Aquino Asks Supporters to `Lock Arms,' Stay Focused in Philippine Election

Philippine Senator Benigno Aquino, who is leading in surveys before the May 10 presidential election, urged his supporters to remain focused as he and other candidates closed their campaigns amid last-minute efforts to fix the nation’s vote-counting machines.

Fifty million Filipinos are registered to vote in the election, when the country switches to a computerized system meant to reduce the disputes and cheating that often accompanied hand-counting of votes that formerly took weeks. The Commission on Elections is racing to replace programs in its 76,000 voting machines after a glitch was discovered in tests this week.

“Let’s lock arms, let’s help each other so that the true voice of the people triumphs in the midst of the problems with poll automation and possible cheating,” Aquino said at a rally in Quezon City, in northern Manila, late yesterday. “Remember, we haven’t won, remember, the bright future isn’t assured, remember, we have to continue fighting.”

Aquino’s support rose to 42 percent in a survey take May 2 and May 3 by BusinessWorld newspaper and Social Weather Stations. Backing for Senator Manuel Villar, who was statistically tied with him in January, fell to 19 percent. Former President Joseph Estrada’s support rose to 20 percent.

Aquino wasn’t a candidate until his mother, former President Corazon Aquino, died of cancer in August, triggering a wave of nostalgia that sparked a presidential draft. He vowed to attack corruption to fight poverty and alleged that Villar, a property tycoon, had used political influence to enrich himself.

Villar’s support slipped amid the allegations. He ended his campaign last night in Tondo, the working-class section of Manila where he grew up. Estrada holds his final rally today.

“I’ve fulfilled many of my dreams, but our biggest job is the dreams of your children,” Villar said late yesterday. “We can finish poverty. I blame those who have led us, the same big families who don’t want a poor man from Tondo to have a chance.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Joel Guinto in Manila at jguinto1@bloomberg.net; Francisco Alcuaz Jr. in Manila at falcuaz@bloomberg.net

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