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Steady policy toward Manila

A SPECIAL responsibility for Philippine progress now weighs on the United States, given America's close historical ties with that country and following the stepped-up violence against Americans in that nation. Manila, of course, must gain greater control over its long-range affairs. But the US must take care to avoid being drawn deeper into Philippine domestic turmoil. Manila's Asian allies, meanwhile, must take more concerted action to aid the Philippines. The Reagan administration must refrain from actions that could lead to a more direct US involvement in the conflict under way between the communist New People's Army and the government of President Corazon Aquino. Any active military role by the US would be self-defeating - drawing the US into an already difficult conflict while making it all the harder for Manila to retain the allegiance of the Philippine people. Goading the US into a direct clash may now be an aim of the insurgents.

Also necessary is a coordinated effort by Manila's Asian allies - with United States participation - to provide more economic and diplomatic assistance to the Philippines.

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Last week assassins believed to be communists killed three Americans and one Filipino at sites near Clark Air Base. The US presence at Clark and Subic Bay Naval Base includes an estimated 39,000 civilian and military personnel, plus dependents. And this week suspected insurgents brazenly overpowered several Filipino security guards near Clark - walking off with the guards' weapons. The incident was understandably embarrassing to Manila. It raised legitimate security concerns among the Americans.

Whether the recent incidents are the work of the communists, or of right-wing hit squads pretending to be insurgents, is uncertain, although the evidence appears to point to the insurgents. The important consideration, however, is that Washington remain calm, as, to its credit, it has so far done. Despite occasional unhappiness with Washington, most Filipinos have a high regard for the United States, looking upon it more than any other nation as the ``mother country.'' Washington must do nothing to betray that trust.

Appropriate steps:

Washington should get to the Philippines as quickly as possible the $75 million it promised as part of the current aid package to that nation.

Washington must continue to underscore its support of Mrs. Aquino, who graciously and boldly went to Clark to meet with US military officials and families of the slain Americans.

Other Asian nations should step up their financial and diplomatic assistance to Manila. The planned mid-December visit to the Philippines of new Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita is particularly welcome.

Proposals now being discussed by a number of US lawmakers for some form of Marshall Plan for Manila - with total aid reaching $2 billion a year for the Aquino government - should be supported by the White House.

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It would be unfortunate if current global economic difficulties inhibited development of what could add up to a wise program of economic stability for the Philippines - and, by extension, all of East Asia.

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