Aquino adds new chapter to Philippine dynasty

by Karl Malakunas, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 30 2010 03:41 PM | Updated as of Jun 30 2010 11:41 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Benigno Aquino, who was on Wednesday sworn in as the Philippines' 15th president, is adding another dramatic chapter to the tragic and triumphant story of one of Asia's most famous political dynasties.

The 50-year-old bachelor is the only son of former president Corazon Aquino and her assassinated husband, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, both revered for leading the struggle to restore democracy in the archipelago of over 90 million people.

His father was shot dead at Manila airport in 1983 as he returned from US exile to lead the democracy movement against dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The new president's mother took over from her husband and led the "people power" revolution that overthrew Marcos in 1986, then earned a reputation as an incorruptible leader during six years as president.

The Aquino son also has a bullet lodged in his neck -- one of five that struck him when rebel soldiers attacked the presidential palace in 1987 in a coup attempt against his mother that killed three of his bodyguards.

He only decided to run for the nation's top job after his mother's death from cancer last August plunged the country into mourning and reignited national support for the family.

In his inauguration speech on Wednesday, Aquino paid tribute to his parents and pledged to honour their legacy.

"My father offered his life so our democracy could live. My mother devoted her life to nurturing that democracy," said Aquino, who is nicknamed "Noynoy".

"I will dedicate my life to making our democracy reach its fullest potential: that of ensuring equality for all. My family has sacrificed much and I am willing to do this again if necessary."

Aquino promised to ensure his family's clean reputation would remain untarnished during his six-year term in office.

"The first step is to have leaders who are ethical, honest, and true public servants. I will set the example. I will strive to be a good model. I will not break the trust you have placed in me," he said.

Aquino, who earned a bachelor of economics degree from the elite Ateneo de Manila University, was long mocked by opponents as a fortuitously surnamed under-achiever with no administrative or business experience.

They also said he had little to show for the past 12 years as a congressman and senator.

But the chain-smoking Aquino blossomed during the election campaign into a confident public speaker and the nation's leading critic of the outgoing president, Gloria Arroyo.

Aquino will become the Philippines' first bachelor leader but there is speculation about a presidential palace wedding in this former US colony where the First Lady traditionally has a high public profile.

His girlfriend, Shalani Soledad, 30, a publicity-shy town councillor in a Manila suburb, attended Wednesday's inauguration ceremony.

Aquino has four married sisters including hugely popular television host and actress Kris, 39, who played a starring role in the campaign.