MANILA — Philippine Defense Minister Rafael Ileto on Monday led the nation's 250,000-member armed forces--including 21 officers and soldiers accused of murdering former opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr.--in pledging allegiance to the newly ratified constitution affirming President Corazon Aquino's rule.
In a simple ceremony at military headquarters at suburban Camp Aguinaldo on the outskirts of Manila, Ileto and the armed forces chief, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, led 1,000 soldiers and 200 Defense Ministry employees in vowing to "preserve and defend" the constitution. Similar ceremonies were held in military camps across the nation.
Among those taking the oath of allegiance were soldiers charged with assassinating Benigno Aquino as he left the aircraft that had brought him back from exile in the United States. Acquitted of the charges in a major show trial in the closing stages of President Ferdinand E. Marcos' 20-year rule, they were indicted again late last year. Their retrial is expected to start next month.
At Monday's ceremonies, Ileto said that Filipinos have "eloquently spoken with a resounding 'yes' vote" during the constitutional plebiscite Feb. 2.
'Justice Must Prevail'
"Our new constitution, now ratified without question, is our supreme and fundamental law," said Ileto, a graduate of West Point.
"Justice and fairness must prevail in this country," he added. "The maintenance of law and order is a delicate task we have to perform. For while we are authorized to impose the law on others, we should be the first to respect the law. We have to show that we are as peace-loving and law-abiding as any other citizen."
Members of the armed forces had been warned that anyone refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the new constitution would be forced to resign. The ultimatum followed a landslide victory for President Aquino in the constitutional referendum that was seen as a vote of confidence in her government.
Despite the overwhelming national majority, the constitution won only lukewarm acceptance in the military. To make matters worse, although the military sparked the bloodless revolt that swept Aquino to power 12 months ago, disgruntled soldiers have since mounted two failed coup bids.
For that reason, each soldier was required to sign the pledge. There were no reports of anyone refusing.
The constitution affirms Aquino's six-year term and returns the Philippines to full democracy for the first time since the declaration of martial law in 1972.
Earlier Monday, in ceremonies at U.S. installations at Subic Bay and Clark Air Base, Ileto and Ramos paid tribute to U.S. military links with the Philippines. The ceremonies marked the fifth anniversary of Philippine sovereignty over American bases here.
The United States maintains about 40,000 troops, Defense Department employees and dependents at the two installations.
In another development Monday, a commission tracking down Marcos' wealth handed over thousands of acres of confiscated farmland for redistribution to peasant farmers.
At a formal ceremony, the Presidential Commission on Good Government signed over 48,185 acres of farmland recovered from Marcos associates to the Agrarian Reform Department.