President Reagan intends to go ahead with his scheduled November visit to the Philippines, but will try to dampen criticism of the stopover by meeting with Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Sin, one of the most prominent critics of President Ferdinand E. Marcos, administration officials said yesterday.
These officials emphasized that the trip is still being "reevaluated" because of security and political reasons; but they said that both Reagan and his national security affairs adviser, William P. Clark, favor a presidential meeting with Marcos unless it appears physically dangerous for the U.S. entourage.
Presidential assistant Michael A. McManus said yesterday that he met with Sin on a recent trip to Manila and that a Reagan-Sin meeting was "under consideration" but had not formally been added to the schedule.
Reagan is scheduled to arrive in the Philippines on Nov. 5 on the first leg of a five-nation Asian trip.
But the Philippines stop has been a source of controversy within the administration since the Aug. 21 murder of opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. at the Manila airport on his return from political exile in the United States.
Administration officials acknowledged concern over claims by Filipino opposition leaders that they have eyewitnesses who say Aquino was shot by a Filipino soldier instead of by the man the government claims was the lone assassin and who was killed by soldiers at the airport.
The Marcos government, although it appointed a commission to investigate the murder, has linked the killing to communists.
One official here said there are "serious concerns" that Marcos is losing control of the government and may be unable to keep order during a Reagan visit without an "excessive" show of force. Nancy Reagan was also said to be concerned about possible danger to her husband, who was wounded in a March, 1981, assassination attempt in Washington.
But Reagan told a reporter yesterday that "there are no plans to change the trip as of now."
" . . . The whole Southeast Asian trip is planned and, as far as we're concerned, is going ahead on schedule," he added.
The Philippines stopover was not part of Reagan's original itinerary but was added principally as a rest stop, according to one administration source. Pentagon officials favored the stopover because two key U.S. military bases are located in the Philippines.
Marcos said in an interview this week that cancellation of Reagan's visit would raise new political problems about operation of the U.S. bases.
An administration official dismissed this statement when he was asked yesterday whether it was "a veiled threat" from Marcos.
"We read it as a statement intended for domestic political consumption, not as pressure on the U.S.," the official said.
But the administration has made no attempt to hide its concern about security matters.
"It is a very serious situation, and we always constantly reevaluate," McManus said. "But there has been no change in the president's plans. The thing that would cause us to decide not to go hasn't happened yet."
Clark and other administration officials are said to believe that cancellation of the visit would be "a slap in the face" for Marcos and could contribute to the toppling of his regime. Some officials fear that a post-Marcos administration, possibly headed by his wife, Imelda, would be more repressive and unstable than the current regime.
However, officials acknowledge that Aquino's assassination continues to haunt the trip. Philippines Prime Minister Cesar Virata has said that "some elements of the government may be involved" in Aquino's murder, and any proof of this before Reagan's visit would be regarded as potentially embarrassing to the U.S. president.