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Mrs. Aquino Signs Interim Constitution, Abolishes Assembly

March 25, 1986

MANILA, Philippine (AP) _ President Corazon Aquino today signed an interim ″freedom constitution″ that abolishes the National Assembly, guarantees human rights, and gives her wide powers to reorganize the government and make laws until voters ratify a new constitution.

She announced her action on nationwide radio and television exactly one month after becoming president, taking on nearly the same powers that Ferdinand E. Marcos assumed when he declared martial law in 1972. Her move allows her more direct power over local governments than her deposed predecessor exercised.

But she set a timetable for a new constitution to be put to a public vote within a year, and her justice minister said her powers were less sweeping than Marcos’, with any government actions subject to judicial review.

Jose Rono, secretary-general of Marcos’ New Society Movement, said he expected the development, adding, ″There’s nothing we can do about it. We’re not fighting a windmill here. We’re standing in the path of an oncoming train.″

Leonardo Perez, political affairs minister under Marcos, called the new government ″an open-minded dictatorship.″

″This is part of the political realities of life,″ he said.

Opponents of the new government will meet Wednesday to discuss the action, which denied them any chance of using their National Assembly majority to political advantage. Mrs. Aquino called Marcos’ control of the assembly ″the cancer of our political system.″

Marcos was overthrown and driven into U.S. exile Feb. 25 by a military revolt backed by the Roman Catholic Church and ″people power″ demonstrations in Manila streets. The four-day rebellion was mainly peaceful.

Mrs. Aquino’s interim constitution allows a writ of habeas corpus, which Marcos had suspended. Habeus corpus places on authorities the burden of justifying detention of prisoners.

She said she hoped a new constitution and a new assembly could be in place within a year.

″Today I am 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,″ Mrs. Aquino said.

Mrs. Aquino said the provisional constitution will be replaced by a permanent document that will be drafted by a commission of between 30 and 50 members. She said members of the commission would be appointed within 60 days.

She said she hopes the commission will complete its work within 90 days, after which the document will be submitted to a nationwide vote.

″It is my hope ... that our people will have a new permanent constitution and a duly elected parliament within one year,″ she said. ″This is the route we will take to complete the return to a fully fledged representative government.″

’With the freedom constitution as our vessel, I believe the journey can be a swift and safe one,″ Mrs. Aquino said.

Mrs. Aquino pledged in the interim constitution to respect basic human rights and fundamental freedoms.

She promised to reorganize the government, restore peace and order, rebuild the economy, and eradicate graft and corruption.

She said civilians would retain supremacy over the military.

In abolishing the National Assembly, Mrs. Aquino eliminated the post of prime minister, which Vice President Salvador H. Laurel had been designated to fill. He also is foreign minister.

Former Prime Minister Cesar Virata had formally turned over his office to Laurel a few hours earlier.

The temporary documents provide that Laurel would succeed Mrs. Aquino if she dies, resigns or is incapacitated. If he is unable to serve, her Cabinet would choose the successor from among its members.

Mrs. Aquino said the 190-member National Assembly, in which Marcos supporters controlled two-thirds of the seats, was involved in a ″conspiracy to cheat″ her of victory in the Feb. 7 presidential election.

She also charged that it ″rammed through the false proclamation″ of Marcos as winner of the election. Observers said the balloting was marred by widespread fraud and intimidation.

The assembly declared Marcos winner of the election by more than 1 million votes. But an independent watchdog body had Mrs. Aquino winning by more than 600,000 votes in a tally it said was based on all votes that could be verified.

″It is ... evident to me that if political power is to be returned to its proper limits and our society cleansed of the crimes and represession of recent years, we must cut out the cancer in our political system,″ Mrs. Aquino declared.

She said the proclamation of the ″freedom constitution″ fulfills her election promise ″to restore the rule of law and full respect for the rights of our citizens, while the process of constitutional renewal is going on.″

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