MANILA, Philippines>> Benigno Aquino III, sworn in today as the Philippines’ 15th president, promised to prosecute the corrupt and banish poverty as he urged Filipinos to help him in a job he likened to a biblical burden.
The son of two Philippine democracy icons, Aquino, 50, succeeds Gloria Macapagal Arroyo whose stormy nine-rule was rocked by four failed coup attempts and allegations of corruption, vote-rigging and human rights abuses, which she denied.
Some 500,000 attended Aquino’s oath-taking at a seaside park in the capital Manila, police said. Aquino aimed his speech at the many Filipinos exasperated at the Southeast Asian country’s enduring problems, that also include decadeslong Islamic and communist insurgencies.
"This day marks the end of a leadership that has long been insensitive to the suffering of the people … and this is the beginning of my own Calvary," Aquino said, referring to Christ’s crucifixion. "But if many of us bear the cross, we will lift it, no matter how heavy."
Aquino, called "Noynoy" by his supporters, was a low-key legislator until he swept to a landslide win in May 10 elections — buoyed by his illustrious family name, his anti-corruption platform and Filipinos’ longing for moral and political renewal.
"He signifies change and hope," said businesswoman Marivic Roy, who joined the crowds at the inauguration, accompanied by her husband and two sons. "That’s why people gravitate toward him. We feel there is hope for this country."
Aquino’s parents were revered for their opposition to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted by a 1986 "people power" revolt — a defining moment in the Philippines’ political history. Marcos, who had ruled for two decades, was succeeded by Aquino’s popular mother, Corazon Aquino. She died last year, prompting a mass outpouring of sympathy that turned into a groundswell of support for her son.
Diplomats from more than 80 countries and two former Philippine presidents — Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada — attended today’s ceremonies. East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta, a longtime supporter of the Aquino family, was among the foreign dignitaries.
The nationally televised event resembled a grand concert with celebrity singers and an orchestra belting out patriotic music and folk songs. Yellow confetti — the signature color of Corazon Aquino in the people power uprising — rained from two helicopters. Vice President Jejomar Binay was sworn in before Aquino took his oath.
In his speech, Aquino gave lofty pledges to provide jobs, health care, schools and more infrastructure to help farmers and businessmen. He also touched on common problems that highlight the divide between elite families and the third of the 90 million population who live on a dollar a day.
Aquino drew wide applause when he said he has also suffered like ordinary Filipinos stuck in heavy traffic as siren-blaring convoys carrying powerful people breezed by. "No more wang-wang," he said, using the local term for blaring sirens.
He promised to fight corruption, particularly in the notoriously graft-ridden bureaus of customs and internal revenues, and pledged a new era of good governance, reforms and a bureaucracy sensitive to the needs of ordinary citizens.
His new Cabinet unveiled yesterday has mostly Aquino allies and defectors from Arroyo’s government. Aquino said he would immediately form an independent "Truth Commission" to investigate corruption allegations against Arroyo and other scandals during her presidency.
"I can forgive those who did me wrong, but I have no right to forgive those who abused our people," said Aquino, who with his mother had previously joined street protests calling on Arroyo to resign.
Aquino ordered new Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to deliver "true and complete justice for all."
In his first order as president, Aquino dismissed officials who are non-career officers to stop the practice of using presidential appointments as rewards. It was not clear how many officials would be affected.
U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk, who headed the American delegation sent by President Barack Obama to the inauguration, said Washington was looking forward "to building on what is the strongest strategic relationships" between the two allies.
"We like what we heard from President Aquino in terms of his focusing on his rebuilding the economy, bringing about more transparency to government, more rule of law," he said. "All of that would greatly entice even more U.S. investments to the Philippines."
In a brief but awkward moment, Aquino and Arroyo shared a traditional limousine ride from the presidential palace to his oath-taking. Arroyo was given military honors then left to take her oath as a congresswoman representing her northern Pampanga home province — a seat she won in the May general elections.
Many in the crowd loudly booed Arroyo as she drove away, some chanting "Go home!"
Adding to the shopping list of promises for his presidency, Aquino has vowed restore the credibility of the judiciary and Congress, which he says have been seriously eroded under Arroyo’s rule.
Aquino has also expressed alarm at the ballooning national budget deficit, which he said could surpass $8.7 billion (400 billion pesos) this year. He plans to improve tax collection by cracking down on smuggling — comparing the government’s revenue collection agencies to a pail of water shot through with holes.
Associated Press writers Oliver Teves and Jim Gomez contributed to this report.