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Expectations high as Aquino takes office

world Updated: Jun 30, 2010 09:19 IST

Reuters
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Benigno Aquino III was set to be sworn in as the Philippines' 15th President on Wednesday before a huge crowd with high hopes the son of two heroes of democracy can deliver on his promise to tackle entrenched corruption. Police said about half a million people had massed to watch the ceremony at the Quirino Grandstand near Manila Bay in the old part of the capital and more were expected despite heavy rains early in the morning and the risk of more to come.

Much of the crowd was 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 at 5 am with her daughter and grandson to get a good spot for the ceremony.

Ahead of his inauguration, Aquino met outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Malacanang presidential palace, and the two travelled together to the grandstand. The pro-Aquino crowd cheered wildly as Arroyo 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.

Wave of emotion

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 successfully run a government 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 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 percent of GDP, which he said he will first do by enforcing existing tax laws to improve collections before considering any increase in tax rates.

"I am not a voter yet, but I feel a lot of hope for the country," said Gerry Santos, 17. "I hope he makes good his promises to move our country forward and bring unity.