MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The race for the Philippine presidency next year began on Monday with the country's vice president being the first major contender to register his candidacy to lead one of Asia's most unwieldy democracies.
Vice President Jejomar Binay filed his certificate of candidacy before Manila's Commission on Elections with Sen. Gregorio Honasan as his vice presidential running mate. The ex-army officer is best known for helping lead a number of failed coup attempts in the 1980s.
President Benigno Aquino III's six-year term ends in June.
At least two other key contenders, Sen. Grace Poe and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, are expected to register their candidacies this week.
Poe, the adopted daughter of a famous movie couple who lived and worked for years in America, has been leading voter-preference polls but has faced questions about her citizenship. Running as an independent, she also lacks a formidable political party unlike Roxas, whose candidacy was endorsed by partymate Aquino.
Binay, a former human rights lawyer and city mayor, topped polls for years until he faced a Senate investigation for alleged large-scale corruption that dragged for months. He has denied any wrongdoing and although his survey standing has dipped, analysts still consider him among the major contenders.
Unlike in the last elections, when Aquino surged comfortably ahead and won with a landslide margin on a promise to fight corruption and poverty, next year's vote is close, said Steven Rood of the Asia Foundation, a U.S.-based nongovernment group that helps the Philippines and other Asian countries improve governance.
"This far out there is no overwhelming favorite," Rood said. "It really is anybody's game."
Nearly three decades after the country emerged from a dictatorship through a 1986 "people power" revolt that catapulted his mother to the presidency, Aquino said the Philippines is back on the road to prosperity and hope after years of political instability. But critics say problems like poverty and corruption remain considerable.
Aquino, whose ruling party presented its 12 senatorial candidates on Monday, said next year's elections would be a barometer of the battle for good governance that he has waged.
Aside from the presidency, more than 18,000 congressional and local posts will be decided in the May 9 elections.