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Aquino’s challenges

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   30 June 2010

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Weekly Summary

Today , Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, the scion of a legendary Philippine political family, was sworn in as the 15th president of the Philippines.

In the midst of a joyous scene, he committed himself to erasing poverty, ending corruption, something that has plagued the outgoing Arroyo administration, and bringing justice to all.

It will be a difficult task. As news pundits have pointed out, the country has been rife with poverty, corruption, armed conflicts and the intimidation and killing of journalists for decades.

One of the keys to reducing poverty in the Philippines is often thought to be a reduction in the birth rate. However, in the predominantly Catholic country, the Catholic hierarchy is firmly opposed to the introduction of sex education into the country’s schools, not to mention 21st century methods of birth control.

Perhaps, the Catholic clergy has observed that when countries become more affluent, one could name a number of western countries as examples, the intensity of their religious life tends to wane.

In inauguration photos , Aquino was pictured taking the oath office with his hand on a Bible held by a Catholic clergyman, symbolic perhaps of the Church’s hold on power in the Philippines. Indeed, the Catholic Church does not hesitate to speak out on public policies that seem to intrude on its power.

On the other side, are the entrenched land-holding families and clans that don’t hesitate to assassinate journalists who criticize them.

Aquino also faces a growing national budget deficit that could soon surpass US$8.7 billion and the economy is highly dependent on the funds sent home by Filipinos working abroad. An estimate is that 3,000 Filipinos a day leave the country for work overseas.

Perhaps the turning point for better or worse in the new Aquino administration will be the results from a commission appointed to investigate corruption during the nine-year Arroyo administration. Aquino promises to prosecute those who “abused our people.” Too effective a commission might upset the upper classes of the country and possibly trigger a coup attempt in a country that has seen many coups.

One can hope for the best for Aquino but there is no question that he has a mountain to climb.

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