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Philippines' "Noynoy" Aquino to run for president

By Rosemarie Francisco
/ Source: Reuters

By Rosemarie Francisco

The son of former Philippine President Cory Aquino, heroine of the 1986 "People Power" movement, said on Wednesday he would run for president, putting him among the front-runners for next May's election.

While economists have applauded Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino's likely platform of clean government, they have also pointed to his lack of executive experience and doubts about his ability to bring economic reform.

"I accept the plea of the nation. I also accept the instructions of my parents," Aquino told a news conference at the same hall where his mother, who died last month, was proclaimed president more than 23 years ago.

"I accept the responsibility to continue the fight for the country."

At least half a dozen other candidates, mostly senators, have said they will contest next year's vote, but analysts say no one has a clear edge. Nominations close in November.

Before Aquino's announcement, market players were keen on either Senator Manuel "Mar" Roxas, a Liberal Party colleague who withdrew from the race to make way for Aquino, or former Senate president Manuel Villar who has made millions of dollars from property development.

"Noynoy doesn't seem to have solid credentials apart from being the "good guy" and son of a couple of national heroes," said a currency trader from a local bank. "In our market, we're after concrete measures that can translate to economic reality."

Some analysts have said an Aquino presidency may be slow to amend the 1987 constitution that was adopted during the rule of Cory Aquino. Reform of some of that document's economic provisions, which include restrictions on foreign investment, is seen as key to promoting growth.

LOW PROFILE

On Wednesday, Aquino -- an economist by training -- said he would promote the efficient use of government resources and speed up the country's justice system.

Analysts say he has some way to go to translate the respect for his parents into votes, pointing to his less than impressive record as a legislator.

"I think it is a very refreshing announcement," said Peter Wallace, head of Wallace Business Forum consultancy. "It has stimulated this election and put a new dimension to it which I believe we needed.

"On the negative side, he doesn't have a very impressive record in Congress, he has achieved little over his nine years in (the lower chamber of) Congress and two in the Senate. One would be a little concerned that should he become president, would he be an active and effective president?"

In his 11 years as lawmaker, Aquino has largely been laid back, giving support to key economic and political policies, especially those promoting transparency in government, but not championing any.

However, the unpopularity of current President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who opinion polls indicate is the least popular president since Marcos, and general antipathy toward traditional politicians could drive support toward Aquino, analysts say.

Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, said Aquino was the only contender capable of winning a populist following.

"He can improve his chances of winning the elections next May if he will not be held hostage by a traditional political party. His campaign must be perceived to be supported by a broad-based movement," Parreno said.

Pressure on Noynoy to run has been immense since his mother died last month. Hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets for her funeral -- the biggest crowd seen in the Philippines since the 1986 "People Power" revolution that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos and swept Cory Aquino to power. Noynoy's father, also Benigno, was a senator who opposed Marcos and was killed when he returned home from political exile in 1983.