ELECTION fever gripped the country on Tuesday as the campaign period for candidates seeking national posts started, with each presidential aspirant promising change, a cleaner government and better life for the poor.
The three-month election campaign got underway with four presidential bets standing a genuine chance of succeeding President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Since emerging from dictatorship three decades ago, the Philippines has seen its political scene dominated by elite families, celebrities, the corrupt and the violent, who have contributed to almost constant chaos.
Those factors are once again dominant themes in this year’s contest for the presidency, as well as the thousands of national and local posts up for grabs in the May 9 elections.
Sen. Grace Poe, the presidential front-runner, an inexperienced politician riding a wave of popularity among the tens of millions of poor Filipinos, promised a government with a heart.
Poe, 47, only launched her political three years ago when she entered the Senate, but has enjoyed huge success by basking in the name of her father–the late action star Fernando Poe Jr.–while portraying herself as a reliable, honest advocate of the poor.
She is facing several disqualification cases before the Supreme Court because some groups and personalities believe that she is not a natural-born Filipino, a requirement for presidential aspirants.
In her speech at her kick-off rally, Poe, a foundling, said like ordinary Filipinos, she also underwent struggles and oppression.
“Despite all these, I stand before you today as a Filipino, a woman who knows how to fight bullies and oppressors, a leader with a heart that loves our country and people. It is from the people that I draw strength so I may serve them truly and effectively,” she told the 6,000 spectators who attended her rally at Plaza Miranda in Manila’s Quiapo district.
The senator vowed that her Gobyernong may Puso (government with a heart) will strengthen the economy to create jobs for all, provide sufficient classrooms, teachers and books to schools from kinder to college and ensure the safety of Filipinos anywhere and anytime.
“My fellow Filipinos, who daily endure the city traffic, the long lines to the MRT [Metro Rail Transit], and unreliable public transportation, your Gobyernong may Puso will provide real solutions to our infrastructure problems, instead of laying blame,” she said.
“I will never betray your trust. I will never turn my back on what my parents taught me. I am Grace Poe, and in our Gobyernong may Puso, you are my family,” the senator added.
Poe was joined by her running mate, Sen. Francis Escudero, and members of her senatorial slate except for Edu Manzano, former senator Juan Miguel Zubiri and Sen. Ralph Recto.
Before proceeding to the rally that started at 5:30 p.m. she, accompanied by her husband Teodoro Daniel Llamanzares and son Bryan, dropped by Quiapo Church (the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene) to pray.
“The story of my life started inside a church. It is fitting that I should launch the next chapter in front of a church,” Poe said.
She was abandoned inside a church in Jaro, Iloilo province in central Philippines and was adopted by actors Fernando Poe Jr. and Susan Roces.
Poe’s campaign manager Cebu Rep. Ace Durano said inclusive growth and transparency are the “major themes of the campaign.”
He added that the core of Poe’s slogan “Galing at Puso” is inclusive growth.
“Because we saw that the economy improved, but we still saw that poverty incidence, those of us who are in poverty, did not change. So, the government with a heart will focus on programs not only to sustain the economic growth but also to spread the economic benefits,” Durano said.
He added that one of Poe’s first actions, if elected, will be to push for passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
“[A]nd even before the bill is passed, Senator Grace has said that she will issue an Executive Order that will implement already the substance of FOI,” Durano said.
WITH REINA TOLENTINO AND AFP