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At first glance, the $481 million annual payment plus other considerations the United States will make to keep its bases in the Philippines seems like a hefty price for American taxpayers to pay.

But on closer examination, the U.S. may actually have cut a good deal for itself, and ultimately for the Philippines as well.The new agreement signed this week covers the use of the two largest U.S. military outposts abroad - Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Navy base -and four smaller installations. The bases house 17,000 servicemen plus dependents and allow Washington to support military operations in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

Both Clark and Subic are considered vital to regional and Western security interests.

The price, which includes the $481 million in annual payments, an agreement on nuclear weapons, and U.S. backing for a bond program aimed at reducing the Philippines' $28 billion debt, is steep. But when weighed against what the Philippines purportedly sought - $1.2 billion - the price seems much more reasonable.

For the past five years, the Philippines already has been receiving $180 million in annual military and economic aid tied to the bases, plus additional U.S. aid that has boosted the total to more than $45O million a year since President Corazon Aquino took power in February 1986.

The pact, moreover, is expected to lead to talks next year on the long-term future of the bases, which many Filipinos want removed after the lease lapses in 1991.

Aquino has not said whether she supports U.S. use of the bases after 1991, and any new treaty would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Philippine Senate and a possible referendum.

That the agreement was significant for the U.S. can, perhaps, be best judged by those of that country who were against it - members of the leftist political group New Nationalist Alliance and the trade-union group KMU or May 1st Movement. The KMU sent about 1,000 leftist workers to protest the pact at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. They said the new pact lays the basis for extending the 41-year-old treaty beyond 1991.

For the U.S. not to have paid the price and as a result given up its long-held presence in the Philippines would have been a strategic mistake. For the Philippines, the long-range economic benefits resulting from the new pact will be a boon.

All things considered, the agreement is one that both countries can live with.