THERE'S MORE to foreign aid than money alone. When the administration went to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday with its request for aid to the Philippines, the chairman, Richard Lugar, pressed it to ask for more. What's needed, he said, is "a demonstration of political support -- a dramatic demonstration."
The Philippines have been through a long and drastic economic decline. It is imperative to get incomes rising again. That will take aid and investment. Americans sometimes ask with exasperation why other countries don't help. But they do. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, both representing many governments, are each contributing more than the United States. Japan is contributing as much. But the development banks were designed to be politically neutral, and Japan, knowing that recollections of World War II are still vivid, chooses to be discreet. Because of a long and close association, the United States is the leading advocate of Philippine democracy, and support from the United States has a meaning that money from other donors cannot convey. That is a reality in which Americans ought to take great pride.
But with the current budget-cutting discipline and the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, the administration and Congress have nailed themselves into a very tight box. In most areas of the budget these reductions are tolerable, and in many they are positively desirable. It is essential to get the deficits down. But the method is to set limits for each category of spending. For foreign aid, that works out badly.
If the aid to the Philippines is to be increased, what aid will be further reduced to compensate for it? One third of the foreign aid budget is economic and military support for Israel and Egypt. Some of the remainder is fixed payments for military bases abroad. Some of it is shipments of farm surpluses. Only about one-fourth of the foreign aid budget is economic development assistance. When Congress cuts foreign aid -- as it apparently intends to do this year -- the impact falls disproportionately on development assistance.
American aid to the Philippines ought to be expanded. President Corazon Aquino's new government is going through a dangerous passage, with armed Communist insurgents on one side and the deposed Ferdinand Marcos working the telephones from Hawaii on the other. Foreign aid needs to be increased this year, even at the expense of other parts of the budget. The Philippines is not the only country in which the United States has urgent interests and special responsibilities.