Pope John Paul II today told a group of sugar workers -- among the poorest Filipinos -- that the church would always stand beside them in their search for economic equality.

He told workers gathered in this city in Negros island to organize to seek dignity and justice.

In Davao City, Mindanao, the pontiff appealed to Moslem leaders for reconciliation with Christian Filipinos.

In his most stirring speech since he arrived in the Philippines Tuesday for a six-day pastoral tour, the pope told the sugar workers: "It is not admissible to use this gift of land in such a manner that the benefits it produces serve only a limited number of people, while the others -- the vast majority -- are excluded from the benefits which the land yields.

"It is not admissible that people who work the land must continue to live in a situtation that offers them no hope for a better future."

The 500,000 Philippine sugar plantation workers are the most impoverished workers in the country; they work for a handful of large landowners. Social action activists have always insisted on the need for an overhaul of the entire system, which remains feudal and oppressive.

An Italian priest who works among the 14,000 sacadas or landless migratory cane cutters who live in poverty, said: "This is a tenacy problem which cannot be solved through conciliation. One group [the sugar barons] has everything. The other group has nothing."

But the pope's strong support has roused hopes among the activist clergy, who appear to be the workers' only ally, to try to organize them.

In a reference to the high record of military abuses in Negros, the pope said government agencies should not be instruments of oppression.

"Free associations of workers that base their action on the peerless dignity of man will inspire confidence as partners in the search for just solutions," he said.

But John Paul cautioned against violence and class struggle, saying they are destructive.

The bishop of Bacolod, Antonio Fortich, once described Negros as "a social volcano ready to explode." The cutters earn less than $1 a day during harvest time.

The pope's four-hour stop in Davao was preceded by an antigovernment demonstration by more than 3,000 students, priests and nuns.They were dispersed by police using tear gas.

The pope's conciliatory tone to the Moslems may not be well received by the hard-line Moro National Liberation Front, which is spearheading the 8-year-old rebellion here. The front demands more economic opportunity and participation in government for Moslem Filipinos.

Cultural differences set the Moslems apart from the majority of Filipinos, who are Christian.

Centuries of discrimination from the Spanish colonial era have jelled into a legacy of neglect by successive administrations and exploded into full-scale warfare in Mindanao, southern Philippines, in September 1972.

The war, which has claimed 60,000 casualties, is complicated by the policital support given by oil-rich Moslem nations and arms from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The pope, speaking from the airport lounge after a mass on the airstrip, told Moslems in Davao that there was no use harping on the past.

Speaking to 60 handpicked Moslem leaders, many of whom were former rebels now reconciled with the government, the pope urged them to continue looking for a peaceful solution.

Attempts at peace talks between the Liberation Front and the Philippine government have foundered several times. The Islamic Conference, an organization of Moslem states, is taking an active mediation role.

Security at Davao Airport, where continual grenade explosions were heard, was very tight.

A sideshow to the pastoral swing through the provincial cities of the Philippines was the constant presence of first lady Imelda Marcos.

She appeared unexpectedly at Cebu yesterday to welcome the pope and again in Davao today to hear mass. She traveled in a special plan with a entourage of prominent friends including Christina Ford, ex-wife of auto magnate Henry Ford, and several European aristocrats.

After Davao, Marcos left ahead of the pope for Bacolod. Before the pontiff arrived, she went to the site of the rally, stepped on the stage, greeted the crowd and left before the pope arrived.

One bishop said Marcos was not invited to any of the papal functions in the provinces. Church officials feared she would try to turn the papal visit into an endorsement of the government.