President Corazon Aquino Thursday set up a separate police force free of military control, a step she described as finally removing the apparatus that underpinned the dictatorship of the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

"We have taken the final step toward cutting off the remaining vestige of the past authoritarian regime, when civilian and military functions were merged to consolidate political power in support of the dictatorship," Aquino said as she signed the legislation.Marcos ruled under martial law from 1972 to 1981.

The new law establishes a 120,000-strong force by merging police units and the paramilitary Philippine Constabulary, which will have a separate command and be under civilian control.

Police and constabulary have until now been commanded by the chief of the armed forces.

"We have now properly delineated and clearly defined the roles, functions and responsibilities of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines," Aquino said.