November 7, 1987
My fellow Americans:
Last week, news from the Philippines reminded us all of both the friendship of the Filipino people and their struggles. The gesture of friendship came when Philippine President Corazon Aquino paid a visit to Clark Air Base outside of Manila to attend a memorial service for American airmen slain by terrorists. I have told President Aquino how much all Americans appreciate her thoughtfulness. These murders bring home to all of us the troubles and threats that the new Philippine democracy faces.
Twenty months ago, we applauded as President Corazon Aquino's peaceful revolution began moving the Philippines back toward popular rule. Since then, President Aquino has been more successful than many believed was possible. Within this last year-and-a-half, she has led a successful campaign to ratify a new, more democratic constitution, and she has overseen the first free congressional elections in 15 years -- elections in which an overwhelming majority of the people participated. Now she's working with the newly elected Congress to solve that nation's serious economic problems.
President Aquino believes, as I do, that free enterprise is the most powerful engine of economic progress known to humanity. She has inaugurated an ambitious reform program that has ended a sharp recession and boosted annual economic growth to 5 percent. She has begun to reform the tax system, dismantle monopolies, privatize or eliminate inefficient government-owned industries, and reduce barriers to international trade and investment. These are all reasons for optimism, but there are reasons for concern as well.
The single most serious threat to the survival of democratic government in the Philippines remains the Communist insurgency. As a result of the restoration of democracy, that insurgency has lost political momentum; still it continues, becoming more violent as it becomes more desperate. But even as she confronts the threat of Communist guerrillas, President Aquino must also rebuild the Philippine Armed Forces. She has had to reassert the principle of civilian supremacy over the military, while at the same time resolve honest differences over how best to defeat the Communist insurgency. Not everyone in the military has been happy about the new civilian role. President Aquino has faced five attempted coups since taking office.
I've made it clear to all concerned that Filipino democracy and President Aquino have America's full support. We hope all elements in the Philippine Government, both civilian and military, will work together to find common ground. Division between government and its armed forces can only help the Communist insurgents, who are bent on destruction of freedom and democracy in the Philippines.
Few countries are as strategically important to the United States as the Philippines, and we have a moral obligation to help all democracies succeed. That's why I have recently underscored to American business leaders that the United States is committed to Philippine economic recovery. I told them that we believe there are great opportunities for American investors in the Philippines, and I reminded them that, while building the economy, our men and women of enterprise will also be helping to build a stable and democratic future for that nation.
I've also asked Congress to help. I've requested substantial economic and military assistance for the Philippines. While we'd like to do more, budgetary constraints may limit what we can do, but this is one area where we can't afford to cut corners. The people of the Philippines are counting on us. One way Congress could do a lot is to reform our sugar program, as I proposed earlier this year. We will work with President Aquino to build a safer home for democracy in the Philippines. Most of the responsibility belongs to the people of the Philippines, but we can and will lend a hand.
Now, let me turn for a moment to another area of the world where brave men and women are working for democracy. I mean Central America. This week the Guatemala peace accord went into effect. The world is waiting to see if the Sandinistas in Nicaragua keep the promises they made to the other Central American Governments when they signed that agreement. Will they fulfill both the letter and spirit of the agreement? In particular, will they institute the steps necessary for the democratization of Nicaragua? Will they allow freedom to prosper as the agreements demand? Will they begin the process of national reconciliation? And will they take full steps, not partial steps? The United States will be watching to see if the Sandinistas were sincere when they signed the Guatemala accord or if their signature was just one more propaganda ploy.
Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.
Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.