The Philippine military "will not be able to stem the tide" of communist-led insurgency unless it stops abusing civilians and makes other "basic changes" in its operations, the State Department's senior Asian expert said yesterday.

Assistant Secretary of State Paul D. Wolfowitz, in the administration's most extensive policy statement toward the Philippines, took a sober view of the "serious economic difficulties and considerable political uncertainty" and spreading insurgency that confront the important U.S. ally in the Pacific.

The growth of the insurgency, mainly the work of the New People's Army, "increasingly threatens the nation's future," Wolfowitz said in a speech prepared for delivery at the National Defense University in Honolulu. The address was also made available by the State Department.

The "first and foremost" requirement of an effective antiguerrilla program, he said, is "an end to military abuse against civilians, itself one of the most commonly cited factors in explaining the alarming growth of the communist insurgency throughout the islands."

Recent reports cited NPA activities in all provinces of the far-flung islands.

"While military reform is essential, the communist insurgency cannot be combatted effectively without also addressing the political and economic problems that the communists exploit," Wolfowitz said. "The best antidote to communism is democracy."

Wolfowitz, who visited Manila last month to confer with President Ferdinand Marcos and other notable figures, said "considerable progress" had been made politically since the murder of opposition leader Benigno Aquino in August 1983.

Wolfowitz said "initial steps" have been taken in the economic field toward structural reform, which he said is essential for long-term growth.

In the military field, as well, he saw "encouraging signs that the Philippine government leadership and military establishment recognize the seriousness of the insurgency and are adopting a more effective, comprehensive approach."

The administration's recent budget request to Congress for $15 million more in military assistance than previously established levels "is premised on the full expectation that the incipient reforms we have seen will continue and expand."

Recent military reforms mentioned by Wolfowitz were a new system to police military abuses, reorganization of command and deployments dealing with the insurgency and a more realistic set of military procurement priorities.

Nonetheless, he said, "we have made clear to the Filipinos our conviction that without basic changes, the Philippine military will not be able to stem the insurgency tide."