The Philippine armed forces, which two months ago earned adulation of the public by helping to drive Ferdinand Marcos from power, is now struggling to preserve that public spirit, reform its ranks and come to grips with its role in the post-Marcos era.

Support by the military is a crucial element in the coalition that brought President Corazon Aquino to power. But some of her decisions have produced the first signs of tension between her government and the armed forces, as well as tension within the armed forces itself, by touching on issues that go to the core of the military's competence, integrity and missions.

The new government says its authority springs from "people's power," the mammoth street demonstrations mounted by Aquino's followers. But it comes in at least equal portion from the military and its guns. Before soldier supporters led by Gen. Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos' defense minister, rebelled on Feb. 22, there was no end in sight for Aquino's campaign to oust Marcos. On Feb. 25, she became president.

The government that emerged has an avowed pacifist president presiding over a coalition of strongly anti-Communist soldiers, left-of-center politicians and human rights activists, and an economic team of businessmen and technocrats. It is a new and not entirely comfortable role for the soldiers. Unlike their counterparts in many neighboring Southeast Asian countries, military men here have traditionally steered clear of an overt role in politics.

Most analysts here see any threat to the government's stability coming from a breakdown of this balance, not from agitation by Marcos or the remnants of his party.

Already some signs of tension can be seen. The military has been disquieted by Aquino's decision to release from jail senior Communist leaders who had been captured with great difficulty by the military, and by a proposal to prosecute soldiers for past human rights abuses while offering amnesty to the Communists.

Ramos, as Aquino's armed forces chief of staff, and Enrile, who was retained in the new Cabinet as defense minister, have spoken out in public on such military concerns -- always underlining, however, that they will bow to whatever the civilian president decides.

While analysts see the military role as a crucial element in preserving this balance, Aquino's supporters are also concerned about rising tension between the parties in her political coalition over her handling of traditional patronage issues such as control of local and provincial governments. She has also been criticized for her indecision, especially on the issue of whether to declare a "revolutionary government."

Ramos is widely respected as an honest, by-the-book officer with no hidden agenda. Enrile, however, is distrusted by many members of the Aquino government for his past ties with Marcos. His statements have fueled speculation that he could at some point break with her and seek power for himself. Perhaps trying to widen this rift, some members of Marcos' party now say openly they want Enrile as the next president.

For the time being, at least, the split seems more potential than real. The government is proceeding with a restructuring of the 250,000-member armed forces, which in spending and personnel are comparatively small for a country the size of the Philippines.

During the 20-year Marcos era, the military functioned almost as a private army for the president. "The orientation became more of supporting a person rather than serving the people," said an Army colonel who is involved in the shake-up. ". . . the object is to make the armed forces propeople."

They are now officially called the New Armed Forces of the Philippines. The tiny Philippine flags that rebels pinned to their fatigues during February's uprising as an identification sign have become regulation armpatches on uniforms. Civic action programs, in which soldiers build public works facilities for civilians near their bases, are reported to be on the rise.

A wide-ranging command reshuffle has been implemented. Enforcement of retirement deadlines has cut the number of generals from 102 to 53. Eleven of the country's 12 military regions have new commanders, as do all four of the armed services.

Many senior officers who did not show timely support for the revolt have been moved to noncommand jobs. Gen. Artemio Tadier, who as Marine commandant obeyed orders from Marcos to move tanks toward the rebels' headquarters but turned back when tens of thousands of civilians blocked his way on the streets, is now assigned to a study committee looking into ways to streamline headquarters and garrison units.

Lower ranking loyalists have been put through "reorientation" seminars that are supposed to instill correct values for service to the nation. Many have been sent through basic training courses again.

In some cases, in an attempt to bind wounds, Ramos has tried to treat with special respect soldiers who stayed loyal to Marcos. When a tank unit that Marcos had deployed around his palace moved back to the provinces, Ramos showed up for send-off ceremonies.

The truest test of the reforms will be in reducing corruption that under Marcos became pervasive and building the trust of local civilians. It is not uncommon, for instance, for officers at remote outposts to run illegal logging operations on the side, or for their enlisted men to use threat of their weapons to extract tribute from the villagers.

The Aquino government has promised that soldiers will get better medicine, field equipment and clothing. But at present, those changes remain far off.

Though they have welcomed new U.S. military aid, Ramos and other officers say the armed forces basically have sufficient men and resources -- provided they are used correctly -- for the main job at hand, protecting against guerrillas of the Communist New People's Army. He said last week that to increase combat effectiveness, six battalions of troops that were in Manila to protect Marcos have already been sent back to the provinces.

Aquino has said she will work for a cease-fire with the insurgents, with amnesty to any who surrender. But she has warned that if after a cease-fire expires they still keep up the fight, they would face the full force the government could muster. The shooting has continued since the change of government, albeit at a lower level, according to official statistics.

Within days of taking power, Aquino freed four top Communist leaders, turning aside public warnings by Enrile that this might hamper public security. The four men remain above ground in Manila, giving speeches and interviews and on occasion attending cocktail parties.

Ramos told a businessmen's group recently that the military's approach to the New People's Army should be to "talk first before shooting. In the old days it was done the other way around." Still, the armed forces appear to be less confident of the nonviolent approach than is Aquino.

Similiar divergence of views can be seen over the question of human rights abuses by the military. Aquino has appointed a former senator, Jose Diokno, as head of a presidential commission on human rights, and he is already hearing reports of electric shock torture, mock execution and outright murder by military men.

But Ramos has asked in public the question that many of his men are raising in private: why Communists who abused human rights should go free while soldiers who did the same are bought to court.

In a government that is dotted with former political prisoners, the idea is meeting resistance. Diokno and others say that unlike the insurgents, soldiers had sworn themselves to uphold the law and must be held accountable. The victims deserve justice, they say.

Just how high a thorough human rights investigation would go is unclear. Already, allegations of forced interrogation have surfaced against Col. Gregorio Honasan, a reformist officer who was a hero of the revolution.

In some eyes, Ramos, as former commander of the paramilitary Philippine Constabulary, could be held ultimately responsible for its various misdeeds, during the Marcos era.

Enrile, as Marcos' longtime defense chief, would by this theory, carry the sins of the entire military on his shoulders.