Movie star's adopted daughter to run for Philippine president

Senator Grace Poe offers fixes to Manila's traffic gridlocks, an income tax cut and lower utility bills.
Senator Grace Poe offers fixes to Manila's traffic gridlocks, an income tax cut and lower utility bills.

Centre-left politician is voters' top choice to succeed Aquino

The adopted daughter of a Filipino movie star and rumoured illegitimate child of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos has officially announced her bid to become the Philippines' next president.

In a news conference yesterday at the state-run University of the Philippines, Senator Grace Poe, 47, said: "I am Grace Poe. I am a Filipino, daughter, wife and mother. With God's help, I am offering myself for a higher cause. I am offering myself as your president."

Ms Poe hammered away on themes popular with voters, offering fixes to metropolitan Manila's horrendous traffic jams, an income tax cut, and lower utility bills.

She recognised President Benigno Aquino's efforts to fight corruption, but took a jab at him when, referencing his anti-corruption slogan, she declared: "No one has a monopoly on the straight path."

Ms Poe also gave a broad outline of her foreign policy, declaring: "The West Philippine Sea is ours." She was referring to the South China Sea.

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I am Grace Poe. I am a Filipino, daughter, wife and mother. With God's help, I am offering myself for a higher cause. I am offering myself as your president.''

SENATOR GRACE POE, 47, who was the top senatorial pick in the 2013 national polls

Thousands of supporters, mostly clad in white, packed the hall.

Ms Poe, a centre-left politician, leads polls on who voters prefer to succeed Mr Aquino.

Analysts said Ms Poe's run will get most of its tailwind from her late father's popularity. She is the adopted daughter of Fernando Poe Jr, dubbed the "king of Philippine movies" for his long acting career.

Despite having little political experience, Ms Poe was the top senatorial pick in the 2013 national elections. She garnered over 20 million votes, which pundits attributed to the "Poe" brand. Her father ran for president in May 2004, but narrowly lost to Mrs Gloria Arroyo amid allegations of widespread cheating.

"Poe is the candidate to beat so far," said political analyst Richard Javad Heydarian, of De La Salle University. He said he expects "turncoats" from Mr Aquino's ruling Liberal Party to "switch support, most likely surreptitiously, to her camp", unless former interior minister Mar Roxas, Mr Aquino's chosen heir, can get his polling numbers past those of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who trails Ms Poe.

Two political parties helmed by billionaires - the Nationalist People's Coalition of beer tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco and Nacionalista Party of property developer Manuel Villar - are backing Ms Poe's run.

Ms Poe has been dogged by rumours that she is the illegitimate child from an affair Mr Marcos had with a teenage actress in the 1960s.

But University of the Philippines political science professor Amado Mendoza Jr said the Marcos association may work in her favour. "This factor enhances her 'soap opera' appeal," he said.

Ms Poe is also hounded by allegations that she has been a Philippine citizen and resident for less than 10 years, the minimum residency required for a presidential candidate. Ms Poe left for the United States in her junior year in college. She married a Filipino-American in 1991 and became a US citizen in 2001.

The mother of three reacquired her Filipino citizenship in 2006 but it was not until 2010, when given a government post by Mr Aquino, that she gave up her US citizenship.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'Movie star's adopted daughter to run for Philippine president'. Print Edition | Subscribe