Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III took office as the Philippines’ new president amid loud cheers Wednesday, reaffirming his campaign pledge to clean up a government tainted by allegations of graft.
Many a Filipino politician has promised such an overhaul and failed. But Mr. Aquino – who inherited a reputation for probity from his politician-parents, beloved for defying a corrupt government – seems to have injected new optimism into the national outlook.
Aquino’s 21-minute speech Wednesday garnered more than a dozen bursts of applause. “My father fought the dictatorship and laid down his life so we can gain back our democracy. My mother offered her life to nurture that democracy. I will lay down my life to ensure our democracy will benefit everyone,” he vowed.
“The first step is to have incorruptible and honest leaders,” he said. “This will start with me. I will strive to be a good example. I will never waste the trust you have given me.”
Aquino has announced initial steps to meet his soaring promises. Most significant, on Tuesday he said he would set up a truth commission to investigate corruption allegations against his deeply unpopular predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The probe will be trustworthy and efficient, he said. “I want an independent commission that will be beyond criticism so their findings won't be manufactured results for political purposes, but based on solid evidence and facts.”
Aquino also named as justice secretary an investigator of human rights abuses known for her independence, Leila de Lima. He pledged to monitor the government budget to prevent graft. During his speech Wednesday, he said his motorcade would not drive with sirens or run red lights – eliciting applause.
The jubilation Wednesday reflects the strong popular mandate that Aquino enjoys. He won last month’s election with 42 percent of the vote, beating his eight competitors outright.
Aquino’s popularity stems more from family legacy than personal performance. His father, Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, stood up to then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos and was assassinated for it in 1983, triggering massive “people power” protests. His mother, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, continued the popular revolt and, after Mr. Marcos fled the country in 1986, served as president for six years. Her death last August spurred widespread mourning and calls for her son to continue the family cause and run for president.
At the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday, Aquino wore yellow, his mother’s signature color.
A proud heritage, however, may not suffice. “Aquino has been defined by his parents throughout his political life," writes Rosemarie Francisco of Reuters. Though he served three terms in the House of Representatives, then won a seat in the Senate, she notes that he has a “lackluster 12-year record as a legislator.”
Aquino's low-key personality has raised questions of whether he can force the tough reforms needed.
Laying out a specific plan of action will be important, Alex Magno, a political scientist at the University of the Philippines, told the Monitor last month. Real change, he said, requires “mustering the intellectual courage to confront problems with real solutions.”