Somewhat belatedly, the United States has just recalled its ambassador and withdrawn military aid in protest against the military coup in Bolivia. And now from Peru, The Post reports the inauguration of a freely elected president after "steps the Carter administration took to insure that the military here stuck to the timetable."

Why not apply a variation of this formula to the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines before it is too late? Because, it argued, unlike Bolivia and Peru, the Philippines is vital to U.S. security. Therefore, the regime "must not be rocked because it is providing stability."

What stability? The Central Bank governor has reported that the country's external debt increased to a disastrous $10.438 billion at the end of March 1980. The Food and Nutrition Council has admitted that "80 percent of the population suffer from malnutrition." The ministry of labor records current underemployment at 25 percent.

Official corruption has made the Marcos family "perhaps the richest in the world," according to Cosmopolitan. The authors of an underground study entitled "Some Are Smarter Than Others (the cynical reply by Imelda Marcos to a question on corruption) now believe the Marcos family "makes $5 million a day."

Marcos and President Nixon were on overseas telephone a few days before the Marcos coup in September 1972. The American Chamber of Commerce in Manila sent Marcos a congratulatory telegaram the morning after. But the euphoric acclaim has now soured.

Frost & Sullivan, Wall Street forecaster, have just come out with an 18-month prediction of devaluation, expropriation of international business and "a nationalistic, left-wing or military takeover," The Far Eastern Economic Review notes "a surge of foreign divestments."

This is the "stability" that the U.S. government would like to preserve in opposing a symbolic cut (actually a "deferral") of $5 million in the current $105 million proposal for military aid. The aid is part of the five-year $500 million deal in January 1979, when the United States, in order to keep military bases to which it already possessed treaty rights until 1991, backed down before a Marcos bluff.

Democratic Reps. Tony Hall and Lester Wolff have stressed that the cut is not so large that it will destabilize the country. But it does meet the suggestion by Republican Rep. James Jeffords 'to send a strong message to Marcos that unless certain things are done, there is going to be a change in the relationship," for "martial law and the denial of free elections threaten U.S. security in the Philippines."

The nagging question "after the dictator what?" carries for the Philippines no ominous implication of a chaotic void. Decades of democratic practice have produced a rich harvest of leaders of high integrity and national stature. Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., released from seven years of dentention for a heart operation in the United States, indubitably is the rallying point for democratic forces today.

These united leaders can head off the growing popular outcry for violent action only if Marcos and/or the armed forces can be made to cooperate. The Catholic Church, embracing 86 percent of the people, is doing its part, with Jaime Cardinal Sin publicly asking Marcos to step down "lest there be violence." The Philippine military, once apolitical, is now the most important political instrument of Marcos.

Marcos, for all his occasional anti-American bluster, has betrayed a crucial sensitivity to the United States. He spends vast sums on U.S. public relations agents. A chance meeting between President Carter and Imelda Marcos at the recent Ohira funeral in Tokyo was splashed on Manila front pages with headlines "Carter Cites Son's Good Word for the Philippines," linking the encounter to Jeff Carter's lavish comparison of Imelda with his mother.

Marcos and his army can be "nudged to reform," but the time for rhetoric is over. U.S. condemnatory language without supplementary action merely amuses, indeed emboldens, Marcos and his pampered officers, and is regarded by Filipinos with mounting cynicism. Filipino leaders perceive in the Hall-Wolff amendment, which passed the House and is pending in conference committee, as the first timely signal that the United States is ready to bend in its flagrant support of Marcos in order not to scuttle their efforts for a peaceful transition to democracy.

President Carter, in a letter to Marcos accompanying the 1979 agreement, said only that he would "exert his "best efforts" to secure the appropriation of the $500 million package. A cut of the seemingly insignificant sum of $5 million could begin spell the difference between violent and peaceful change in the Philippines, and between security and disaster for America in Southeast Asia.