'Aquino needs to tell people he's not Superman'

By Cecil Morella, AFP

Posted at Jun 28 2010 04:51 AM | Updated as of Jun 28 2010 12:51 PM

Warm glow, cold facts for incoming president

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MANILA, Philippines - Benigno Aquino will take over as president of the Philippines on Wednesday amid great hopes for change, but he was warned that not even Superman could fix the country's many deep-rooted problems.

Worsening poverty, pervasive corruption, decades-long insurgencies, empty state coffers and crumbling infrastructure are some of the massive challenges Aquino will face.

Achieving a landslide win in last month's elections was probably the easy part for the son of democracy heroine Corazon Aquino, according to Raul Fabella of the University of the Philippines School of Economics.

"In this country, hope has often been dashed in the past. There is no guarantee it will end differently this time," Fabella said.

Aquino, a 50-year-old bachelor with an economics degree, rode to his victory on a promise to end corruption and fight poverty.

But ahead of his inauguration he has been careful to play down expectations, particularly over the issue of how to get 27 million of his compatriots, nearly a third of the population, out of poverty.

"You have to be humble to say you are not Superman and Einstein combined. You don't have all the solutions at your fingertips from Wednesday," he told reporters.

And amid enormous expectation following nine years of rule under the deeply unpopular Gloria Arroyo, Aquino said his six-year term in office may well be too short to make a major difference.

"The focus now is really achieving everything we want to achieve cognisant of the fact we cannot transform our society in six years' time," he told AFP in an interview immediately after the May 10 national election.

"But we are hoping to be able to provide that impetus and momentum to carry over into the next administration."

One of Aquino's biggest hurdles to tackling corruption and implementing major reforms could emerge immediately through parliament.

With Aquino's Liberal Party not winning enough seats to enjoy a majority in either house, people question whether he will have to lower his standards and wade into the morass of the nation's corrupt politics to get things done.

Past presidents have ensured allies backed the leader's agenda by the selective release of funds from the national budget -- 200 million pesos (4.3 million dollars) each a year for senators and 70 million pesos for congressmen.

Critics say these pork barrel funds, which are used for legislators' pet projects such as roads and bridges in their districts, are at the root of endemic political corruption.

Even one of Aquino's allies has said the new president will have to be pragmatic and play by these rules.

"What do you want him to do. I don't think it (refusing to play by the pork barrel rules) will bring him anywhere," Liberal Party senator-elect Franklin Drilon told reporters late in the campaign.

"No congressman can afford to fight city hall (the president), because in our system, if you're a congressman people in your district would still look at the projects you bring in your district. They don't care about issues."

Security is one of his other major challenges, with past presidents unable to end communist and Muslim separatist rebellions that have claimed tens of thousands of lives over the past few decades.

Opposition from majority-Christian politicians in the south frustrated Arroyo's effort to strike a power-sharing political settlement with Muslim separatists, while Maoist rebels have refused to come to the negotiating table.

On the fiscal front, Aquino has warned he faces an immediate crisis, with the budget deficit widely expected to top 6.5 billion dollars this year.

With the deficit growing, the government is already under pressure to renege on Aquino's campaign pledge not to raise taxes.