FORMER PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos and his entourage are safe in Hawaii, and his rule has ended in the Philippines. In the courts of the United States, however, the long process of sorting out the assets he brought with him has just begun. The government now in power in Manila is expected to lay claim to billions of dollars in holdings -- real estate, bonds, securities, jewelry and the like -- on the grounds that they have been stolen from the Philippine people.

Many assets were already in this country before Mr. Marcos' exile. It has been estimated that as much as $3 billion had been invested or banked here, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Over the weekend, the Center for Constitutional Rights, a public interest legal organization representing Mrs. Aquino's government, won a restraining order in a New York State court barring the sale or transfer of five valuable pieces of real estate said to be owned or controlled by the Marcos family. These include a building on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, others on Wall Street and Madison Avenue, a shopping center in Herald Square and an estate in Suffolk County. Other lawyers in California, Hawaii and Texas plan similar legal action.

Meanwhile, in Honolulu, a planeload of baggage that accompanied the Marcos party is being "detained" by U.S. Customs while an inventory is taken. There is cash in the millions. Twenty-two crates crammed with Philippine pesos were found, packed simply as oranges or auto parts. One network reported that jewelry and negotiable bonds were stuffed in Pampers boxes. Customs will hold on to everything for the time being until ownership is detrmined, and it is likely that American courts will have to do the job of ensuring that the Marcos family give back funds and assets taken illegally from the people of the Philippines.

The amassing of staggering wealth by someone who has for decades been a public official on a modest government salary will take some explaining. The sorting out will no doubt require lawyers and accountants by the score. But it must be done. And if the courts find, as there is reason to believe they will, that many of these assets belong to the Philippine people, they must be returned to them.