A newspaper series credited with playing a major role in the downfall of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos by documenting how he hid his fortunes overseas yesterday won the Pulitzer prize for international reporting for the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.

The series, which appeared last June, was written by Pete Carey, Katherine Ellison and Lewis M. Simons. " It caused a hell of a storm in the Philippines, surprising us in its intensity," said Mercury News Executive Editor Robert Ingle. "It was one of the things that may have caused the administration to turn up the heat on Marcos to call an election."

San Jose's prize, one of 24 Pulitzers winners announced by Columbia University in New York, was also one of seven prizes for the Knight-Ridder Newspaper chain.

The Miami Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer each won two. John Camp of the St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch won for feature writing on the American farm family. The Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader won for an investigation by Jeffrey Marx and Michael York of cash payoffs to University of Kentucky basketball players. The series drew intense criticism from sports fans.

Larry Jinks, senior vice president of Knight-Ridder, credited the sweep to "a tradition of caring about good journalism."

Washingtonian and Texan Larry McMurtry won for his novel about the American West, "Lonesome Dove." The poetry prize went to "The Flying Change" by Henry Taylor of The American University here.

Prizes also went to two longtime contenders -- New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin, who won the commentary award, and Village Voice cartoonist Jules Feiffer.

Insiders said that when Breslin's name came before the judges, New York Times columnist Russell Baker made an impassioned pitch for him as the gruff and passionate voice of New York City. "After that, it was all over," said one participant.

Several of those aware of the proceedings also said the judges decided not to award a Pulitzer in the drama category after the selection panel offered only one choice -- a play called "Civil Wars" by Robert Wilson that had never been produced at its full 10-hour length.

The Denver Post won the gold medal public service award for stories revealing that many so-called "missing children" had been abducted by parents or family members or were runaways. The New York Times staff won twice -- for a series on Reagan's "Star Wars" proposal and for music criticism by Donal Henahan.

Chicago Tribune Editorial Editor Jack Fuller won for editorials on constitutional issues, and Andrew Schneider and Mary Pat Flaherty of The Pittsburgh Press won for an investigation of the traffic in organs for transplants.

The national reporting award was split between The Philadelphia Inquirer for a series by Arthur Howe on problems with the Internal Revenue Service and The Dallas Morning News, where Craig Flournoy and George Rodrigue won for an investigation of racial discrimination in subsidized housing. Tom Gralish of The Philadelphia Inquirer won for feature photography.

At The Miami Herald, photographers Carol Guzy and Michel duCille won for pictures of November's eruption of a Colombian volcano, and longtime police reporter Edna Buchanan won for general reporting.

Buchanan, the subject of a recent New Yorker profile, told celebrants in the Herald newsroom: "What a year this has been. I signed a book contract with Random House. My cat Flossie won a contest and is going to be on a cat calendar and now this."

Elizabeth Frank won for her biography of "Louise Bogan: A Portrait." The history prize went to " . . . The Heavens and the Earth; a Political History of the Space Age" by Walter A. McDougall; and "Wind Quintet IV" by George Perle won for music.

The general nonfiction book award was split between Joseph Lelyveld for his book "Move Your Shadow: South Africa Black and White" and J. Anthony Lukas for "Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families." Lukas is a former New York Times reporter and Lelyveld is its London bureau chief.

Simons, who won for the San Jose Mercury-News, is a former Washington Post reporter. Coauthor Katherine Ellison is a former Washington Post reporting intern.