Joseph Estrada, a former movie star who transformed his celluloid appeal into a successful political career, assumed the Philippine presidency Tuesday, promising to give his greatest performance ever.
Estrada, who won an overwhelming victory in elections May 11, has pledged to devote his six-year term to narrowing the gap between the country's rich and poor.But his presidency was off to a rocky start, after many Filipinos reacted angrily to his decision to permit the burial of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at a heroes' cemetery.
The bitter opposition forced Estrada, a former Marcos supporter, to reverse his decision.
"No previous president has assumed office with as much dissonance in the air," says political scientist Alex Magno.
In a symbol of a remarkably smooth political transition, however, Estrada rode with outgoing President Fidel Ramos in a horse-drawn carriage to historic Barasoain Church to take the oath of office.
Hundreds of men and women in native costumes lined the road leading to the church, guarded by a battalion of soldiers wearing revolutionary uniforms.
The church, decorated with white orchids and chrysanthemums, was where the first Philippine constitution was drafted a century ago and where Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president, was proclaimed.
Estrada, who says he will continue most of Ramos' economic reforms, met farmers outside the church Tuesday before his oath-taking to receive a list of complaints from the poor.
Estrada has also pledged to crack down on government corruption and solve the country's severe crime problem within six months.
"I want to bring peace to our lives and harmony to our society," he said in an inauguration speech delivered later in the day at an outdoor grandstand in Manila. "I want to bring order to our streets and justice to our institutions. I want to impart energy to our economy and more equitableness in the distribution of its fruits."
He also defended his decision to allow Marcos' burial at the heroes' cemetery, saying he had been impatient to "put yesterday behind us so we can work for a brighter tomorrow."
Also Tuesday, a chandelier in the presidential palace crashed to the floor shortly after Estrada passed by, officials said. No one was injured, but security officials are investigating why it fell.