Philippine President Corazon Aquino, vowing to "cut out the cancer in our political system," abolished the Philippine legislature today and unilaterally proclaimed a new "provisional constitution" that gives her sweeping powers at least as great as those of deposed president Ferdinand Marcos.
Aquino said she would use "this temporary Freedom Constitution" for transition to a more democratic form of government than she inherited a month ago from Marcos, who was ousted by a military-led popular revolt after 20 years in power.
Saying she would appoint a commission to draft a new constitution and submit it to a plebiscite, Aquino added that she hoped elections under the new constitution would produce a legislature within a year.
In the meantime, the provisional constitution gives Aquino authority to decree legislation, among other emergency powers. One Cabinet minister said that although the term was not officially used today, Aquino's proclamation amounted to declaration of a "revolutionary government."
Another, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., minister of local governments, said, "I believe we could have proceeded under existing laws. I am mulling my options."
Other ministers who appeared at the proclamation ceremony said they had thought the provisional charter was going to be discussed further before it was announced. "It was not subjected to a full-blown debate," Pimentel said, estimating that about half of the 20-member Cabinet objected to the proclamation.
After a televised address from the Malacanang presidential palace, Aquino signed "Proclamation No. 3" formally adopting the provisional constitution. The document listed its basic aims as reorganizing government, restoring democracy, protecting basic rights, eradicating corruption, restoring peace and order and maintaining civilian supremacy over the military.
Aquino said that after careful consideration she was announcing "an interim constitution under which our battered nation can shelter after years of dictatorship in order to heal its wounds, restore its strength and enjoy the first fruits of its new-found freedom.
"If political power is to be returned to its proper limits and our society cleansed of the crimes and repression of recent years, we must cut out the cancer in our political system," Aquino said.
The proclamation stipulates that the president appoint a commission of 30 to 50 members within 60 days.
Aquino said she hoped that the constitutional commission would complete its work within 90 days and that "our people will have a new permanent constitution, and a duly elected parliament, within one year from this proclamation."
Justice Minister Neptali Gonzales, who headed a committee that drafted the proclamation, sought to allay fears that the provisional constitution gives Aquino excessive power.
"I wouldn't say absolute powers," he said in response to a question after the signing ceremony. He said the 1973 constitution's Bill of Rights, similar to the U.S. model, was retained and that Aquino's new powers do not exceed those of Marcos under martial law, which he imposed from 1972 to 1981.
Cabinet sources said Pimentel, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Agriculture Minister Ramon Mitra were among those who opposed abolishing the National Assembly, which was controlled by Marcos' ruling party with a two-thirds majority and formally proclaimed him the winner of a fraud-ridden Feb. 7 presidential election.
The new proclamation was sharply criticized by members of Marcos' party. Former labor minister Blas Ople, who has broken away from Marcos' New Society Movement to form his own Nationalist Party of the Philippines, declared, "President Aquino, with her proclamation of a revolutionary government, has vested herself with the powers of a dictator in a one-party state."
Ople complained that the widow of assassinated opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. has "opened the floodgates of abuse and refuted her own claims to being a champion of Philippine democracy."
Former deputy justice minister Manuel Garcia said that "we must organize ourselves to expose the excesses and abuses on the part of the president."
A former secretary general of Marcos' party, Jose Rono, greeted the proclamation with resignation. "There's nothing we can do about it," he said. "We're not fighting a windmill here, we're standing in the path of an oncoming train."
Cabinet members said Aquino now has greater powers than Marcos had under martial law, at least on paper, but that this would not necessarily be so in practice.
The nine-page proclamation retains most provisions of the 1973 constitution, but abolishes articles on the legislature, the prime minister and Cabinet and a series of amendments. These include Amendment No. 6 that allowed Marcos to legislate by decree.
However, Article 2 of the new provisional constitution states that "until a legislature is elected and convened under a new constitution, the president shall continue to exercise legislative power."
The article says the president shall give priority to wiping out "all iniquitous vestiges of the previous regime," guaranteeing people's rights and freedoms, rehabilitating the economy, recovering "ill-gotten properties" amassed by previous leaders and settling the "problem of insurgency."
The president also is given the power to control and supervise all local governments, review or revoke all contracts for development of natural resources and modify or repeal any existing law, decree, executive order or regulation.