The Reagan administration quickly transferred its hopes and official recognition yesterday from Ferdinand Marcos to Corazon Aquino, declaring that her new Philippine government "has been produced by one of the most stirring and courageous examples of the democratic process in modern history."
A White House statement, read by Secretary of State George P. Shultz several hours after Marcos was lifted away from his palace by U.S. helicopters, set the celebratory tone of the transition in official Washington, which had played a key role in the tumultuous events of recent weeks.
"This has not been something that the United States has done. This is something that the people of the Philippines have done. . . . We honor them for this outpouring of democracy," said Shultz in a comment echoed by many other officials.
Shultz said the United States stands ready to aid Aquino in tackling the immense economic and security problems of an important U.S. ally in Asia. Other State and Defense department officials seemed to promote increased U.S. assistance on grounds that the Aquino government could use it with greater effectiveness than Marcos' regime could have.
The early soundings from Capitol Hill indicated broad approval of the change in Manila and willingness to consider expanded aid to nurture the new government. Congressional dismay over fraud by Marcos forces in the Feb. 7 election had generated a drive on Capitol Hill to cut off U.S. aid as long as Marcos remained in power.
"The absence of Marcos isn't going to solve the problems by itself, but you couldn't solve the problems as long as he was there," said a senior administration official, who cautioned that the troubles of the Philippines are imposing and that the Aquino government is untested.
"There are going to be big problems ahead in the Philippines," said a senior State Department official in a briefing for reporters late yesterday. The United States believed, the official added, that "only a government that enjoyed a genuine popular mandate could effectively address them. Mrs. Aquino's government does enjoy that kind of mandate. This is why we recognized that government promptly this morning."
Officials expressed approval of Aquino's initial moves, including her first cabinet and central bank appointments and her apparent rejection of retribution against Marcos supporters.
There was also guarded optimism that Aquino and her associates will come to see the value of an enduring U.S. presence at Clark Field and Subic Bay Naval Base, which are the largest American military bases abroad. Aquino has said that she accepts the agreement under which the United States retains use of these bases at least through 1991.
"Our officials here believe that our country has an obligation to help revive and restore the Philippine military, which has quite obviously been distracted from the task of dealing with the insurgency for an extended period of time," Pentagon spokesman Robert B. Sims said. "And we'll do whatever we can to facilitate this."
While Sims did not go into specifics, Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview that what the Filipino military needs most are basics such as trucks, radios and spare parts for aircraft, rather than sophisticated weaponry such as the F16 fighter planes Marcos sought.
"The Filipino military no longer sees itself under a global threat," one U.S. official said, "and realizes what it needs are the weapons effective within their own country for counterinsurgency."
The clearcut, almost revolutionary nature of the turnover of power and the important role of Gen. Fidel Ramos and others thought to favor military reforms seem to improve the prospects that "all of the overstaying generals" and Marcos cronies in the armed forces could be swept out, according to a State Department official.
Reform in the Philippine military has been a central objective of U.S. policy for many months, but only limited gains were recorded while Gen. Fabian Ver and other close Marcos allies remained at the top.
On the economic side, reporters were told at a State Department briefing that U.S. aid might be increased "under certain conditions." But officials placed more emphasis on the return of private capital investment to the Philippines and renegotiation of debt as ways to bring economic improvement.
The total official U.S. assistance that could be provided beyond existing levels -- about $233 million in military, economic and food aid this year -- is "limited," a senior department official said. He said aid from the U.S. government would be "far less" than the private capital the Philippines could attract by more open markets and other policy shifts.
The United States is "willing to look at the debt issue in due course," the official said.
Special U.S. envoy Philip C. Habib is expected to explore "ways we can be helpful" to the Aquino government when he returns to Manila for new talks with Philippine leaders, the official said. The State Department said Habib will shortly begin these discussions on economic and military questions, among others.
Explaining the U.S. stand on Marcos' future, Shultz said at the White House early yesterday that "President Marcos is welcome to come to the United States." This assurance, which was given privately to Marcos before he left Manila, is thought to have been a factor in his decision to surrender power.
"We've offered him safe haven . . . . We've offered him our hospitality," said a senior State Department official at yesterday afternoon's briefing. He declined to further define Marcos' legal status in the United States.
While there is no indication that the Aquino government will seek to extradite Marcos or those who departed from Manila with him, the State Department official noted that an extradition treaty with the Philippines has been signed but has not been ratified.
At news conference at the Philippine Embassy here, it was announced that a group led by Heherson Alvarez, an Aquino supporter in the United States, has been named to foster smooth transitions at Philippine diplomatic missions in the United States.
Alvarez said that Leonides Caday, the charge d'affaires and second-ranking official at the embassy, will take charge there, while members of the transition group will remain to work with him.
Caday, who took part in the news conference, said he planned to "provide for continuity of work in the government," and that business would go on as usual. Asked about Marcos loyalists in the embassy, he said that if some were found to be politically active, they "will be dealt with accordingly."Staff writers George