HAIL TO THE CHIEF: PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO III - COVER STORY

MANILA, JULY 15, 2010 (STARweek) by Val Rodriguez - It was a love fest the new leader and his people, a president who literally came into office on the shoulders of the people.

He said he did not want pomp and pageantry, the finery and trappings of a regal occasion. He wanted to celebrate with his people, and his inauguration was thus a mix of tradition and celebration, protocol and partying.

There were ternos and t-shirts, barongs and blue jeans. There were political and business bigwigs, and a generous dose of showbiz glitter that had elicited screams and a mad scramble for photos.

And there was yellow, yellow everywhere indeed the new color of courage, the new color of patriotism, the new color of hope.

The President said in his inaugural address delivered mostly in Filipino that he could not have imagined that he would be standing before the people taking his oath as their new leader. Indeed, just a year ago nobody even entertained a thought of Benigno Aquino III as president. But that, as many have noted, is destiny, beyond human planning or intervention.

June 30, 2010 was indeed a most special day, literally a new dawn, a smooth transition of power that the country had not known for over a decade, a unique moment of history that one man shared with his people.

The country was reborn, people standing shoulder to shoulder, ready now for the task ahead rebuilding the country, together.

FROM THE BBC:

Benigno Aquino sworn in as new Philippine president

[PHOTO AT LEFT - Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino and outgoing President Gloria Arroyo (R) salute during the inauguration ceremony Mr Aquino has pledged to investigate corruption claims against Mrs Arroyo]

MANILA, PHILIPPINES, The BBC's Kate McGeown: "People here have incredibly high hopes"

The son of an assassinated opposition leader and a former president has been sworn in as the 15th president of the Philippines.

Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino won a convincing victory in elections in May with pledges to stamp out corruption.

His predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, has said she does not fear his plans to investigate allegations against her.

He has also promised to end long-running insurgencies, and to modernise the judicial system.

Armed forces are fighting both Islamic and communist rebels in the south of the country, particularly on the island of Mindanao.

Mr Aquino has vowed to pursue the current administration's peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) rebels in the south, but few exact details have been given so far.

Another area of concern is the estimated 112 private armies spread around the country, many of which are maintained by powerful local warlords.

'Truth commission'

Noynoy Aquino comes from a dynasty of Philippine leaders. His father, an opposition senator during the Marcos era of martial law, was assassinated as he returned to the Philippines from exile in 1983.

His mother, Cory Aquino, became president after what came to be known as the people power uprising three years later. Her death from cancer last year ignited a huge surge of popularity for her son.

The swearing-in ceremony in Manila's seaside Rizal Park was attended by at least half a million people, many wearing the family's trademark yellow. Mr Aquino, speaking in Tagalog, took his oath as yellow confetti fluttered down from two helicopters. He promised to fight corruption and to bring a new era of good governance and reforms to benefit his people.

"Today our dreams start to become a reality," Mr Aquino told the crowd. "It's the end of a leadership that has long been insensitive to the suffering of the people."

It was one of several stinging references to the leadership of Gloria Arroyo, whose nearly 10 years in power was dogged by claims of vote-rigging and abuse of power that made her deeply unpopular.

Addressing his new justice secretary, Leila de Lima, Mr Aquino told her to deliver "true and complete justice to all".

The BBC's Kate McGeown in Manila says Mr Aquino has been trying to dampen expectations of his rule, saying he is "not Superman".

But he has pledged to set up a "truth commission" to investigate corruption claims levelled against his predecessor. Mrs Arroyo denies the allegations against her.

His speech was greeted with loud cheers. One supporter, Sonia de la Cruz, said: "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.

"I will pray for him. I hope he stops people in government from stealing and delivers his promises to us," she told Reuters news agency.

The Philippines has been wrestling with poverty, corruption, and armed conflicts for decades. A third of the population still live on less than $1 (0.66) a day.

The fate of his father, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, electrified his country when he was assassinated in 1983.

Ninoy Aquino had been in exile in the United States, forced to flee the martial law of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. Determined to bring democracy to his country he flew back to Manila only to be killed on landing.

Tens of thousands of people joined the outpouring of grief, fuelling a pro-democracy movement that President Marcos responded to by calling a snap election in February 1986.

Young Noynoy's mother, Corazon "Cory" Aquino, was the standard-bearer, the "housewife" who accepted the role foisted on her by widowhood and vowed to carry on her husband's work.

The Marcoses claimed victory - sparking the first famous People Power revolution against them. The million people who gathered on the streets felt they were risking their lives to save democracy.

Cory Aquino became president, going on to survive several coup attempts - one of which resulted in young Noynoy almost being killed in a shoot-out at the presidential Malacanang Palace in 1987.

One of the five bullets that hit him then is still lodged in his neck.

Congress career

Growing up in the shadow of such admired parents, with four sisters - one of whom, Kris, is a prominent TV personality - Noynoy, himself a bachelor, has often been the quiet Aquino.

He earned a degree in economics from the elite Ateneo university in Manila before joining his family in exile in Boston.

On his return to the Philippines after 1983, he worked in various businesses, including the Cojuangco sugar refinery in his home Tarlac province.

He was elected to Congress in 1988, winning re-election in 2001 and 2004. In June 2007 he won a seat in the Senate.

He is said to lack charisma, and did little to stand out in 12 years as a member of Congress and the Senate. But he did serve on a wide range of committees and so is familiar with the issues of governance.

In 2009 his mother died of cancer and again, tens of thousands of Filipinos surged onto the streets to show their love for this family.

Filipinos remain desperate for what his name symbolises - the principles of clean, honest, committed democracy.

After a landslide victory in the May polls, he now takes charge of a country struggling with widespread corruption, poverty and ageing infrastructure.

He has pledged to establish a commission to investigate allegations of corruption levelled against his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo.

But he has also played down the expectations heaped on him by many Filipinos, warning a president would have to be "Superman and Einstein combined" to solve the country's problems immediately.

Whether the single, 51-year old Noynoy Aquino can cope with the huge pressures of office, conflicts of interests and likely conspiracies against him to actually run his country remains to be seen.

Mr Aquino's family name has got him into office. Observers will be watching closely to see where he goes from here.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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