As a longtime friend of Corazon Aquino, I think I can claim to have some knowledge of Philippine affairs in recent years. Thus, I was delighted when I found myself talking to columnist Robert Novak on a flight to Tokyo as we both began tours to the Far East on business. As Mr. Novak expressed a wish to be open-minded despite the shortness of his trip to Manila, I was startled to find that his two days there seemed to have given him time only to rehash old theories, not to learn new facts {"Coup Talk in Manila," op-ed, Nov. 13}.

Yes, there is a continued impatience in the military at the slowness of civilian government. But make no mistake -- there is equal unhappiness on the civilian side at the military's failure to make more headway against the communist insurgency. Mrs. Aquino has given uncompromising instructions to the military to pursue the war against the insurgents to the utmost. She has addressed pressing military concerns with actions such as a pay increase of 60 percent across the board and 100 percent for the lower ranks. Is it now forgotten that in her first few months in office she revitalized the military command structure by retiring a group of generals who had carried out the orders of the former corrupt and ruthless command? As Mrs. Aquino asked in a recent speech, what more is she expected to do -- pick up a gun herself?

The fact is that Mr. Novak listened to the gossip of yesterday's politicians in the coffee shops. When he spoke to today's leaders, such as Secretary of National Defense Rafael Ileto and Marine Corps Commandant Rudolfo Biazon, he chose to interpret their comments through a murky filter.

Too bad. He missed the real story. President Aquino, despite the continued problems she faces, is pulling her country out of the 20-year trauma of Ferdinand Marcos -- whose government, by the way, Mr. Novak supported until the bitter end. There is still a lot to be done in the social and economic programs for the 60 million Filipinos. Yet, in Manila, one hears of the successes of the middle-class business sector. The talk is less of coups and colonels and more of economic recovery and the advent of the most prosperous Christmas in years.

ROBERT TRENT JONES JR. Palo Alto, Calif.