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Philippines' president-elect continues political dynasty

By Kathy Quiano, CNN
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Talk Asia: Benigno Aquino III
  • CNN had one of the first interviews with Aquino after he the elections
  • Aquino won the first ever automated vote election in the country on May 10
  • High expectations for new leader who it is hoped will tackle corruption

(CNN) -- CNN was in the Philippines to cover the national elections on May 10. Although it would take three more weeks for the Philippine Congress to officially declare the winners, Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III was largely expected to become the country's 15th President.

Like many other news organizations, CNN wanted to speak with Aquino as soon as the trends showed he would win the election. Aquino chose to monitor the counting from his family's estate in Tarlac, just north of Manila. Our team had less than three-hours-notice before the interview.

CNN was the first of a long line of media interviews he was to give that afternoon. The allotted time of 30 minutes stretched to more than an hour.

His critics often described him as elitist, weak and inexperienced and questioned his psychological make-up.

The Aquino we interviewed turned out to be disarmingly down-to-earth, sharp and engaging. He gave lengthy answers, as he was known for, but showed a keen and detailed understanding of a wide range of issues.

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Aquino ignored an aide, who worriedly motioned to his watch, and took his time showing CNN interviewer Arwa Damon around the Aquino Center, a museum and gallery depicting the historic lives of his late parents, Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. and President Corazon Aquino.

Both are widely revered for their roles in the Philippines' democracy movement. He knew the story behind every picture.

At one point, he asked Arwa to enter a mock-up of his late father's solitary cell. The elder Aquino was a strong critic of then President Ferdinand Marcos, who incarcerated him for 7 years. Aquino closed the door on Arwa and said, "Imagine what it was like to be in there, even for a few minutes."

Here was the new president-elect with a strong, decisive mandate and only one six-year term to deliver on his campaign promises. His pedigree and his parents' legacy may have helped him win the presidency, but one sensed the character and integrity his supporters talked about.

A week earlier, CNN had joined Aquino on a campaign rally in Central Philippines.

Chris Tio, a young businessman, who left work and family for a few months to volunteer for Aquino's campaign, may have summed it up for us the best. Tio talked passionately about how Aquino had captured the hope of Filipinos both in and out of the country.

"He does not so much promise change as much as the hope for change," Tio told CNN.

Expectations for Aquino are high. He succeeds the unpopular President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Arroyo is accused of turning a blind eye to graft and corruption to favor her family and allies.

There appears a lot to be done to restore people's faith in government and its key institutions.

The Aquino presidency is viewed by many as a savior and will be watched closely as to how it would govern. The Philippines, a powerhouse in Asia decades ago, continues to lag behind many of its neighbors.

After our interview, we watched Aquino roam the grounds of the Aquino Center, followed by a crowd of journalists and supporters. He walked to his car and suddenly turned back to speak to more people.

It seemed that Aquino, once a reluctant presidential candidate, had become even more like his parents: thrust into the political limelight to bring change to the country had wanted.