In a July 13 op-ed piece, Aquilino Boyd, the Panamanian ambassador at large, referred to a report of my recent trip to his country, when I said the U.S. Embassy had no proof of involvement of Panamanian authorities in drug trafficking.

He omits mention of my further observation that despite U.S. insistence of no hard evidence to implicate Panamanian officials, "the massive scale of such activities in Panama makes it difficult to believe at least some high-level Panamanian military and civilian authorities are not deeply involved."

The ambassador's defense of Gen. Manuel Noriega and condemnation of the recent Senate resolution calling for democratic elections in Panama deserve a further response.

I also reported witnessing disturbing signs that real democracy may be slow in coming in Panama, an observation the ambassador chose not to quote. I stated in the report:

"The Panama Defense Forces are expanding substantially and assuming an ever growing role in Panamanian political, economic and social life. The Commander of the PDF, General Manuel Noriega, is the real power behind the present weak civilian government, and may dictate the outcome of the 1989 elections. If this transpires, it could be a tragedy for the hopes for democracy in Panama in the near future, and could immensely complicate the delicate task U.S. policymakers will face in the early 1990s in working out the future U.S.-Panama military and political relationship."

Mr. Boyd's attempt to deflect U.S. criticism of the current state of emergency in Panama and to minimize the significance of the unprecedented public protests against Gen. Noriega is as predictable as it is disappointing. As in the Philippines and South Korea, the Panamanian government is finally facing the inevitable challenge of citizens who are fed up with military rule. Mr. Boyd might look to events in those countries before adopting the siege mentality that has characterized his government's response to the current crisis.

Thousands of Panamanians from all walks of life have risked retaliation to publicly demonstrate their desire for democracy. Rather than condemn the Panamanian people, whose constitutional rights were suspended by his government, Mr. Boyd would better serve his people's interest by supporting democracy and getting the generals out of politics in Panama. PATRICK LEAHY U.S. Senator (D-Vt.) Washington