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Benigno Aquino III sworn in as Philippine leader

- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 30, 2010

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — 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 clad in his yellow campaign color, applauded and yelled Mr. Aquino's nickname, "Noynoy," as he took his oath before a Supreme Court justice at Manila's seaside Rizal Park.

Vice President Jejomar Binay was sworn in before Mr. Aquino 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.

Diplomats from more than 80 countries and two former Philippine presidents — Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada — attended. East Timor President Jose Ramos Jorta, a longtime supporter of the Aquino family, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, sent as head of the American delegation by President Obama, were among the foreign dignitaries.

Mr. 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 revenue. 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," Mr. 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, Mr. Aquino said he also suffered in the past like ordinary Filipinos by being 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.

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

"He signifies change and hope," said businesswoman Marivic Roy, who came with her husband and two sons. "That's why people gravitate toward him. We feel there is hope for this country."

The rise of Mr. Aquino, a low-key legislator and son of democracy icons, reflects the Filipinos' longing for moral and political renewal. Outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's stormy 9-year rule saw four failed power grabs and opposition impeachment bids against her over allegations of vote-rigging, corruption and rights abuses.

The new Cabinet unveiled Tuesday has mostly Aquino allies and defectors from Mrs. Arroyo's government. Mr. Aquino said he would immediately form an independent commission to investigate corruption allegations against Mrs. Arroyo and other scandals during her presidency.

"They will as necessary prepare and prosecute the cases to make sure those who committed crimes against the people will be made to pay," Mr. Aquino said, adding that the commission will be headed by a respected retired chief justice, Hilario Davide.

"I can forgive those who did me wrong, but I have no right to forgive those who abused our people," Mr. Aquino said.

Mrs. Arroyo has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Aquino's campaign promise to investigate Mrs. Arroyo has been seen as a potential political flash point early in his six-year term.

In a brief but awkward moment, Mr. Aquino and Mrs. Arroyo shared a traditional limousine ride from the presidential palace to his oath-taking ceremony. Mrs. Arroyo was given military honors then left to take her oath as a member of the House of Representatives, where she won a seat in the May 10 elections.

Many in the crowd booed Mrs. Arroyo loudly as she drove away, some chanting "Go home!"

The new president and his mother, the late former President Corazon Aquino, had called on Mrs. Arroyo to resign and joined street protests against her.

Mr. Aquino's 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 won a landslide election victory that analysts attributed to his family name and anti-corruption platform.

Mr. Aquino has also anchored his campaign on restoring the credibility of the judiciary and Congress, which he says have been seriously eroded under Mrs. 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, Mr. Aquino said he felt anxious but confident the millions who voted for him will back him to confront those problems.

A third of the 90 million population lives on a dollar a day, and about 3,000 Filipinos leave daily for jobs abroad. Mr. Aquino has also expressed alarm at the ballooning national budget deficit, which he said could surpass $8.7 billion this year.

Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.

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