Accessibility links

Philippines Head for the Polls as Arroyo Bids for Congress

More than 50 million Filipinos will head to the polls on Monday to choose a new president, elect a new Congress and fill 17,000 local political positions.

A two day cooling off period, which included a ban on drinking alcohol, was imposed just prior to voting with most candidates spending a quiet weekend at home and out of the limelight.

Liberal Party candidate Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino is favored to become the next president. His emergence is in part helped by the popularity of his mother, the former president Cory Aquino who died last August.

Her standing is in stark contrast to out-going president Gloria Arroyo. Tainted by corruption allegations, she leaves office as the most unpopular leader this country has had since approval ratings were initiated in 1986.

Ms. Arroyo is limited to one term in office but is seeking a seat in congress in this election.

Wendy Hora works in a coffee shop as a Barista and is part of the Philippines educated and emerging middle classes.

"For me I choose Noynoy sir, because he is a credible person and he is much smarter and you also know his mother is before president," he said.

Another challenge to Aquino's bid for the leadership has been launched by businessman Manny Villar. But according to the latest polls his chances are being eroded by former President Joseph Estrada, who has enjoyed a last minute swing in his favor.

Mr. Estrada was ousted by a people power revolt in 2001, jailed for corruption and eventually pardoned. He still holds a significant support base, particularly in the countryside.

"I don't like Estrada, if I have a second choice it will be Villar because he came from the poor then he became rich because of what, by hard working, so he knows the lifestyle of being poor," he added.

However, there are concerns the voting process could collapse because of software problems in the automated voting system being used here for the first time. More than 82,000 PCOS or precinct count optical scan machines have been deployed amid claims they are not ready.

This has raised the possibility that the election will be dogged by accusations of cheating and vote rigging.

It is a point not lost on election observers or security analysts like Ian Bryson of Control Risks.

"Its had a very troubled run-up but I think come Monday there will be an election, it will occur, there will be significant failures in some areas of the computerized ballot counting machines called PCOS machines," he said. "This will lead to, I think some, levels of unrest especially in areas where law and order is deficient."

When compared with previous elections in The Philippines, this campaign has been relatively peaceful. However, in the troubled south 57 people were killed late last year while on their way to register a candidate who opposed the provincial governor. Men linked to the governor have been blamed for the massacre.

Noynoy Aquino has also seen his share of violence. His father, an opposition senator, was killed in 1983 while in police custody. Then in 1987, Noynoy survived an attack by mutinous troops on the Malacanang presidential palace. Aquino, then 27, was wounded by a grenade blast and gunfire that killed two of his security escorts.

Still a bachelor, Aquino holds one other distinction in that he has not been linked to any corruption scandal.