Among the ``friends'' that Philippine President Corazon Aquino will be meeting in Washington is one who has taken a particular interest in her country -- and who would particularly like to see the ``fresh start'' in the Philippines end in success. He is Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has traveled to the Philippines twice, most recently in August. He met many of the key players in Philippine politics and says he is ``optimistic about a people who have this much resilience'' after bringing an end to the Marcos regime.
``The number of potential problems for that country are legion,'' the Indiana Republican said in an interview.
But, Lugar added, there is ``a flowering of public participation, and it's exciting to watch.''
Instead of adopting a ``wait and see'' attitude toward the country, he says, the United States should actively enter a ``partnership'' to ensure democracy in the Philippines.
But he stresses the term ``partnership,'' especially on the question of US military bases in the Philippines.
When Ferdinand Marcos was in power in Manila, he says, the US was ``in danger of losing everything'' in terms of its influence and friendship with the Filipino people.
The reason, he says, is because the US did not seem as interested in Philippine democracy as it did in military basing rights.
``We're going to have a strong security relationship with the Philippines so long as the Filipinos want this,'' he says.
There must be, he adds, a ``consolidation'' of the political relationship between the Philippine and American governments -- something he hopes will be advanced during Mrs. Aquino's visit.
On other matters, the senator said:
There is a need for a broad review of US security interests and arrangements, not only in the Philippines, but throughout the Pacific. The Soviet Union is actively seeking to expand its influence in the region, he says, while the United States runs the risk of alienating traditional allies like Australia and New Zealand with its trade policies.
Despite continuing press coverage of former Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos, now in exile in Hawaii, he does not present a serious challenge to the Aquino government.
``I think he's a nuisance,'' says Lugar. ``As a political factor in the Philippines, his influence is nil.''
Speculation that Philippine Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile poses a threat to President Aquino's rule is unfounded.
``I think that Enrile is loyal to President Aquino,'' says the senator. ``He's instrumental in the maintenance of public order.''
While Enrile is undeniably ``politically active and politically ambitious,'' Lugar adds, his activities do not pose a threat to Aquino.
While Mrs. Aquino may have generated some political opposition, he says, there is widespread acknowledgment in the Philippines that she ``is the one who holds it all together.
The US should be willing to provide whatever assistance is needed to combat a communist insurgency in the Philippines, but should not pressure the Philippine government into any specific course of action.
Mrs. Aquino has called for a cease-fire and negotiations to bring an end to the insurgency, rather than stepped-up military force. Lugar says it's proper that the Philippine government debate the matter without US pressure.
``I would caution against giving uninvited advice,'' Lugar says.