- Title: PHILIPPINES: Candidates pledge to end poverty and corruption in campaign.
- Date: 10th February 2010
- Summary: CALAMBA CITY, LAGUNA PROVINCE, PHILIPPINES (FEBRUARY 9, 2010) (REUTERS) SUPPORTERS OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE MANUEL VILLAR REACHING OUT FOR GIVEAWAY CAPS VARIOUS OF TELEVISION GAME SHOW HOST SINGING AS DANCERS GYRATE
- Embargoed: 25th February 2010 12:00
- Location: Philippines
- Country: Philippines
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABR1WF8W04SJZK1H91X88T8R7M
- Story Text: Presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, wooing voters with song and dance, and promising to wipe out poverty and usher in reform.
Philippine politicians launched their campaigns on Tuesday (February 9) in a wide-open race for the presidency, with poverty, corruption and unemployment the top issues for the impoverished Southeast Asian archipelago.
The latest opinion poll shows two opposition lawmakers are neck-and-neck, but analysts say it is too early to establish a clear trend in the race.
The Philippines' elections agency allowed only 10 out of 99 people who filed nomination papers last year to run for president, replacing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in June.
Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, son of the country's revered democracy icon, Corazon "Cory" Aquino, is campaigning on the platform of fighting corruption and universal access to education. He traveled to his home province of Tarlac on Tuesday to start his campaign, hearing mass at a church and visiting a public market.
Aquino has consistently topped opinion polls since he made a decision to seek the presidency in September 2009, buoyed by the outpouring of emotions during his mother's funeral in August and public outrage over corruption and abuse in the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
But his ratings have been on the decline due to criticism he lacks managerial experience and skills to run government as well as his not-so-spectacular performance in the legislature.
On the campaign trail, he rationalised his drop in opinion ratings against billionaire lawmaker Manuel Villar.
"Our opponent has been busy campaigning ad infinitum, even when he was Senate President. He has a multitude of ads compared to ours. I think the factor is up to like times ten. And now that we have started the campaign period, now that our duties in the Senate are over for the mean time, we will be on the level playing field and we will get our numbers back," Aquino said.
Before he was elected senator in 2007, Aquino, a member of one of the country's most influential political and landed clans, served as congressman for three terms from 1998. He is a graduate of economics from the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University. All this however, is perceived as rather lacklustre among a field of candidates that include longtime politicians, a successful businessman, and an Ivy League-educated lawyer.
"It appears that the old voters in the Philippines would rather support a more experienced candiate than a younger person who has no experience, and in their perception no track record," Benito Lim said.
Billionaire lawmaker Manuel "Manny" Villar, 60, is running on the platform of providing jobs, houses, and food on the table, issues that resonate with the poor comprising a third of the country's 92 million population.
Villar's rating has dramatically risen over the past month, aided by his huge campaign war chest. Big showbiz celebrities are signed up for his campaign. But analysts say this does not guarantee Villar would dominate the elections.
Born in one of Manila's biggest slum areas, he finished his undergraduate degree in business administration while helping his mother sell seafood at a wholesale market.
"I have experienced sleeping with my brothers and sisters all on one mat, under one blanket," he told a crowd in a rally on Tuesday in a province outside Manila.
Villar claims he knows first-hand how to overcome poverty. Shortly after graduating from college, he set up a seafood delivery business and then moved on to build a construction firm five years later after earning his masters in business administration. That started him off into the profitable property business where he earned his millions.
He was elected speaker of the lower house of Congress in his third straight term as congressman and briefly held the Senate presidency.
"Let's come together, so that we can all rise above poverty," he said, before launching into a song number with a popular game show host.
"He has risen up from his poor background, and he has achieved so much success therefore he can do also this kind of success for the country," a supporter said.
Unlike in other countries where parties are associated with ideologies and policies, presidential candidates in the Philippines are hardly distinguishable from each other where issues are concerned.
"So they try to present themselves as the hero, the champion of the majority of the voters who are very poor. So all of them are for the poor. All of them are for employment. All of them are for mass education," Lim said.
Placed third in the surveys is former president Joseph "Erap" Estrada.
Born in a poor Manila district, Estrada dropped out of school to be a B-movie actor, but his success as an actor led him to politics.
He served as mayor of a small town in Metro Manila for 17 years before becoming senator, vice president and then 13th president of the Philippines in 1998.
Removed from power in an army-backed popular uprising in 2001, Estrada was found guilty of plunder in 2007 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was pardoned by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo two weeks after the court's ruling.
Estrada has denied any wrongdoing and has vowed to fight corruption and nepotism.
"Along with the rest of the Filipino nation we will take back what they stole from you. We will seek to restore the honour of the Philippines, we will restore peace and order. We will restore progress, we will return the power to the Filipino masses," he told a crowd in a rally in downtown Manila.
"You did not forsake me when I was in prison. So I cannot forsake you either," he said.
Despite his ouster and subsequent jail sentence, and tales of his drinking and womanising, Estrada still maintains a large support base among rural poor and urban slum dwellers.
"They do not believe that the charges against him were true. If people are for instance die-hard supporters of President Estrada, whatever you tell them, all they will tell you is that 'Those are all lies. It's all politics,'" Lim said.
Estrada's followers say they like him because he is genuinely for the poor.
"I prefer someone with no brains, who doesn't know how to steal but who sympathises with the poor and who knows how to get along with people in the streets," Estrada supporter Rosario Dimacali said.
The presidential candidates shared the limelight on Tuesday not only with their vice-presidential and senatorial running mates, but also singers and movie stars who they hope will gain voters' attention.
More than 50 million Filipinos are choosing a new president, vice president, about 300 lawmakers in the two-chamber Congress and more than 17,600 local government positions in the country's first nationwide automated elections on May 10.
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