MANILA — Philippine President Corazon Aquino surrendered her power to rule by decree to a new Congress on Monday and in a tough, nationalistic address, condemned communism as "totalitarian slavery," called for a bigger military commitment against Communist rebels and accused the country's international creditors of helping to keep the nation poor.
It was the longest and angriest speech that Aquino has given since she succeeded Ferdinand E. Marcos 17 months ago. It was loudly applauded by her political supporters and opponents alike during an historic joint session of the new Philippine legislature, which analysts say marks the beginning of a new era of democracy in a nation torn by dictatorship and internal division for decades.
Soldiers, Police Deployed
More than 3,000 soldiers and riot police were deployed in and around the modern congressional building to stop thousands of leftist and rightist demonstrators more than two miles away as a "security measure." Manila's military commander, Gen. Alexander Aguirre, said the building had been swept several times with electronic bomb detectors and sniffer dogs before Aquino arrived, to guard against assassination attempts.
The public also was barred from attending the ceremonies, which included Aquino's entire Cabinet and the Supreme Court. Aquino's address, however, was televised nationwide.
The congressional building, once home to a pro-Marcos, rubber-stamp National Assembly that declared Aquino the loser to Marcos in a fraudulent presidential election in February, 1986, was an appropriate setting for the death of dictatorship, Aquino said in her half-hour speech.
'Mockery of Democracy'
"The dictatorship's last mockery of democracy was committed in this hall, where the loser was proclaimed winner," Aquino said. "I join you today in rededicating this hall to true democracy."
But Aquino, standing beneath a 50-foot Philippine flag, warned that the nation remains in crisis.
"Our country is threatened by totalitarian slavery on the left and reversion to fascist terror and corruption on the right," she said. The president was referring to the 18-year Communist insurgency that has left 1,800 soldiers, civilians and rebels dead so far this year and to far-rightist military renegades who have vowed to purge alleged leftists from Aquino's Cabinet.
Aquino said the nation's 155,000-member military will now fight the rebels "with as much passion as self-preservation can muster."
Yet she conceded that the military is "in dire need' of improving its intelligence, logistics and communications capabilities, and she made a thinly veiled appeal to the Congress to grant the military's request for huge budget increases this year.
"Our defense expenditures are the lowest in (Southeast Asia)," she said, "and yet no country's security is so seriously threatened as ours."
Aquino reserved her harshest words, though, for the refusal earlier this month of the Philippines' creditor banks to grant more generous terms of repayment of the country's $28 billion in foreign debt, most of it borrowed and spent during Marcos' 20 years of authoritarian rule.
The civilian-backed military revolt that overthrew Marcos and returned democracy to the country after the 1986 election "gained us applause but no substantial accommodation from our foreign creditors," Aquino said. "The saga of democracy had made great television but no appreciable change in their business priorities."
A debt-rescheduling agreement signed in New York last week by 300 creditor banks and Philippine Finance Secretary Jaime Ongpin still requires the nation to repay $20 billion in the next six years, an amount that will equal more than a fourth of the country's total export earnings.
In a declaration that several economically radical new legislators interpreted as opening the door to a possible repudiation of some of that debt, Aquino added: "We vow never again to let the patrimony of this nation lie at the feet of these 'noble houses' that have finally shown the true face of foreign finance."
Many of the new congressmen and senators applauded Aquino's new nationalistic tone. Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, a close confidante of Aquino's who has been branded as a Communist by ultra-rightists, said he will introduce legislation in Congress seeking to repudiate all debts that are unjust to the Philippines.
The president's brother-in-law, Sen. Agapito Aquino, however, said the president is not seeking repudiation but rather "prioritization."
"The questionable debts will be paid last," Sen. Aquino said after the speech. In particular, the senator cited more than $2 billion that the Philippines owes for a Westinghouse-built nuclear power plant that has never been used.
Even Aquino's foes in Congress applauded her speech.