. . . but she won't be on bended knee

PHILIPPINE President Corazon Aquino is arriving in the United States for a ``working visit'' on the 20th anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos's first state visit, where he too addressed a joint session of Congress. That both visited the US in the first year of their term is significant. Traditionally, such visits have been the way Philippine leaders demonstrated legitimacy to the largely pro-American Philippine electorate and as a means of solidifying bonds that kept US aid flowing to the perennially cash-short country.

President Aquino hesitated to make this pilgrimage to Washington, because of lingering displeasure with Ronald Reagan's long support of Mr. Marcos and because she did not want to appear to replicate the traditional trip on bended knee which all Philippine presidents, except Ramon Magsaysay, have undertaken.

She relented, but only after pressure in the US and in Manila for a visit to establish equanimity in the Aquino-Reagan relationship and to shore up support within Congress and the US public while memories of the Aquino ``people's power'' victory are still fresh.

The visit will be used to convince foreign investors that their dollars are backed by a US commitment to support Mrs. Aquino no matter what difficulties lie ahead. That such a visit is needed so soon is testimony both to the continuing Philippine dependence upon US ties and to the shortness of Aquino's political honeymoon.

Almost from the day she took office, long knives were out in Manila and Washington, attacking her political appointments and decisions. Americans, such as Secretaries Caspar Weinberger and George Shultz, rushed in with sage advice and sometimes unintended but harsh criticism about the new government's agenda. Filipinos were more subtle but equally committed to furthering their own interest in the post-Marcos political confusion. The result contributed to an appearance of instability that Aquino's visit may help dispel.

It has not been an easy political transition. Further, a constitution has yet to be approved, diverse political factions are jockeying for position in next year's important local and national elections, the military is still flexing newfound political muscle, and the communist insurgency persists.

The economy is one bright light: The peso is stable, inflation is down, the stock market is bullish, new funds are flowing in from the International Monetary Fund and international banking community. The economic growth rate at year-end will likely be positive for the first time in three years. And 1987 should be better as economic reforms and new programs take hold.

Aquino's eight-day visit will be a severe test of her skills and the Cabinet ministers accompanying her as they display their wares in Washington, New York, Boston, and San Francisco.

The lasting achievement of Aquino's visit will not be measured in the size of aid or investment packages but in her ability to quiet critics who persist in viewing her as a housewife who became the Philippines' leader by historical happenstance.

Richard J. Kessler is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington.

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