MANILA (Reuters) - Once a reluctant candidate, new Philippine President Benigno Aquino III proudly embraced the legacy of his parents on Wednesday and said he was ready to lay down his life to bring justice and prosperity to his impoverished country.
Aquino, a 50-year-old bachelor known as Noynoy, swept to victory last month after his late entry into the presidential race, relying heavily on his well-respected family name and its reputation for probity.
“I never expected to reach this far, that I will take my oath before you as your president. I never dreamed to be the symbol of hope and to inherit the problems of our nation,” Aquino said in Filipino on Wednesday after he was sworn in as president.
He won the presidential election with the widest margin since democracy was restored by his mother, Corazon, in 1986. Now he needs to show more political know-how than a lacklustre 12-year record as a legislator would suggest.
Aquino has been defined by his parents throughout his political life -- his namesake father Benigno was an opposition senator assassinated during the rule of Ferdinand Marcos. His mother took up the cause and won office during the People Power revolution that drove Marcos from power in 1986.
The push for the Aquinos’ only son to run took off after hundreds of thousands poured onto Manila’s streets for Cory’s funeral last August. After some consideration, including a prayer retreat in a nunnery, Noynoy took up his parent’s mantle.
“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,” Aquino told an adoring crowd.
“I will lay down my life to ensure our democracy will benefit everyone. My family has shed blood and is ready to do this again if necessary.”
Aquino is dating local councillor Shalani Soledad but has said he would be married to his job as president and set aside plans to have his own family.
Political savvy is important in the Philippines, where party allegiances are fluid and unwieldy coalitions are built across the spectrum. Aquino’s low-key personality has raised doubts about whether he can impose his will.
But his platform of anti-corruption and greater transparency in government quickly won him the support of Filipinos tired of corruption associated with the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the most unpopular leader since Marcos.
“The first step is to have incorruptible and honest leaders. This will start with me. I will strive to be a good example. I will never waste the trust you have given me,” Aquino said.
Aquino, a chain smoker who has resisted calls to quit the habit, enjoys support among business for his market-friendly policies and was applauded for vowing to investigate Arroyo.
He is setting up a “Truth Commission” to probe allegations of corruption, poll fraud and rights abuses against Arroyo, who has denied any wrongdoing, and her administration. [ID:nSGE65S0F3]
Still carrying shrapnel in his neck from an attack in one of the many coup attempts during his mother’s presidency, Aquino says popular support will give him the necessary authority.
“I was ambushed in 1987. I‘m living a second life. I believe this is a role that I have to play,” he told Reuters in February.
(Editing by John Mair and Paul Tait)