Benigno Aquino III was sworn in Wednesday as the Philippines’ 15th president, leading a Southeast Asian nation his late parents helped liberate from dictatorship and which he promises to deliver from poverty and pervasive corruption.
Hundreds of thousands of people, many of them clad in his yellow campaign color, applauded and yelled his nickname “Noynoy” as Aquino took his oath before a Supreme Court justice at Manila’s seaside Rizal Park.
Vice President Jejomar Binay was sworn in before Aquino took his oath in the nationally televised ceremonies that resembled a music concert, with celebrity singers and an orchestra belting out nationalist and folk songs. Yellow confetti rained from two helicopters.
Aquino, wearing a native formal shirt and speaking in Tagalog, promised to fight corruption, particularly in the notoriously graft-ridden bureaus of customs and internal revenues. He pledged to bring a new era of good governance, reforms and a bureaucracy that will be sensitive to the plight of the common folk.
“Today our dreams start to become a reality,” Aquino said. “It’s the end of a leadership that has long been insensitive to the suffering of the people.”
In a widely-applauded portion of his speech, Aquino said he also suffered in the past like ordinary Filipinos when he got stuck in heavy traffic as convoys with loud sirens and carrying powerful people breezed by. “No more wang-wang,” he said, referring to the local word for blaring sirens.
Addressing his new justice secretary, Leila de Lima, Aquino ordered her to deliver “true and complete justice to all.”
The rise of Aquino, a low-key legislator and son of democracy icons, reflects the Filipinos’ longing for moral and political renewal. Outgoing leader President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s stormy nine-year rule saw four failed power grabs and opposition impeachment bids against her over allegations of vote-rigging, corruption and rights abuses.
The Cabinet he unveiled Tuesday has mostly allies and defectors from Arroyo’s government. Aquino said he would immediately form an independent commission to investigate corruption allegations against Arroyo and other scandals under her term after taking power.
“They will as necessary prepare and prosecute the cases to make sure those who committed crimes against the people will be made to pay,” Aquino said, adding the commission will be headed by a respected retired chief justice, Hilarion Davide.
Arroyo has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. Aquino’s campaign promise to investigate Arroyo has been seen as a potential political flashpoint early in his six-year term.
The new president and his mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino, had called on Arroyo to resign. Arroyo, Aquino’s former economics professor, still enjoys considerable support and won a seat in the House of Representatives in the May 10 election.
Aquino’s late parents are revered for their opposition to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted by a 1986 “people power” revolt. Considered a political lightweight, the 50-year-old bachelor’s landslide elections victory has been attributed by analysts to his family name and anti-corruption platform.
Aquino has also anchored his campaign on restoring the credibility of the judiciary and Congress, which he says have been seriously eroded under Arroyo’s rule.
The Philippines has been grappling with poverty, corruption, armed conflicts and deep divisions for decades. On the eve of his rise to the presidency, Aquino said he felt anxious but confident the millions who voted him will back him to confront those problems.
A third of the population lives on a dollar a day, and about 3,000 Filipinos leave daily for jobs abroad. Aquino has also expressed alarm at the ballooning national budget deficit, which he said could surpass $8.7 billion (400 billion pesos) this year.
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