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NEWS UPDATES 12 May 2010

Philippines: Aquino begins forming dream cabinet

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Sen. Benigno Aquino III, set to become the next Philippine president based on an almost-complete vote count, began assembling his dream team of Cabinet members Wednesday as he braced to crack down on graft and some of Asia's most violent rebellions, repoted the Associated Press.

Aquino _ whose father was assassinated while opposing Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship and whose mother led the 1986 "people power" revolt that restored democracy _ was leading Monday's nine-way presidential race with 41.8 percent of votes from about 88.56 percent of the precincts, according to a government-accredited watchdog.

His closest rival, ousted President Joseph Estrada, had 26.5 percent, the group said.

The Commission on Elections stopped updating the media on the result of the presidential race after lawyers of some candidates protested, saying a congressional count scheduled for May 24 could be pre-empted, Elections Commissioner Lucenito Tagle said.

Only Congress can proclaim the winner for president and vice president.

Aquino will inherit a Southeast Asian nation grappling with poverty _ a third of about 90 million Filipinos lives on $1 a day _ and debilitated by decades-long Marxist and Muslim insurgencies, military unrest, corruption, violent crimes and political strife.

"Our country badly needs this shot in the arm," said Corazon Soliman, the first to accept a Cabinet post from Aquino. "We have been given a second chance to do this right."

Soliman defected, along with several other Cabinet members, from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration in July 2005 amid a vote-rigging scandal that nearly forced her from power. Soliman and her colleagues have called for Arroyo's resignation and backed Aquino.

A committee will help Aquino form a Cabinet before he takes his oath June 30, selecting people "with integrity, honesty and no track record of corrupt practices," Soliman told The Associated Press.

Aquino announced Tuesday that Soliman accepted his offer to return to the Department of Social Welfare and Development. He repeated a campaign promise to use his first days in the presidency to wage a battle against corruption.

"I will not only not steal, but I'll have the corrupt arrested," Aquino, 50, told reporters in his first comments since Monday's polls. Massive corruption has long dogged the Philippines, tainting electoral politics and skimming billions of public funds in a country already struggling to pay off a huge foreign debt.

Bloated government contracts, especially those signed in the final six months under Arroyo, "will be reviewed before honored," Soliman said.


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