Campaigning in the Philippines' rambunctious, and often dirty, elections kicked off yesterday, with the five contenders vying to succeed President Benigno Aquino rallying thousands of supporters in their bids to break out of a tight, unpredictable race.
Three candidates - Senator Grace Poe, Vice-President Jejomar Binay, and former mayor Rodrigo Duterte, all with agendas appealing to the masses - held political rallies in Manila's poorest districts.
Former interior minister Mar Roxas retreated to his family's bailiwick, Capiz province, 400km south of Manila, where Mr Aquino led a rally for his preferred successor.
Senator Miriam Santiago, 70, meanwhile, flew to the Ilocos region, a solid voting bloc of nine million north of the capital that has for decades remained loyal to the family of her running mate Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the 58-year-old son and namesake of the late dictator.
Some 56 million voting-age Filipinos are expected to troop to polling stations on May 9 to elect more than 18,000 national and local officials - from president down to city and town councillors.
"From now to May, the country may be witness to a wide-open, no- holds-barred presidential brawl not seen for quite a while," said the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an editorial.
Ms Poe, 47, the adopted daughter of movie icon Fernando Poe, is leading in the latest surveys on who voters prefer to succeed Mr Aquino. But the Supreme Court could knock her out of the race if it rules that she is ineligible to run.
The elections commission has already disqualified her. Ms Poe lived in the United States for most of her adult life and had once taken up US citizenship.
Statistically tied in second place are Mr Binay, 73, Mr Roxas, 58, and Mr Duterte, 70.
With the race this close and unpredictable, pundits warn that massive fraud and violence could again soil the outcome of the elections. "With no runoff elections, the next Philippine leader could dangerously end up as a minority president, with limited mandate and a lot of tenuous allies," political analyst Richard Javad Heydarian of De La Salle University told The Straits Times.
Already, there are concerns that vote-counting machines, still plagued with programming glitches, could be compromised.
Mr Aquino, 56, has presided over a period of robust growth since he assumed office in 2010. He has also managed to conclude a historic pact with Muslim rebels to bring peace to the war-torn southern island of Mindanao.
These gains "could evaporate if the elections end up in mayhem", said Mr Heydarian.
Yesterday's rallies began early in the morning and dragged on till late in the evening.
Popular singers, actors, TV celebrities and comedians shared the stage with the senatorial bets and political showmen of Ms Poe's and Mr Binay's political parties, keeping the audience entertained in between drawn-out speeches.
Boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, 37, a candidate for senator, lent his celebrity star power to Mr Binay's rally.