Two reasons beyond domestic politics have been advanced for the timing of President Marcos's repeal of martial law in the Philippines last month. One is that Mr. Marcos wanted to protect President Reagan's anticipated diplomatic initiatives toward the Philippines from charges of supporting a dictator. The other is that Mr. Marcos wanted to get his eight years of martial law behind him before Pope John Paul II arrived this week -- in hopes, according to this reasoning, that the Pope's visit might be utilized as a stamp of approval on Marcos's authoritarian rule over a largely Roman Catholic population.
The world does not yet know how President Reagan will respond. He is expected to cultivate diplomatic and trade relationships in line with the Republican platform and to play down the kind of human rights concern that has prompted congressional criticism of US aid. Mr. Reagan will have to judge carefully to protect the national -- and international -- security interest in Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base without contributing to Philippines political instability.
Where the United States casts its moral and diplomatic weight is significant, since the US remains a prime economic and political influence in its former colony. The US is the Philippines' major trading partner, American banks and businesses account for the largest segment of foreign investment, and American ideas of democracy and capitalism run strong in the people.
Signs of resistance to the Marcos regime continue. The official opposition announced it would not run a candidate in the election expected in May, alleging that Mr. Marcos was intending to rewrite the constitution to assure his election for at least six more years. More recently, over a thousand demonstrators marched to dramatize their grievances for the Pope. They see the lifting of martial law as more symbol than substance, since Marcos has entrenched his control.
When the Pope appeared with President Marcos, however, he properly gave credit to "recent initiatives that are worthy of praise." Surely the removal of martial law is a welcome step, whose symbolism can be built upon in a positive direction.
But the Pope can only have disappointed any Marcos expectations of using the pontiff for endorsement purposes. He went to the nub of the problem not only in the Philippines but in other countries where security is used to excuse violating human rights -- thus often bringing new threats to security. When there is apparent conflict between security and basic rights, he said, it must be resolved according to the principle that "social organization exists only for the service of man and for the protection of his dignity and that it cannot claim to serve the common good when human rights are not safeguarded."
On another occasion, speaking to the poor, the Pope said: "The road toward your total liberation is not the way of violence, class struggle, or hate."
Indeed, that way lie other forms of enslavement. The Filipinos and their leader need encouragement on a nonviolent path.