Saturday, June 19, 2010

Aquino proclaimed Philippines' 15th president
Aquino proclaimed Philippines' 15th president

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Congress proclaimed Benigno Aquino III the country's new president Wednesday amid high hopes he will fulfill his campaign promise to eliminate corruption and poverty and restore trust in government.

A joint session by the Senate and House of Representatives voted to formalize the landslide victory of the son of the country's revered democracy icons — Benigno Aquino Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino — after the Philippines' first national automated elections last month.

Aquino will take his oath as the country's 15th president on June 30, succeeding Gloria Macapagal Arroyo whose nine-year rule has been wracked by four coup attempts by mutinous troops, and opposition impeachment bids over allegations of election fraud, corruption scandals and human rights abuses.

Aquino promised justice and "closure on so many issues."

"As president, we will be in a position to effect the necessary changes," he told reporters. "With the backing of the people, I don't think anything is impossible."

The official congressional count ended Tuesday showing Aquino defeating his eight rivals by more than 15 million votes — about 5.7 million ahead of his closest opponent, ousted leader Joseph Estrada.

Estrada's running mate, Jejomar Binay, the mayor of Manila's financial district Makati, will become vice president after defeating Aquino's candidate, Manuel Roxas II, in the separate race for the No. 2 position.

Supporters of Aquino and Binay in the House gallery erupted into loud cheers and applause after the announcements.

Ricardo Saludo, spokesman for Arroyo, who is visiting China, congratulated Aquino and Binay and called on Filipinos "to rally behind our new leaders as they assume the awesome responsibilities of their offices."

"Their election demonstrates that our democracy is vibrant, and our new electoral system is working for our people," Saludo said in a statement.

He pledged there would be a "smooth and orderly" transition to the new administration.

Estrada also congratulated his "good friend and worthy opponent" and said he joins Filipinos in extending "wholehearted support to the 15th president of the republic under whose leadership the country now looks to the future."

Aquino, a quiet legislator who served nine years as a congressman and three years as senator, will inherit a nation grappling with poverty and debilitated by decades-long Marxist and Muslim insurgencies, military unrest, corruption, violent crime and political strife.

Aquino said he felt "a little anxious, a little eager to start solving the problems that are still besetting our countrymen."

He said he will dismiss military chief of staff Gen. Delfin Bangit — who is close to Arroyo and had announced he would not step down when the new president takes office — but would likely retain the national police chief, Jesus Verzosa, who had offered his courtesy resignation.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos said Bangit would obey orders "as a professional soldier."

Aquino, a 50-year-old bachelor, campaigned largely on his family name and promised to follow the legacy of his parents, who are regarded as heroes in the country's struggle against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

It was only after his mother died of cancer last August that he decided to run, spurred by a massive outpouring of national grief for the leader who helped oust Marcos in 1986.

Corazon Aquino inherited the mantle of her husband, an opposition senator gunned down by soldiers at Manila's airport in 1983 upon his return from U.S. exile to challenge Marcos.

Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the left-wing alliance Bayan, said his group "joins the collective aspiration of the Filipino people that the new government will be a departure from the failed regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo."

"There are high public expectations for the new administration to bring about necessary reforms in government," Reyes said in a statement.

Aquino has said he will form a commission to investigate allegations of corruption and other wrongdoing during Arroyo's administration. Arroyo has denied all accusations.

U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. congratulated Aquino and Binay, saying he was looking forward to working with the new Philippine government "to advance our common goals."

Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.

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