Watch what happens

The Philippines' new president is a simple, casual, self-effacing, individual, but he has promised to shake up the country's politics.


    It's been said often enough to explain the many inexplicable events that take place here; "only in the Philippines!"

    But indeed, where else would a presidential inauguration day end with the newly sworn-in leader himself regaling a crowd of thousands with an out-of-tune version of Frank Sinatra’s "Watch What Happens?"

    That's exactly how Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, the newly-installed 15th president of the Philippines, capped celebrations in Manila on Wednesday evening - and it was all broadcast live to a hopeful nation.

    Let someone start believing in you, 
    let him hold out his hand, 
    Let him touch you and watch what happens…

    P. Noy, (as he wants to be called as opposed to the more formal "Mr President"), couldn't have picked a better song, actually.

    His new nickname says it all - it's a play on the word "pinoy", a colloquial term for the Filipino "everyman". And that's what President Aquino is. A simple, casual, self-effacing, individual whose life changed completely in less than a year. 

    Of the people

    He went from being an awkward, quiet, and seemingly ineffective senator to the anointed "Chosen One" after his mother, former president Cory Aquino's death in August last year.

    She is revered as the mother of the nation’s democracy. Upon Cory's passing, eight years into the rule of the widely unpopular Gloria Arroyo, her only son became the rallying point for a growing clamour for change.

    Pushed to run for office, the reluctant candidate soon found himself the overwhelming victor thanks to the same campaign promises his mother made when she was similarly cast into the spotlight after the assassination of her opposition leader husband during the Marcos dictatorship in the 1980s. 

    With genes like that, many Filipinos believed, how could Noynoy go wrong?

    Living up to public expectations by doing away with much pomp and circumstance, the inauguration was a reflection of what the next administration could be like. No nonsense, open and personal. A radical change from the last decade.

    Aquino has said he would always be a man of the people and in less than 24 hours he has already broken many of the stuffy protocols expected of a head of state.

    Gamely stopping (and possibly giving his security detail heart attacks) to pose for pictures with the masses, speaking in the vernacular casually and off-the-cuff on the podium, and warmly greeting surging mobs eager to be near him as if some of his magic will rub off on them.

    He has also, unapologetically, already ruffled feathers. 

    Tradition dictates a new president be sworn in by the supreme court chief justice. Aquino refused, opting instead to take his oath with an associate justice because the chief was a controversial midnight appointment made by Arroyo during her last days in power. And he has vowed to review all such appointments now that he is in charge.

    That's not the only thing he has promised. 

    Clean government

    Aquino has repeated the same refrain throughout the campaign and into his inaugural speech; an end to corruption and poverty, a clean government, justice and accountability, and national reconciliation.

    He has set up a Truth Commission to investigate and finally close many of the pending cases of corruption and human rights abuses against his predecessor’s administration. 

    He made special mention in his speech of his newly appointed justice secretary, the former human rights commissioner Leila de Lima, who he has tasked with cleaning house and working to restore trust in the system.

    From there, Aquino hopes to begin to rebuild what analysts call "the damaged institutions" bequeathed to him by the last administration.

    While referring to the presidency as now his "cross" to carry, Aquino also made it clear he was only doing so because it was what the people wanted. Reminding the crowd that his government would be their government. That his triumph was theirs too. And asking them to also take responsibility for the next six years alongside him.

    He even led them in a pledge to reform. Aquino may have been inaugurated president but the whole nation was made to take part in that oath.

    You are my bosses," he told the crowd in the Tagalog language. "I will follow you…

    Gloria Arroyo didn't stay to see her successor’s rapport with the crowd, only staying long enough for her own farewell honours at the start of the ceremony, and then leaving to attend her own oath-taking as Representative of her home province. 

    It was an uncomfortable leave-taking with many heckling her as she took her final walk before the troops.

    It was no more comfortable when Aquino himself did the same as the new chief executive.

    Despite the thousands shouting his name, P.Noy was fully aware that he would not be where he was if not for his lineage. Putting one foot in front of the other, the shy bachelor looked like a man who still can’t believe his luck. Good, or bad depending on how you look at it. 

    With the ceremony drawing to a close, the second President Aquino’s steps slowly became more self-assured, but he was still visibly playing the part of the dutiful son; learning how to fill the oversized shoes now laid out in front of him.

    Let someone with a deep love to give
    Give that deep love to you, 
    and what magic you'll see
    Let someone give his heart… who cares like me

    He apologised to the crowd for his singing as the music faded. They cheered him on with glee. Already they’re talking about how interesting the next six years will be.



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