Aquino's `triumphal' tour bolsters relations with US. Whether this will mean more help for troubled economy is uncertain
Philippine President Corazon Aquino ends a nine-day visit to the United States today more secure in her leadership and more popular than ever with the Reagan administration, Congress, and the American public. But whether that popularity will translate into the kind of long-term financial support needed to rescue the beleaguered Philippine economy and to blunt that nation's persistent rebel insurgency may take months to determine, say a number of Philippine watchers in the US.
``The visit was a spectacular success,'' says Rep. Stephen Solarz (D) of New York, one of President Aquino's leading backers in Congress. ``She won the hearts and minds of the Congress and the American people. It was a triumphal tour. . . . But the problems of the Philippines are daunting and won't go away overnight.''
Following an enthusiastic response to President Aquino's address before a joint session of Congress on Thursday, the House gave her the most tangible vote of confidence of her US visit: a $200 million package of emergency supplemental aid for fiscal 1986, which ends the last day of this month.
``She showed that the Philippines was going to be more independent in the future and that the US would have to accept that -- and she went out with $200 million from the House,'' says Richard Kessler, a Philippines specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ``That's a pretty persuasive performance.''
But with the US facing a possible record $230 billion budget deficit, Senate passage of an aid supplement -- which would complement $500 million in US economic aid, $100 million in military aid, and $10 million in emergency medical assistance in 1986 -- is now described by congressional sources as problematical.
Meanwhile, Aquino received other conditional good news last week when it was reported that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were close to decisions, respectively, to grant $300 million in new loans and $508 million in credits to the Philippine government.
Philippine officials hope these agreements with the multilateral lending agencies will open the door for more liberal repayment terms on debts held by US and foreign commercial banks and, indirectly, to increased levels of foreign investment in the Philippines.
Philippine officials insist that there is a link between President Aquino's warm reception in the US and the confidence of the American business community. ``Once the confidence is there, we believe that investment will flow and people will start reinvesting in the Philippine economy,'' says Philippine Ambassador to the US Emmanuel Pelaez
But experts say it will take more than one trip to dispel the fears of US business people, many of whom still look on the Philippines as a financial risk.
``Foreign investors are going to be very cautious given the economic picture and political instability in the Philippines,'' notes Richard Kessler.
Experts say Aquino's most significant achievement may have been in establishing good personal relations with President Reagan.
Despite the euphoria that greeted last February's political revolution in the Philippines, Reagan was said to be slow to reconcile himself to the departure of the United States' longstanding anticommunist ally, former President Ferdinand Marcos.
Analysts point out that it was months before Reagan called to congratulate Aquino for her political victory over Mr. Marcos, while US tolerance of Marcos's meddling in Philippine politics from his exile in Hawaii has remained an irritant in US-Philippine relations.
Also, Philippine officials took unkindly to criticism, attributed to unnamed White House sources, that Aquino was not being tough enough in dealing with antigovernment insurgents.
But analysts say Wednesday's first-ever meeting between Reagan and Aquino appears to have substantially warmed relations between the two leaders. Following the meeting, the US President pronounced himself ``bullish on the Philippines,'' while the White House last weekend threw its support behind the $200 million House aid package.
``As far as I'm concerned, what is past is past,'' Aquino told reporters Thursday.
For the US, President Aquino's visit still leaves open the key question of the long-term future of two critical US military bases in the Philippines, Clark Field and Subic Naval Base. In Washington, Aquino repeated plans to maintain the status quo of the bases until the current lease agreement expires in 1991. After that, she says, the terms of any future agreement may be the subject of a Philippine plebiscite.
The issue of the bases was further clouded when a commission drafting a new constitution for the Philippines voted to ban nuclear weapons from the country. If the language becomes legally binding, it could jeopardize the US military presence in the Philippines.