Philippines' Poe Seeks Presidency in Risk to Aquino's Party

  • She will run against President Aquino's preferred successor
  • Promises more infrastructure spending, South China Sea defense

Grace Poe, a first-term Philippine senator and the adopted daughter of a popular movie star, said she will seek the presidency that eluded her late father, potentially dividing loyalties among members of President Benigno Aquino’s ruling Liberal Party.

“We will hold the corrupt accountable, whether they be friend or foe and this should be the crusade of every Filipino, not just one person or party,” Poe, 47, told supporters in Manila Wednesday. “President Aquino has done much to curb corruption, and I am thankful that it has restored the people’s faith in an honest leader.”

Poe, a member of Aquino’s ruling coalition, is running as an independent and will take on former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. Aquino endorsed Roxas in July. During her 30-minute speech, Poe outlined 20 priorities including infrastructure, social services, peace and security and the South China Sea.

Poe is leading in some opinion polls and her candidacy threatens to siphon support for Roxas among Liberal Party members. She previously rejected an offer from Roxas to run as his vice-presidential candidate in the election next May. A split among Liberal Party voters also may benefit Vice President and United Nationalist Alliance leader Jejomar Binay, another presidential aspirant.

Infrastructure, Lower Taxes

“Members who don’t believe in Roxas’s winnability may end up leaving the party,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Manila. “Maybe not immediately because they wouldn’t want to part ways with the party’s resources and machinery. But as the election approaches, their support will shift based on a candidate’s capacity to win.”

Poe pledged to boost government spending on infrastructure to 7 percent of gross domestic product from 4 percent this year, push for a Freedom of Information law and back calls for lower taxes in exchange for better compliance.

The senator also vowed to improve government support for overseas workers, reduce power costs and address worsening traffic and criminality. She also promised to pursue peace with all groups, including Muslim rebels.

“The West Philippine Sea is ours,” Poe said, referring to the South China Sea. “We will protect our right through peaceful means, and according to international law. We will beef up our Coast Guard and armed forces so that we need not be intimidated by other countries.”

‘Global Competitiveness’

Poe is best known as the daughter of Fernando Poe, Jr., a popular film star who was defeated by Gloria Arroyo in the 2004 presidential race and died later that year. That fame helped her in 2013 when she received the most votes of any candidate in the senate elections, according to her biography on the Senate’s website. Before that, Aquino had appointed her to head the country’s board of movie and television review in 2010.

Poe was also picked by 12 of 23 analysts and bankers in a Bloomberg survey in June as the best choice to steer the Philippine economy after Aquino leaves office.

“Senator Poe wants to distinguish herself from her father by coming up with a strong program of government,” said Arjan Aguirre, a political science instructor at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Poe, a political studies graduate from Boston College, has worked as a teacher, a product liaison officer and a product manager in the U.S. In 2003, she returned to the Philippines to help her father campaign for the presidency.

“We should push for true reforms that will achieve inclusive growth, global competitiveness and transparent government,” Poe said. “Any progress we achieve as a country should be progress for each one of us, without exception. Any preferential bias should be for the poor and vulnerable.”

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