- Title: PHILIPPINES: Presidential election campaign kicks off
- Date: 10th February 2010
- Summary: AQUINO HOLDING HANDS WITH PARTY MATES AS THEY SING "OUR FATHER" AQUINO WAVING TO CROWD AS HE WALKS TOWARD WET MARKET
- Embargoed: 25th February 2010 12:00
- Location: Philippines
- Country: Philippines
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVAAOREQ7N49FDB3W81KB91LTU5F
- Story Text: Presidential candidates for the upcoming May elections visit wet markets and public parks as they hit the campaign trail.
Candidates for the Philippines' national elections started campaigning on Tuesday (February 9), appearing in crowded venues including a wet market and a park and making promises of reform and economic progress.
Around 50 million Filipinos, most living in poverty, will be choosing a new president in a field of 10 candidates.
"Majority of the voters will vote for candidates who will address their problems, who will address their problems in food security, poverty as well as jobs," political analyst Benito Lim told Reuters.
Presidential hopefuls shook hands with market vendors, labourers, and students as they hopped from town to town in provinces near Manila, kicking off the 90-day campaign period which some analysts expect may drastically change current opinion polls showing opposition senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino as the frontrunner.
Noynoy, the son of revered democracy icon Corazon Aquino, kicked off his campaign with a Catholic mass in his home province of Tarlac, where hundreds of local supporters wearing yellow gathered outside a church to welcome him.
Aquino's lead has been cut by his nearest rival, billionaire senator Manuel "Manny" Villar in the latest opinion poll last month. They are now statistically tied.
Analysts said Aquino's track record in public service is thin, and his popularity rides on the legacy of parents. His father Ninoy fiercely opposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and was assassinated upon returning from political exile. The massive outpouring of grief during his mother's funeral revived poignant memories of the people power revolution that she inspired.
"Here in the house of God, I make a promise to you that I will not taint the legacy of my mother and father and the love you have for them. I will not dare join this fight if I were not certain that with you on my side, nothing is impossible and change is inevitable," he told supporters after attending a Catholic mass.
Religious leader Eddie Villanueva, a candidate placing fifth in opinion polls, gathered nearly ten thousand supporters in a Manila park for a rally that resembled one of his group's prayer meetings.
"I am running as president of the Republic of the Philippines to start fundamental reforms which politicians time and again failed to deliver," Villanueva said.
Villanueva is the founder and leader of the Jesus is Lord Movement and went on leave when his political party was launched in March, 2009.
Claiming he is a God-fearing, morally righteous candidate who will usher in clean governance, Villanueva held a "washing of the feet" ceremony to show his humility.
Though his opinion ratings are a low 1 percent, his supporters believe God will take care of the rest and deliver Villanueva a landslide.
"I believe God has spoken to him. That's why I'm here for this cause," supporter Ruby Chua said.
Villanueva's supporters unfurled a gigantic flag, weighing nearly four tonnes and running the length of 180 metres, which they said symbolised love for the country and renewed hope.
Historically, popular personalities from political clans, the media, sports and show business dominate the elections in the Philippines, but some analysts are seeing some positive changes.
Lim said the populace may have matured, out of frustration in the scandal-riddled government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the previous administration of ousted president Joseph Estrada, indicted for plunder.
He said people may no longer buy the promises of politicians who were voted into power and then failed to deliver real changes.
"Although they keep on saying that they're for the poor, their performance was equally poor. And as a consequence the voters have learned their lessons. They have become more mature. Popularity, as far as they're concerned, doesn't mean a thing," Lim said.
Though popularity may take a backseat, money is still a big factor in this presidential campaign, as candidates are expected to hold large rallies across this archipelago of 7,000 islands, and pay for expensive media advertisements.
But the start of the official poll campaign may level the playing field for rich and not-so-well-oiled candidates alike due to an election law putting a campaign spending cap of about 500 million pesos ($11 million) for presidential candidates, or 10 pesos per voter.
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