WASHINGTON, PHILIPPINES -- This dirt-poor mountain village of thatch huts resonates with many of the powerful emotions now coursing through Philippine society: hopelessness, disillusionment and despair.

Four and a half years after President Corazon Aquino rose to power in a "people power" revolution, widespread hopes that the restoration of democracy would give rise to a new, just social order in the Philippines have been abandoned as old patterns of corruption and poverty have persisted.

Aquino supporters are quick to point out that the president ended an era of strongman rule, presided over a period of some economic growth and restored Manila's international legitimacy. But the spirited defenses of Aquino's record miss a crucial point: In the poor, rural provinces, success is measured by improvement in daily living standards, not the extent of press freedom or the number of elections held.

Such progress has failed to reach Washington, D.C. -- which stands for the District of Catarman -- the main population center on northern Samar Island in the eastern Philippines.

This village has no electricity or telephones, and water must be drawn from deep wells. Virtually the entire population of 2,300 people is unemployed, but the only road to the largest nearby town where they might find work is a crater-marked path of dirt and gravel that disappears in heavy rains.

"This town is very poor. We need help," said Miguel Abendano, the village captain, a post equivalent to a mayor. "Food is a problem. Most of the people here are jobless. They want jobs."

The complaints voiced here can be heard echoing across this sprawling archipelago of 60 million people, from the rugged northern mountain provinces of Ilocos Norte and Cagayan to the southernmost islands of Mindanao and Sulu.

There is exasperation over government corruption and the lack of roads, schools and basic services; resentment over the centralization of power in Manila; cynicism over government initiatives; anger at national bureaucrats who do not seem to understand -- or care about -- the problems of the country's rural poor.

And perhaps most revealing about the Philippines today, there is a sense that after such high hopes and lofty promises of a better life, things are getting worse; the economy is deteriorating and millions of Filipinos are getting poorer.

The economic plight of this country has been worsened by a string of recent events, most of them beyond the government's control. An earthquake in central Luzon devastated entire towns in July. The Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait stranded tens of thousands of Filipino workers who had sent home much of their earnings, and the crisis is threatening the country's oil supplies.

And after years of agitating against U.S. military bases, Filipinos face what appears to be a final irony: the U.S. government -- not Manila -- has decided to begin phasing out the bases and the Philippines stands to lose tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in base-related U.S. aid.

Despite anti-bases protests and a continuing Communist insurgency, Filipinos in general have not reacted to their predicament with a great convulsion of violence. Radical anti-government groups on the far left and far right have failed to attract significant popular followings. Most of the frustration appears inwardly directed.

"People are losing faith," said Eduardo de la Cruz, the mayor of Catarman. "The people are getting disgusted now with what is happening with this graft and corruption. Even me, I'm becoming disgusted with this government that we have.

"It's the values of the Filipino people that must change. Our problem in the Philippines is this graft and corruption. {Former president Ferdinand} Marcos was ousted because of that, and it is happening all over again. . . . The people from the national government assigned to northern Samar don't care about our problems," he said.

Expressing what appears to be an almost universal view in the Philippines, de la Cruz does not blame Aquino for the problems, but faults her for a lack of strong leadership. "The president I think is getting some bad advice," he said. "That is why I'm becoming disgusted, because I thought {after the 1986 revolution} we were on the right track."

Aquino's critics charge that she does not understand the game of politics and does not particularly care to learn. She seems content to try to stay above the fray, acting in many ways like an essentially powerless queen in a modern constitutional monarchy. She is seen cutting ribbons, comforting children and touring provinces to announce new projects, but little of substance seems to get done.

For example, Aquino four years ago acted on a key campaign promise by announcing with great fanfare a major program to turn over agricultural land to peasant farmers.

But then she stood on the sidelines while the landlord-controlled Congress -- led by her own brother and principal sugar baron Jose "Peping" Cojuangco -- gutted her proposal by adding loopholes and removing its teeth. Very little land has been given to the peasant farmers and her own family estate, Hacienda Luisita, has remained exempt from the reforms.

Aquino seemed to concede defeat in instituting her own programs earlier this year when she announced the formation of a grassroots movement called "Kabisig," which has been translated from Tagalog as "Arm-In-Arm" or "Linking Arms." Kabisig was aimed at bypassing the red tape of Congress and the bureaucracy and taking projects directly to badly needed rural areas by getting nongovernmental organizations and other service groups to work directly with key cabinet secretaries.

The idea was seen by some newspaper columnists and diplomatic analysts as an attempt by Aquino to regain the political initiative, but it was criticized by leading congressmen and senators as a ploy to try to enact programs over their heads, robbing them of the spoils of patronage.

But the very need for the movement to get projects enacted seemed to confirm that Aquino has been unable to control the political system and was trying to recreate the grass-roots and broad-based "people power" coalition of church groups and cause-oriented organizations that swept her into office.

"Kabisig is her way of moving around her own hidebound bureaucracy, thus ignoring the fundamental problem," said a Western diplomatic analyst in Manila. " . . . She's a president with a distaste for using her political power. There are too many checks and balances in the system -- and here it is used by people with ulterior motives. She has frittered away the powers she did have."

Another senior diplomat here put it more bluntly: "Aquino has established democracy -- now we have to find somebody to make it work."

Aquino's vociferous supporters say such criticisms are unfair, and that the president does not get enough credit for her accomplishments. She restored constitutional democracy after Marcos's abuse of one-man rule, as well as an independent Congress and judiciary.

She reversed the negative economic growth of Marcos's last years in power, although the growth is likely to drop this year as a result of the upheavals in the Middle East and the shock to this country's oil supplies. And she has presided over a modest boom in new construction, in real estate, in new investment and in the Manila and Makati stock markets. She has also restored the legitimacy of the Philippine government abroad.

Not all of the economic statistics are positive, however. The trade deficit is growing. The national budget is badly in the red and likely to get worse as the country grapples with the effects of higher oil prices and a shortage of foreign exchange reserves.

And, in perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the Philippines' slide, this country, which should be self-sufficient in agricultural products, is now forced to import rice and corn. Adding to the embarrassment, one of the new rice suppliers for the Philippines is Vietnam, which was facing its own famine two years ago but has managed to reverse its agricultural decline and become a rice exporter.

In an interview late last year, Aquino blamed her flagging popularity on the over-high expectations initially placed upon her. "People just expected miracles," she said

In certain areas there clearly has been improvement. Cebu has become a major regional development center. Davao has seen impressive growth. Cagayan de Oro also is cited as a regional growth center on Mindanao island, but city Mayor Pablo Magtajas said the appearance of progress was illusory because "there are still thousands of poor people."

The economy of Cagayan de Oro, like here in Northern Samar, is anchored on coconuts, and more people are suffering now that the price of copra, dried coconut meat, is down to 3 pesos per kilogram from 12 a few years ago.

According to some estimates, more than one-fifth of Filipinos make their livings directly or indirectly from coconuts. One banker has estimated that a mere 5-cent change in the copra price could add or subtract $600 million in national income.

Here in Washington, politics -- and popular views of Aquino -- are measured almost exclusively in coconuts.

"I don't like Cory," said Rosie Uy, a vendor sitting atop a sack of coconut meat while taking a break to chat with a rare foreign visitor to this isolated village. "Under Cory, the copra price is very low. I like Marcos -- the price was higher then." Now, she said, "People are very poor."

"In my observation, nothing has changed," said Abendano, the village captain. "The comparison between the two presidents {Marcos and Aquino} is only in price. Under Marcos, the price was higher."