A visitor to the Philippines today is reminded of Alexis de Tocqueville's account of his visit to the United States after our first generation of democracy. He likened the body politic of the new republic to a lifeboat filled with people. There were oarsmen pulling in different directions. Two or three people were contending for control of the tiller, and the boat was pursuing an erratic course. Frantic bailers worked furiously as water poured in. But this ship of state would not sink, Tocqueville declared, for too many people were determined to keep it afloat.
It is standard for the euphoria of a democratic revolution to be followed by some disillusionment, when great expectations are not fulfilled at once, and then by a measure of violence and uncertainty, change, and trial and error.
The Philippines are going through that now after the heady days of 1986 when people power brought down the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and replaced it with the democracy of Corazon Aquino.
America had a like experience. After the stirring days of 1776 and the failure of the Articles of Confederation, a constitution had to be formed which, in turn, had to be bolstered by the Bill of Rights. In 1787, it took force to put down Shay's rebellion. Later came our Civil War and, more recently, the deep dissensions of Vietnam and the strains of Watergate and the Iran/ contra scandal.
Our democracy has survived all this and more. Philippine democracy gives promise of doing likewise, despite severe problems, including the attempted coup Aug. 28.--the fifth in its young history--and the communist and Muslim insurgencies.
I was struck during my visit to Manila by residual signs of violence--a few burned-out military buildings, bullet-riddled windows, ships loaded with captured rebels, armed sentries in the street, all accompanied by wild rumors of worse soon to come. (The most persistent and inaccurate rumor held that the U.S. government was involved in the attempted overthrow.)
On the other hand, I found in meetings with Aquino and members of her government that none of them felt under siege. Without exception, they were confident and purposeful about their nation's future.
The top civilian leaders are proud and pleased that the top military leaders responded loyally and effectively. Those in command of the military take pride in their success and in the fact that the rank-and-file obeyed orders even though many of them share the rebels' unhappiness over conditions in the army, administration policy toward the insurgents and corruption.
They take satisfaction, too, in the fact that the rapid growth of the Communist Party seems to have slowed.
Beyond these matters of internal security, they have good reason to be gratified by other gains. Since the 1986 revolution, the Filipinos have written and put into effect a new constitution, created and elected a free congress, launched preparations for local elections, witnessed the birth of 28 independent newspapers in Manila, and this year have seen an increase in investments, a sharp rise in the gross national product and growth in trade with the United States.
Great problems remain, of course. Unemployment and poverty are high. Housing for a great many is appalling. Plans for land reform are in formulation and expectations are high, but few democracies have achieved rapid success on the land-reform front.
It is vitally important that the Filipinos' remarkable revolution succeed and that we Americans help it do so through our private and public sectors. I gather that American business concerns already investing in the Philippines are staying and expanding. Unfortunately, their confidence is not matched by those who haven't tested the waters and who are concerned by the attempted coups and the insurgencies.
This situation offers great economic opportunity for those who dare. Business is held back by uncertainty. Yet it's that same uncertainty that keeps down costs. Those who get in now can get a significant advantage over those who may come in later. There is no threat of expropriation under any foreseeable circumstances.
The Filipino people are more literate and better educated than most people in a similar state of underdevelopment. They offer the potential of a skilled labor force and a significant consumer market. There could be the makings in the Philippines of another economic miracle like that of South Korea and Taiwan.
The U.S. government is deeply committed to the survival and success of the new government. But we are giving it little, if any, more economic and military assistance than we gave to Marcos. To the degree that it is possible given our own severe economic and budgetary problems, I believe that we should give substantially more, using a Marshall Plan-type approach.
If we contribute significantly to Philippine stability and progress, the prospect will be enhanced that--in the interest of our mutual security--we will work out arrangements to stay on in our important Clark and Subic Bay military bases.
In view of our historic ties with these islands, we will benefit internationally if the Philippines can cope effectively with insurgency and become a showplace for democracy.
The peaceful people power revolution in the Philippines is inspiration to those who now seek to achieve similar results elsewhere, as in South Korea and Panama.
A great success story in the Philippines would strengthen the momentum of democracy, not only in East Asia but throughout the world.