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Aquino, Cabinet Try to Define New Government : Panel Named to Study Whether Rule Is to Be Revolutionary or Constitutional

March 12, 1986|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — In an effort to stabilize and define her two-week-old government, Philippine President Corazon Aquino today summoned her 18-member Cabinet to her new office at the Malacanang presidential palace for their first full session since they assumed office.

The meeting came in the face of increasing criticism from supporters of ousted President Ferdinand E. Marcos and the nation's leftist opposition that the new government lacks both direction and sufficient constitutional checks and balances. Several Cabinet members had hoped that after the session, Aquino would declare whether the government is "revolutionary" or one that will work within the framework of the existing 1973 constitution.

Instead, it was announced after the Cabinet meeting that Aquino's administration is setting up a study group to examine whether the government should be declared revolutionary or constitutional. Two other study groups will deal with economic matters and the appointment of local officials, the government said today.

Budget Deficit Forecast

During the meeting, Budget Minister Alberto Romulo told the Cabinet that the Philippine government budget will have a deficit estimated at 5 billion pesos ($250 million) in the first quarter this year because of heavy government spending during the recent election campaign.

Teodoro Locsin Jr., Aquino's information minister and a key aide during her presidential campaign, said he expects the new government to focus more on economic matters than on philosophical labels.

"When you get right down to it, it is the issue of prices of consumer goods and things like interest rates that the people care the most about, and those will probably take top priority," he said.

Locsin and other key aides said the question of what term to use to label the government is "more semantics than substance."

The fact remains, they said, that the present government did not come to power through any legal means provided under the present constitution, which was created almost single-handedly by Marcos.

Aquino assumed the presidency Feb. 25 after Marcos fled a civilian and military rebellion against his 20-year regime. She had been sworn into office earlier by a Supreme Court justice in an informal ceremony at a suburban country club, just hours before Marcos had himself inaugurated by his hand-picked Supreme Court chief justice at Malacanang.

The two ceremonies came 18 days after an election that Aquino charges Marcos' forces stole through massive fraud and intimidation. Marcos was declared the winner by a National Assembly dominated by his supporters.

Marcos fled Malacanang the day he was sworn in, then left for Hawaii the next day without formally resigning or naming a successor.

The question of what form of government is now running this nation of 54 million people has become increasingly pointed. Constitutional experts and former ministers from Marcos' government have questioned whether a government with no set constitution, no legislative or judicial branches and no clear guidelines for local or regional officials can be considered democratic.

Aquino has received resignations from all Supreme Court and appellate court judges--they were all appointed by Marcos--but has not replaced them. The nation's entire court system has ground to a halt since she assumed power.

The National Assembly, in which Marcos loyalists still maintain a two-thirds majority, has not met since Aquino assumed power and exists only on paper. Aquino has not dissolved the body, nor is she likely to do so this week, according to her supporters in the assembly.

Aquino met with her supporters from the assembly Tuesday and asked them to submit their recommendations Friday on the legislative body's future.

Compounding the political confusion, critics said, is the military, whose leaders were instrumental in the largely nonviolent rebellion that helped bring Aquino to office. Aquino's defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, who led the coup, has promised to remain apolitical, but he already wields considerable influence both with Aquino and with visiting representatives of foreign governments.

The military's role in Aquino's ascension to power has been criticized by her foes.

"The precedent in the long run will prove dangerous for this country," Marcos' former political affairs minister, Leonardo Perez, said at a Monday forum. "A time will come in the country when the doctrine is: Might is right."

Former Labor Minister Blas Ople publicly denounced Aquino's government as "a sophisticated dictatorship." Arturo Tolentino, Marcos' vice presidential candidate in the Feb. 7 election that triggered the uprising, charged that the lack of checks and balances on the military and on Aquino's now singularly powerful Cabinet has made her government "a worse dictatorship that anything we had before."

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