Aquino Seeks Additional Powers
Proposed law would grant president authority to suspend labor laws and seize firearms. PHILIPPINES: AFTER COUP ATTEMPT
MANILA — CORAZON AQUINO, who reluctantly ran for president in 1986 and has since wielded authority sparingly, now seeks added powers to rule the Philippines. The once-retiring widow of slain political leader Benigno Aquino Jr. wants the Congress she helped create to grant her emergency powers under a Constitution she helped design.
Mrs. Aquino regards such powers as necessary after a week-long rebellion by low-ranking military officers set back the country's economic progress and political stability. The rebellion's leaders, some of whom helped oust former President Ferdinand Marcos nearly four years ago, remain at large after the surrender on Dec. 9 of the last of about 3,000 mutinous soldiers.
Aquino has accused her vice president, her former defense minister, and her estranged cousin of supporting the violent challenge to her government.
Such personal charges by Aquino were once reserved only for her longtime foe, Marcos, who died last September.
Debate in Congress this week will set the limits on the powers that Aquino seeks. But House Speaker Ramon Mitra says these powers will be ``just short of martial law.'' Aquino has tried to restore Filipino democracy and avoid any semblance of the near-dictatorial rule of Marcos, who declared martial law in 1972 and left behind a politicized and fractious armed forces.
But Aquino asked Congress for emergency powers ``as may be necessary to enable the government to fulfill its responsibilities and to maintain and enforce its authority.'' The proposed law would give Aquino the power to suspend labor laws, take over private businesses, seize firearms, and regulate prime commodities.
Juan Ponce Enrile, her most powerful political foe and her former defense minister, claims the new powers will allow the government to arrest opposition politicians who have exposed ``the root causes that brought about the reformist military revolt.'' Mr. Enrile is the sole opposition senator in a 23-member Senate.
In the past, he has been close to Eduardo Cojuangco, a former Marcos crony and a wealthy cousin of Mrs. Aquino who slipped into the country last month after fleeing into exile with Marcos in 1986. Enrile recently aligned himself with Vice President Salvador Laurel, a onetime Aquino ally who now heads the opposition Nationalist Party.
Both Enrile and Mr. Laurel deny the charge that they were behind the rebellion. However, Enrile gave a press conference near rebel-controlled areas last week, and Laurel was quoted as saying he was willing to serve with a military government.
Both will likely be investigated by a panel set up by Aquino to look into the rebellion. Laurel also may face impeachment. Mr. Cojuangco is being prosecuted on charges of acquiring illegal assets under Marcos.
Rebel leaders released a statement saying that allegations of support from politicians was a ``myth,'' and that they never planned to kill ``strategic personalities,'' namely Aquino.
``Everyone in government, from the president down to the lowliest clerk, must shape up and address the fundamental problems of our people, otherwise this nation would face bleak future,'' the statement said.
Aquino officials presume that the rebellion was led by Gregorio Honasan, a former Army officer who has been close to Enrile and who helped oust Marcos. Mr. Honasan led a bloody coup attempt in 1987. He was later captured, but escaped last year. He has operated within the military to set up secret ``cells'' of officers under such names as Soldiers of the Filipino People and the Young Officers' Union. They are tied under an umbrella group known as the United Factions of the Armed Forces.
After the 1987 revolt, Aquino increased military pay and ousted her left-leaning Cabinet members. After this latest revolt, Aquino moved to raise the daily meal allowance for soldiers, while Congress has reconsidered a military request for a budget increase. Other ``reforms'' are expected soon.
Military leaders say the rebellion wrecked efforts to unify the Armed Forces.
Aquino officials are trying to limit damage to the economy by restoring investor confidence, defending the value of the currency, cracking down anew on corruption, and making good on promises to improve traffic and electricity problems.
Filipinos, meanwhile, took the latest rebellion in usual fashion. One newspaper carried children's drawing of the violence. Some vendors began to sell T-shirts saying ``I survived the coup.''
And the fast-paced movie industry started to buzz over about which director would be first to release a cinema drama about the ``Dec. 1'' coup attempt.