Filings for candidates for the Philippines next presidential election show that powerful families continue to dominate the political landscape. Benigno Aquino, the son of a late president, is the current leader in opinion polls. Election violence has already started, with more than 50 people massacred last week.

As the Philippines election season begins violence and intrigue have overshadowed the candidates.

Philippine prosecutors on Monday filed murder charges against Andal Ampatuan, Jr., for the massacre last week of 57 people - journalists and supporters of an opposition candidate. Ampatuan is the mayor of Datu Unsay in Maguindanao, a strife-torn province in the southern Philippines. He also is a former adviser to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

President Arroyo has denounced the violence, and her former supporter, and vows to go after the killers.

The president, who is constitutionally barred from another term, is still very much at the center of this election. Her announcement to run for congress in the election next May sparked intense media speculation.

Political analyst Bobby Tuazon is with the Center for People Empowerment and Governance. He says Mrs. Arroyo is embarking on ambitious strategy to retain power by altering the constitution.

"The analysis is that she is seeking a seat in the house of representatives as part of her political agenda to be elected or chosen as the house speaker on route to the possibility of being appointed as prime minister in case of any charter change after the 2010 elections," Tuazon said.

Of the presidential candidates, Senator Benigno Aquino, the son of the late President Corazon Aquino, leads in opinion polls. Joel Rocamora, one of his political advisers, says the August funeral of President Aquino ignited the senator's campaign.

"The response of people manifested during her funeral really disrupted the whole presidential race because while the funeral was conducted with upmost solemnity, it was also a very political response and many people felt that the massive show of support for the late President Corazon Aquino was really a show of support for political change," Rocamora said.

Aquino's main rivals are Senator Manny Villar, a former defense secretary, Gilberto Teodoro, and deposed President Joseph Estrada, who was convicted of bribery, then pardoned by President Arroyo.

Analyst Tuazon says the familiar names reflect the dominance of powerful families in the Philippines. He says it is a self-perpetuating problem that fosters corruption and prevents real democratic change.

"Bills have been filed to implement the constitutional provision doing away with the system of political dynasties," Tuazon said, "but of course the filing of those bills came to naught, especially because, precisely because congress is dominated by the same political dynasties. So why kill yourself?"

Although the candidates promise change, Tuazon says this election is likely to result in more of the same.