President late after opting to tackle rush-hour traffic

The new president of the Philippines was late for his first address to the military yesterday as he kept his promise to suffer in the capital's heavy traffic like ordinary people.

In one of the most loudly applauded portions of his inaugural speech earlier in the week, Benigno Aquino III said he had experienced the frustration of being stuck in traffic while powerful people in siren-blaring cars breezed by. He promised "no more 'wang-wang'", the local term for sirens.

So, yesterday, the president told his security escorts not to use sirens to clear the roads of Manila for his convoy heading to the military headquarters less than four miles from his home. And turned up 40 minutes late.

Filipinos generally regard sirens as a symbol of abuse of power and privilege. Under law, the president, vice-president, Senate president, House speaker and Supreme Court chief justice are the only civilians allowed to use sirens for their vehicles or convoys – but it is loosely enforced.

A reporter for GMA Television who followed the Aquino convoy said commuters who noticed the president on the congested EDSA highway were pleased there were no sirens. "I apologise for being late," the president later told reporters.

Mr Aquino succeeded the unpopular Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose nine-year rule was rocked by four coup attempts and allegations – which she denies – of corruption, vote-rigging and human rights abuses. Mr Aquino has promised to prosecute the corrupt and banish poverty, saying he was "ending a leadership that has long been insensitive to the suffering of the people."

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