THE PERIOD of great drama in the Philippines turning on the removal of the Marcos regime and the triumph of Corazon Aquino is yielding to a stage in which public life will fix on economic issues less likely to draw close foreign inspection. Moreover, the legislature elected in May is about to open shop, and this will enforce a shift in the center of political gravity from the executive toward an institution reflecting different personalities, regions and interest groups. The easy clarity of the Marcos-Aquino transition will be blurred.
It's regrettable, for the stage the Philippines is entering is no less vital to a long-term prognosis than its passage to democracy. The stage is likely to center on agrarian reform. This goes far beyond tending to inequities in an essentially feudal pattern of land ownership. It means reducing rural poverty, using development resources properly, increasing productivity and, meanwhile, blunting the appeal of a communist insurgency whose arms and land-to-the-tiller slogans make it a potent threat in the countryside. It is, in short, the work of a generation or two or three.
Mrs. Aquino announced her own program of reform the other day, and some of the initial reviews of it were pretty negative. Her program was described as a compromise that did not resolve all dilemmas of policy at one crack and that left it to the new congress to see to crucial matters of putting the program into effect. No doubt there is merit to these considerations. There would have been a whole other set of equally meritorious considerations, however, if she had announced a sweeping program to be administered promptly and directly from the president's office. Then the rap would have been that she was imprudently launching an ambitious but disruptive program that only a dictator could hope to impose.
Of President Aquino it is said that she has led not a revolution but a restoration -- a restoration of the traditional power structure, in which Ferdinand Marcos was something of an interloper. Political democracy is something that the power structure was ready to embrace, but agrarian reform is a frontal challenge. Mrs. Aquino's own family owns a 15,000-acre sugar plantation, and in a display of leadership by example, she has said it will be among the properties put up for redistribution. That will provide an early test of the seriousness and energy that she and the legislature intend to bring to their daunting task.