The government of President Corazon Aquino is making some initial headway in efforts to reschedule the Philippines' $26 billion foreign debt and bring in new money to speed recovery from a 2 1/2-year-old economic crisis.
Things are moving ahead despite continuing talk by some members of Aquino's cabinet of defying the rules of international banking and repudiating loans found to have gone into the pockets of corrupt officials during the rule of Ferdinand Marcos.
Most banks and governments see this as a definite minority view. They expect the government to stand by its chief debt negotiator, Finance Minister Jaime Ongpin, who argues that to keep its credit up, the country must make good on all its debt in one way or another.
Progress to date includes:
*In meetings with Ongpin in Washington last month, officials of the International Monetary Fund agreed to negotiate a new financial bailout program to replace one signed with Marcos, and, according to Ongpin, to put emphasis on economic growth rather than austerity.
*Last month, Ongpin signed papers for a $100 million "special assistance loan" for 36 separate projects from the Asian Development Bank, a multilateral lender based in Manila.
*The Reagan administration has announced formally that it will ask Congress for an additional $150 million in economic and military aid for the Philippines and raise food purchases from it.
*Last month, Ongpin was in Japan trying to firm up promises from the government there to increase aid. That task has been complicated, however, by an investigation by Japanese opposition parties into allegations that aid sent during the Marcos era was often siphoned off by corruption.
Foreign borrowing ballooned during the second half of Marcos' 20-year rule even as the economy was stagnating. A full-blown panic erupted after the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., resulting in a temporary suspension of debt payments. Since, then, the average Filipino has become about 15 percent poorer.
The Philippines is now devoting about 40 percent of its export earnings to servicing its debt, a figure that could rise above 50 percent without rescheduling, according to western economists. That burden is an important drag hampering recovery.
In her address to the opening session of the Asian Development Bank's annual meeting late last month, Aquino said the new government had "set a style for frugality, integrity and sincerity" and dismantled much of the political and economic machinery of Marcos.
She thanked the bank for the $100 million loan and said it should "serve as a signal to other banking institutions that our country is now a viable proposition."
Ongoing investigations by the Aquino government are confirming earlier allegations that skimming percentages from foreign loans was a prime means of personal enrichment during the Marcos era.
In a typical deal, investigators say, a Marcos associate would collect a commission of 10 or 15 percent of an industrial project's cost in return for getting the contract and required licenses from the government. In fact, this money amounted to a bribe, it is alleged, with part of it going to Marcos himself.
The fees would be added to the total cost of the project and taken from the loan financing it, perhaps making the project financially shaky. In many cases, projects collapsed and had to be taken over by the government. The government and government banks now have about 350 bankrupt companies on their hands.
Some members of Aquino's government have called for "selective repudiation" of debt in cases where it could be shown the money had been misused. They say the government simply cannot afford to continue paying the bills of Marcos' corruption.
Often cited as a case is the more than $2 billion nuclear power plant that Westinghouse contracted to build in the 1970s in Bataan province near Manila. It is now almost finished but there are no plans to open it because of questions of safety and cost effectiveness. The Aquino government is trying to figure out what to do with it.
Allegations have surfaced in Manila that Marcos collected up to $80 million in commissions on the project. Westinghouse has denied allegations that it paid bribes and that the plant is unsafe.
Foreign bankers and economists here say they believe advocates of repudiation will back off once they think out the cost of it. "If you do something in a unilateral or illegal kind of way, then you're a leper in the marketplace," a foreign banker here said.
Other governments that in recent years have thought of renouncing the debts of their predecessors -- in Iran, Nicaragua and Vietnam, for instance -- have all turned away from the idea as it became clear that it would entail an even bigger loss: being shut off by banks needed for participation in world trade.
But like some of the big debtor countries of Latin America, Ongpin is talking of expansion as the key to solving his country's balance of payments problems, rather than the austerity the International Monetary Fund normally insists upon and did with Marcos.
According to Ongpin, the International Monetary Fund has agreed to this shift of strategy in the new package, which is now under negotiation in Manila. "There'll still be a lot of discipline built into it," he said on his return from Washington. "But the main thing is that they have agreed in principle that it is very important that we have an economic recovery and a positive growth rate in the GNP this year."
In the meantime, Ongpin is asking the approximately 400 foreign commercial banks with loans here to come forward with $350 million in new money they promised to the Marcos government under the old financial package. The banks are still thinking about it, but as one western banker here noted, at present, "there's a propensity to be reasonably generous."
Exchange rates have stabilized, the job of dismantling monopolies fostered under Marcos has begun, and there is a new spirit in the economy. But to date, no firm signs have appeared that billions of dollars sent abroad by frightened Filipinos since 1983 have started to come back.
Nonetheless, many officials and business leaders here are cautiously predicting slight growth in 1986. Bernardo M. Villegas, chief economist at a private think tank here, is predicting 6 percent to 8 percent. The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, for instance, is expecting 1.5 percent. But it would still take years to return to the peak of 1982.