Philippine senator Grace Poe tops opinion polls after court rules she's eligible to run for president

Philippine senator Grace Poe (right) greeting supporters during a political campaign in the town of San Nicolas, Philippines, on March 30, 2016.
Philippine senator Grace Poe (right) greeting supporters during a political campaign in the town of San Nicolas, Philippines, on March 30, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (REUTERS) - A woman abandoned in a central Philippine church when she was a baby has topped an opinion poll barely two months ahead of elections to succeed President Benigno Aquino, an independent pollster said on Friday (April 1).

The May 9 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 Mr Aquino's six-year single term.

Sen Grace Poe, 47, was the top-ranked candidate among 28 per cent of 4,000 respondents in the March 15 to March 20 survey commissioned by broadcaster ABS-CBN, a week after the Supreme Court ruled she was eligible to run for president.

The result cements Sen Poe's position as front-runner to become the third female leader of the poor South-east Asian state.

"Nearly three in 10 Filipino registered voters would elect Senator Grace Poe as the country's next president if the May 2016 elections took place during the survey period," said Mr Ronald Holmes, president of independent pollster Pulse Asia.

The survey was the first after the court dispelled doubts over her candidacy with its ruling in her favour. A week earlier the same pollster had said Sen Poe was in a statistical tie with a southern mayor as top contender with 26 per cent.

The poll result would inspire the senator to work harder, her campaign spokesman said.

"The trust and confidence of the Filipino voting public fuels Senator Poe to intensify her drive to drum up interest in her platform of governance," said Mr Rex Gatchalian.

Sen Poe had faced questions over whether she met legal requirements to run for the country's highest office, such as being a natural-born citizen with 10 years of residency, but the Supreme Court ruled in her favour on March 8.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was in second place with 24 per cent, dropping one percentage point from a week earlier to reach a statistical tie with Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who improved a point to 23 per cent.

Mr Aquino's handpicked candidate, Mr Manuel Roxas, remained in fourth place with 19 per cent, losing a point from an earlier poll. Another senator, Miriam Santiago, only has 2 per cent. About 4 per cent of registered voters are still undecided.

In power since 2010, Mr Aquino is barred by the Constitution from seeking a second term. Under his leadership, the Philippines has seen economic growth of more than 6 per cent on average, its best five-year record in four decades.

About 54 million of a population of 100 million are eligible to vote to choose a president, vice president and more than 18,000 local government executives and lawmakers in the general elections, which take place every six years.