Philippine Presidential Hopefuls Trade Attacks as Race Tightens

  • Binay, Poe spar over citizenship, corruption allegations
  • All four candidates pledge not to support divorce legislation

The tightening battle for the Philippine presidency is taking a personal turn, with candidates accusing each other of everything from corruption to being unpatriotic.

Four contenders for the Southeast Asia nation’s top office clashed in a fiery debate in the central province of Cebu on Sunday, with some of the most pointed exchanges coming between Vice President Jejomar Binay and Senator Grace Poe. The event started with a dispute -- as Binay challenged rules prohibiting candidates from bringing documents to the podium -- and quickly turned personal as the vice president questioned Poe’s patriotism because she once renounced her Philippine citizenship to live in the U.S.

“You’re not a true Filipino because you were ashamed of it,” Binay said. “When you took your oath of allegiance to be naturalized as an American citizen, I abjure, you were ashamed of where you came from.”

Poe, 47, responded by saying it’s “love of country that matters.” Working honestly overseas is better compared to those who “may be here but stealing money from the people,” she said. Binay, who felt alluded to, denied corruption allegations and said he already signed a waiver allowing authorities to scrutinize his bank accounts.

The clash comes less than two months before the Philippines will choose a successor to outgoing President Benigno Aquino, 56, who can’t run again because of the nation’s six-year term limit. Opinion polls show the race tightening as the May 9 vote approaches. At stake is Aquino’s record in curbing corruption, boosting growth and trimming the budget, which helped the nation secure an investment-grade debt rating for the first time in 2013.

Tight Race

Former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who’s backed by Aquino, and Rodrigo Duterte, the firebrand mayor of Davao City, also participated in the debate. A fifth candidate, Senator Miriam Santiago, was absent because she said she would undergo a cancer treatment trial.

A Pulse Asia poll conducted between March 1 and March 6, found Poe with 28 percent of support, followed by Duterte with 24 percent, Binay with 21 percent and Roxas with 20 percent. A Social Weather Stations’ poll around the same time put Poe’s support at 27 percent, Binay at 24 percent, Roxas at 22 percent and Duterte at 21 percent.

The Supreme Court on March 8 overturned a ruling by the election commission that had earlier disqualified Poe from the May presidential race over her citizenship status. If she wins, Poe pledged to cut taxes on companies and lift restrictions on foreign ownership set by the Constitution to encourage more investors into the country. 

Binay said he would exempt workers earning 30,000 pesos a month or less from paying income taxes and vowed to embark on a massive infrastructure program. Roxas said he’s also open to review taxes but not during an election period.

All four candidates reiterated their opposition to making divorce legal. The Philippines is Asia’s most Catholic nation, and one of the few countries in the world that still bars divorce. Binay and Duterte said they would support having hero’s burial for late dictator Ferdinand Marcos whose remains are still on display in Ilocos Norte province, more than a quarter century after his death.

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