MANILA: First-term Philippine senator Grace Poe yesterday announced plans to run for president next year, seeking a post that eluded her adoptive father, an action movie hero, more than a decade ago. Poe, 47, is the only woman in the contest, but the third candidate to declare the aim to succeed President Benigno Aquino. The others are Vice President Jejomar Binay and former Interior Minister Manuel Roxas.
The May election will be closely watched by investors, who fear the political succession in one of Asia’s fastest growing economies could derail gains made during Aquino’s rule. Under Aquino, the Philippines has seen economic growth of more than 6 percent on average, its best 5-year record in four decades. He has also battled to rein in corruption.
Poe, 47, a former pre-school teacher in the United States who is seen as a clean politician, has dominated two recent independent opinion polls, overtaking Binay, who had led surveys since last year. If successful, she would become the third woman to hold the post, after democracy hero Corazon Aquino, mother of the incumbent, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now in detention on plunder charges.
“I am Grace Poe, Filipino, daughter, wife, and mother, and with the help of God, I offer myself to all of you for higher service as your president,” Poe, dressed in her trademark white polo shirt, told hundreds of cheering supporters at a rally in Manila to announce her bid for office.
Some prominent politicians joined the crowd chanting her name to the strains of a jingle from her late father’s campaign. Poe promised to fight graft, boost spending on infrastructure, cut taxes and power tariffs, modernize farming and help overseas workers. “The West Philippine Sea is ours and it is just right that we defend it using peaceful and legal means,” she said, pushing for a strong military and coastguard “so that we will not be bullied by other countries”.
Her remarks referred to a dispute the Philippines has with neighbor China over territorial claims in parts of the South China Sea, including some areas of the Spratly Islands. The Philippines has taken its case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, but China has declined to take part.
Philippine politics has long been dominated by political clans and film celebrities, and Poe topped senatorial polls in 2013 with a record number of votes, despite being a newcomer. This was a testament to the enduring popularity of her adoptive parents, both movie stars, and her clean image compared with rivals who were seen mostly as traditional politicians.
“Filipinos are looking for clear alternatives,” said Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Institute of Political and Electoral Reforms. “She is immaculately clean but she is also untested in the face of crisis.” Poe faces an election disqualification case in the Supreme Court after a losing candidate queried her citizenship, as a foundling whose parents were unknown.
Voters see her as injecting a breath of fresh air to a tired political scene. “Let’s try a new candidate,” said Marietta Fernandez, 54, a housewife who came to hear Poe. “Our lives didn’t improve under traditional politicians, she may be able to do the job.” — Reuters