Philippine movie stars' daughter launches presidential bid

Philippine Senator Grace Poe gestures as she speaks to her supporters to declare her presidential candidacy in Manila on Sept 16, 2015.
Philippine Senator Grace Poe gestures as she speaks to her supporters to declare her presidential candidacy in Manila on Sept 16, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - The adopted daughter of Philippine movie stars launched her presidential campaign on Wednesday (Sept 16), banking on her parents' celebrity status to catapult her past the nation's most powerful politicians.

Grace Poe, 46, is a relative political novice, having been a senator for just two years, and faces legal challenges over her citizenship that could rule her out of the election next May.

But the independent politician is already the favourite, capitalising on a starstruck electorate with a colourful history of electing celebrities to all manner of political positions - from village level to the presidency.

Thousands of supporters clad in white cheered and blue confetti rained down as Poe announced a long list of campaign promises including fighting poverty, untangling chronic traffic jams and defending the country's interests in the disputed South China Sea.

"I am Grace Poe. Filipino. Daughter, wife and mother. I offer myself to be of service to the nation as your president," she told a raucous audience at a university where she once studied.

"Join me in building a new dawn, a better tomorrow for our motherland, the Philippines." The senator has in public appearances adopted the blue-collar style that nearly got her father elected president in 2004, wearing a crisp white shirt over jeans as she toured the country pressing the flesh before Wednesday's announcement.

Her movie star father Fernando Poe, who himself had no political experience, narrowly lost to Gloria Arroyo in 2004 amid allegations he was cheated of victory. He died of a stroke seven months later.

"Her father is an action man who defended the poor. I believe the daughter will be the same," 69-year-old housewife Remedios Gamboa told AFP, referring to his film roles, as she waited with many other long-time fans of Poe senior at the university on Wednesday.

Poe's declaration will set the stage for a three-way race against Vice President Jejomar Binay and Interior Minister Mar Roxas, who is President Benigno Aquino's anointed successor.

A recent respected public opinion survey had Poe leading her two rivals, with 30 per cent saying they would vote for her. Binay, whose early lead was eroded amid corruption allegations, got 22 per cent while Roxas had just 10 per cent.

- Film-worthy beginnings -

Aquino, who had publicly courted Poe to run as Roxas' vice president, this week sought to play down her chances next year, saying voters were becoming more politically mature.

"We are moving away from personality-based politics," he said Monday.

Poe's rise to frontrunner in the race to lead 100 million people is as dramatic as her parents' biggest hits.

When she was just days old she was left in a church in the central Philippines where she was found by a movie fan, according to her official narrative.

The fan gave her to Poe and his actress-wife Susan Roces, who adopted her.

Poe's opponents have filed legal challenges against her ahead of her planned presidential run, because she has no original birth certificate to prove she was born to Filipino parents.

She also spent time in the US and became a naturalised citizen there, though she has since renounced this.