For Now, Aid Aquino

SECRETARY of State Baker's recent trip to Tokyo to announce a $200 million a year US aid plan for the Philippines - $1 billion over five years - came amid new reports of corruption and fraud in the Philippine government and increased questioning of that aid at home. The honeymoon with the Philippines is clearly over. Corazon Aquino's government needs to become less dependent on the US. And with more aid demands now for countries such as Poland and Hungary, and Gramm-Rudman limits in Congress, there are good reasons to question big new aid packages to Manila.

But there are a number of reasons to support Baker's promise to the 17-nation aid consortium in Toyko as well. (One, unfortunately, is the embarrassment of reconsidering the offer now.) Congress should support it - though perhaps a figure like $150 million, with tough conditional clauses, is closer to reality.

One reason is the amount of effort the US has spent over the years arguing for multilateral assistance. Now that 17 nations, including Japan and Korea, have come together, it's not time to change the music. The fact of the consortium itself removes, somewhat, direct Filipino dependency on the US, and also mitigates a direct link between aid and the continued presence of US bases in the Philippines. That is desirable.

Still, negotiations between Washington and Manila on the lease for the Clark and Subic Bay bases begin next fall. The bases are supported by the majority of Filipinos. To withdraw aid now could signal to Manila that our interest in the struggling democracy is declining, or that Congress can't be relied on. That isn't desirable.

True, current aid to Manila hasn't all been spent. There's a pipeline problem. But that's not unusual in a developing nation relying on long-term recovery.

Besides, Jim Baker's five-year plan isn't set in stone. It can be reviewed and changed if need be. Every penny needs accounting.

Aid would not go to Aquino's agrarian reform, where most of the corruption has been (though hardly Marcos-sized).

With all it's problems, the Aquino government is important. So is helping it.

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