin to shift support facilities elsewhere in Asia.
America's best long-range policy toward the Philippines, and the Philippine people, is to let the world know, in the clearest possible terms, that it cannot and will not accept an election outcome based on blatant fraud, violence, and threats.