Aquino promises to deliver

2010-06-30 12:10

Manila - Benigno Aquino III, the son of two democracy heroes, told hundreds of thousands of people he would deliver on his promise to tackle entrenched corruption when he was sworn in as the Philippines' 15th president on Wednesday.

In his first speech as president, Aquino said he would improve the investment environment in the poor Southeast Asian country and would sincerely seek a just resolution to a long-running Muslim separatist insurgency in the south.

"My parents sought nothing less, and died for nothing less than democracy, peace and prosperity," Aquino told an adoring crowd that police estimated at about half a million people.

"I am blessed by this legacy. I shall carry the torch forward," he said at the ceremony at the Quirino Grandstand near Manila Bay in the old part of the capital.

Many in the crowd were dressed in yellow, the colour of the 1986 People Power revolution that drove dictator Ferdinand Marcos from office and swept Aquino's mother Corazon to power.

"I was here 24 years ago for his mother's political rally and I came here to see Noynoy take his oath because I want him to succeed," said Sonia de la Cruz, using Aquino's nickname.

"I will pray for him. I hope he stops people in government from stealing and delivers his promises to us," said de la Cruz, 60, who had left home before dawn with her daughter and grandson to get a good spot for the ceremony.

Truth Commission to be set up

Ahead of his inauguration, Aquino met outgoing president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Malacanang presidential palace, and the two travelled together to the grandstand.

Arroyo did not stay for Aquino's inauguration, which was watched by former presidents Joseph Estrada and Fidel Ramos. The pro-Aquino crowd cheered wildly as she left the ceremony.

On Tuesday, Aquino said he was setting up a "Truth Commission" to investigate allegations of corruption, electoral fraud and rights abuses against Arroyo, who denies any wrongdoing, and her administration.

Arroyo is not departing the political scene, having won a seat in the lower house of Congress in the May election and she could potentially block some of the new president's agenda.

Fears for political career

Aquino's surge to the presidency was driven by the wave of emotion following the death of Corazon Aquino last August, with the family's reputation for propriety and honesty a powerful lure after two administrations dogged by allegations of corruption.

"I voted for Noynoy because I want to stop corruption, said Larida Sales, 50. "He should make Arroyo pay for her sins."

Aquino has had a lacklustre public career and there is a concern that, like his mother, he could be personally honest but lack the political savvy to run a government successfully and push through a reform agenda.

Aquino's father, Benigno Aquino Jr, was a Marcos-era opposition leader assassinated in 1983 at Manila Airport on his return from a period of political exile in the United States.

Apart from corruption, Aquino faces the problems of resolving decades-old insurgencies by Maoist-led guerrillas and Muslim separatists, and restoring public and investor confidence in governance and institutions.

He also has to tame a budget deficit that reached nearly 4% of GDP, which he said he will first do by enforcing existing tax laws to improve collections before considering any increase in tax rates.