MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Former Philippine Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Sen. Grace Poe, considered top contenders in next year's presidential race, formally registered their candidacies Thursday as election fever heats up in one of Asia's most rambunctious democracies.
President Benigno Aquino III attended Mass with Roxas along with party mate Rep. Leni Robredo, who is running for vice president, at the Manila Cathedral before they filed their candidacy papers at the nearby Commission on Elections.
The election is on May 9 and Aquino's six-year term ends next June.
Nearly three decades after the impoverished Southeast Asian country emerged from dictatorship with a 1986 "people power" revolt that catapulted his mother into 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, corruption and crime remain daunting.
Roxas said he and Robredo are confident the people will choose them to continue Aquino's "straight path" that shuns corruption.
"This is about the dream of all Filipino families to live a life of dignity, to rise up through hard work and to live with a future filled with opportunities," Roxas told reporters.
Poe, the adopted daughter of a famous movie couple, filed her candidacy later Thursday with political ally Sen. Francis Escudero, who is running for vice president. Poe, who lived and worked for years in the United States and once had dual Philippine and American citizenship, has been leading in popularity polls but faces questions about her citizenship.
She said Aquino had made big strides in battling corruption. "But there should be more programs for the needy so all of us can rise together at the same time," she said.
Roxas, who is running under Aquino's Liberal Party, comes from a wealthy and political clan — his grandfather was president and his father was a senator. Poe lacks the backing of a major political party but has a crucial edge in a country where many are swayed by personalities rather than issues. Her mother and late father are among the most popular movie celebrities.
The election commission said at least 60 candidates had registered for president and 13 for vice president as of Thursday, a day before the filing deadline. But most are unknown, and election officials said those assessed to be "nuisance candidates" who cannot mount a national campaign will be stricken from the candidate list.
Among those wanting to be president is a long-haired man named Archangel Lucifer and another who wants to make the Philippines the 51st U.S. state and to legislate four seasons in the tropical country that has only a wet and dry season.
In the Philippines, the president and vice president are picked in separate elections, even though they may campaign as part of a team.
The current vice president, Jejomar Binay from the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, is also running for president and will campaign with Sen. Gregorio Honasan, who is running for vice president. Honasan, an ex-army officer, is best known for helping lead a number of failed coup attempts in the 1980s, mostly against Aquino's mother.
Binay, a former human rights lawyer and city mayor, topped popularity polls for years but has faced investigation over alleged corruption. He has denied any wrongdoing. Although his survey standing has dipped, analysts still consider him among the major contenders.
Aside from the presidency, more than 18,000 congressional and local posts will be decided in next year's polls.