MANILA, SEPT. 1 -- Throughout much of the recent military rebellion that threatened to topple her government, Corazon Aquino did what she has done through previous crises that have swarmed around her presidency: She prayed.

"So long as the country needs me, God will spare me," Aquino told an audience today. "I am convinced that we will be able to go through this crisis, and fortunately we have survived with a series of miracles."

That statement -- with allusions to divine intervention rescuing her in the past -- epitomizes the strength and the weakness of Aquino's ability to lead this nation of 60 million people through one of its most wrenching periods of recurring crises and continuing political instability in the post-Marcos era.

Aquino's isolation from the chaos projects an air of calm serenity that Filipinos find reassuring amid assassinations in the cities, a tenacious communist insurgency in the countryside, bombings and repeated military mutinies.

At the same time, political analysts here say her style often appears to show a kind of dangerous detachment from reality. She goes on television after every crisis and makes tough-sounding speeches, but nothing is ever really done.

Aquino's critics have described her as a powerful unifying symbol but a weak leader, unable to articulate a clear vision for the country and marshal the full powers of her office.

Some analysts said the perceived failure of leadership cuts across all levels, not just the presidency, creating the larger impression that after 20 years under Ferdinand Marcos, the country is still searching for direction.

"Leadership is what all sides in the Philippines lack at the moment," said one western diplomat. "The {communist insurgent} New People's Army has no real leader . . . {and} the government and the armed forces have much the same problem. There's a dearth of leadership talent all around."

For many outsiders, including the Philippines' Southeast Asian neighbors, Aquino's government appears to have become a captive of the chaos, moving from one crisis to another without any clear sense of where it is going. A journalist who travels frequently throughout other Southeast Asian capitals is struck by how frequently government officials ask, "Is Cory going to survive?"

Her own statement about surviving by a series of miracles seems to suggest a government that has come to measure success simply as a matter of staying in office.

"There's one thing you can say about the Aquino government that you cannot say about other Third World governments, and that is its ability to withstand coups, threats and mutinies," her press secretary, Teodoro Benigno, said recently.

There are thus two sharply conflicting views of Corazon Aquino as president.

On one level, among her many supporters here who tend to be extremely protective of her during crises, Aquino personally remains enormously popular. That popularity, her aides say, sustains the government through times of crisis. "Cory Aquino's government remains intact, and her popularity remains intact," Benigno said.

Government officials also point to the voters' approval of a new constitution, the election of a new Congress and the incipient signs of an economic recovery as evidence that the country is moving forward in spite of the seeming upheaval.

But some foreign diplomats, some of her middle-class supporters, businessmen, opposition politicians and journalists who follow events here view Aquino as an "Alice in Wonderland," protected by a cordon sanitaire of advisers, as one widely read Philippine newspaper columnist, Luis D. Beltran, described her. These critics say Aquino squandered the time just after she came to power in February 1986, when hopes were high and when she could have pushed through sweeping programs for economic reform, rural rehabilitation and land redistribution.

She has now chosen to defer key decisions to the new Congress, which in turn appears to be groping for direction. Members of Congress spend endless time debating the country's foreign debt and use "privileged time" speeches to defend their personal integrity. As its first act, the Congress voted out a bill to rename the airport here the "Ninoy Aquino International Airport," after her assassinated husband.

"Congress is feeling directionless," said Blas Ople, an opposition politician who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in May. "The direction of a country ought to come from its national leadership -- it is the fundamental responsibility of the president."

"Her overwhelming majorities in Congress would be expected to convert her vision into a legislative agenda," Ople said. "But anyone in Congress will tell you there is no agenda. There is a kind of presidential default."

Aquino, in her speech to Congress on its opening day, said she would present a legislative program in a few days, but so far no such package has materialized. Even in areas where she has taken action -- such as a sweeping decree to break up huge agrarian estates and redistribute the land among the country's 2 million peasants -- she left most of the key details to Congress.

One Filipino banker here suggested that unless Aquino begins to use the powers of her office, she may ultimately suffer the same reversal as Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He was enormously popular following the assassination of his mother, prime minister Indira Gandhi, but his popularity has diminished in the face of repeated scandals and political setbacks.

After a series of coup attempts and the assassination of Cabinet secretary Jaime Ferrer earlier this month, but before last week's military revolt, Beltran wrote a column saying, "The coups, and now a major assassination, are merely the symptoms of a greater disease -- the instability of an administration which hangs to power only by a rapidly fraying thread, the thread of the president's personal popularity."

This theme -- that Aquino has survived so far on popularity without showing real leadership -- has been repeated over and over again. There is a growing body of opinion here that the perception of weak leadership may have at least partially prompted so many members of her armed forces to express sympathy for Friday's violent coup attempt.

In a speech Monday, opposition Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, the former defense minister with a wide following in the military, blamed Aquino's "failure in national leadership" for igniting the discontent that led to the coup. He criticized Aquino for a "fundamental inability . . . to arrest the gloom and drift in the nation."

Today, Aquino, in offhand remarks, said, "While it is true that we have been doing our very best, perhaps there is still so much lacking of us, and the time is now to reexamine what we have been doing."