Leading Philippine presidential candidate picks political mentor as running mate

Philippine senator Grace Poe, 46, waving to her supporters as she declares her presidential candidacy in Manila on Sept 16, 2016.
Philippine senator Grace Poe, 46, waving to her supporters as she declares her presidential candidacy in Manila on Sept 16, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The leading candidate in the Philippine presidential race on Thursday (Sept 17) picked her political mentor as her running mate,

At a brief rally at the historic Club Filipino, Senator Grace Poe, 47, announced that she has picked Senator Francis Escudero, 45, as her running mate. He is the son of a former minister of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

"He is not just a friend, but someone we can trust, is capable, and has already served the country," Ms Poe told hundreds of supporters who gathered at the same venue where former president Corazon Aquino was inaugurated in 1986 and her son, President Benigno Aquino, launched his run for the presidency in 2009.

Ms Poe, the adopted daughter of a Filipino movie star and rumoured illegitimate child of Mr Marcos, officially announced her run to become the next president on Wednesday (Sept 16) at the state-run University of the Philippines.

The senator, a centre-left politician, leads polls on who voters prefer to succeed Mr Aquino, who will step down next year.

Her entry has created a three-way fight as she contests the presidency with Vice-President Jejomar Binay and former interior minister Mar Roxas, Mr Aquino's chosen heir.

Mimicking Ms Poe's declaration when she launched her bid, Mr Escudero said: "I am Chiz Escudero, a true Filipino, son, husband, father. With God's grace, I am offering myself to a higher cause as your vice-president."

Like Ms Poe, Mr Escudero appealed to popular sentiments, saying that if elected, he will find a solution to metropolitan Manila's horrendous traffic, lower income tax, and cut utility bills.

He also promised an anti-graft campaign, and address what he saw as a "paralysis in governance".

"Discretion always equals corruption. Minimise discretion and we minise corruption," he said.

He added: "We can't do this alone. We need your help. We need each Filipino's help. This is the reason why we… will remain independent and without a party. Whoever will run should not belong to just one party. His party should be the Philippines."

Unlike Ms Poe, who has little experience in politics, Mr Escudero began his political career as a congressman in 1998.

He then landed a seat in the Senate in 2007, ending the race with the second-highest number of votes.

Mr Escudero served as spokesman for Ms Poe's father, the movie star Fernando Poe Jr, when he ran for president in 2004.

That drew him close to Ms Poe. He eventually acted as her mentor and provided a political machinery when she ran for senator in 2013. Ms Poe topped that race, with over 20 million votes.

She has described Mr Escudero, son of former agriculture minister Salvador Escudero, as "my best friend".