MANILA, AUG. 9 -- Philippine President Corazon Aquino, under pressure to curb lawlessness after a wave of unsolved political murders, today announced that the military will adopt "sweeping measures" aimed at eliminating the "impunity of crimes in our society." The measures will include intensified searches and new efforts to check the growth in illegal firearms.
Aquino, however, rejected mounting calls that she suspend criminal suspects' right of habeas corpus or adopt other harsh anticrime measures, including imposing martial law. She said her crackdown on crime will be done "with all due respect to the guarantees of the Constitution" and without turning the Philippines into "a garrison state."
"There will be no constitutional shortcuts to public safety," Aquino said, in a speech marking the 86th anniversary of the Philippine Constabulary, the military branch charged with keeping internal peace and performing other law-and-order functions.
Aquino spoke one week after unknown gunmen assassinated Cabinet secretary Jaime Ferrer and his driver while Ferrer was on his way home from church in suburban Paranaque, a district of metropolitan Manila.
The week-long investigation has bogged down, with police arresting and then releasing numerous suspects from both the far left and the far right, and an increasing number of Filipinos have voiced skepticism that the murder will ever be solved.
"His killers are still at large," Aquino said. "That is a fact. It is a fact that has been shoved, since last Sunday, in our faces . . . by our critics." In a particularly bitter-sounding speech, Aquino said, "You would think from their griping that my only duty as president is to ride shotgun for my Cabinet secretaries."
Aquino said the military later this week "will adopt sweeping measures, measures aimed at eliminating the alarming proliferation of firearms and impunity of crimes in our society. Checkpoints and searches will be intensified."
The Ferrer killing was the most dramatic in a wave of politically motivated violent acts from shadowy groups that operate on the country's political extremes and have set out to embarrass -- if not topple -- Aquino's 18-month-old government.
Four days after Ferrer was slain, a Japanese civil engineer working here on a project to rehabilitate the country's rail lines was murdered in suburban Quezon City. The slaying is said to have eroded Japanese investor confidence in the country's stability.
On Saturday, 14 college students and a professor from the Mindanao State University were kidnaped when their bus was hijacked by suspected Moslem rebels in Marawi City.
Dozens of top-ranking police officers also have been assassinated in Manila since March by death squads, or "sparrow units," of the communist New People's Army.
In a speech today, the constabulary commanding officer, Gen. Renato DeVilla, said more than 600 soldiers and policemen have been killed around the country since the beginning of the year.
Several military officials and conservative politicians have urged Aquino to suspend certain civil liberties of criminals to curb the violence, while more extreme critics have suggested that she impose martial law, as former president Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972 during a phase of lawlessness.
Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto said there was no plan to suspend the right of habeas corpus for suspects, although he said the possibility "is part of every government's plan of action." Ileto was quoted in the conservative newspaper The Independent today saying, "In 1972, the situation was not as large as what we have now."