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MANILA, Philippines – At least four major contenders have emerged in next year's presidential race in the Philippines after a weeklong registration of candidates closed Friday.
It has been nearly three decades since the country of 100 million emerged from dictatorship after the 1986 "people power" revolt, and under President Benigno Aquino III, the economy has been growing steadily. His predecessor has been detained on an elections fraud charge and three senators were separately detained on corruption charges under Aquino's anti-graft fight.
But poverty, corruption, crime and insurgencies remain daunting challenges, and past elections have been marred by fraud and violence, including the massacre of 58 people when followers of a candidate at odds with a warlord clan filed papers in a southern province months ahead of the 2010 vote.
The Commission on Elections said 130 candidates had registered for president and 19 for vice president. Most are unknown, and the commission said "nuisance" candidates who cannot mount a national campaign will be disqualified. More than 18,000 congressional and local posts will be decided in the May 9 election.
A look at the main contenders:
NAME POWER: GRACE POE
Although she lacks a formidable political party, independent candidate Sen. Grace Poe has a crucial advantage — name recognition — in a country where many are swayed more by personalities than policy issues. Her mother and late father are among the most popular movie couples of all time.
The 47-year-old also has a poignant life story. As a newborn, she was abandoned in a church, and later adopted by her celebrity parents. A political neophyte, she topped the senatorial elections in 2013 and has led in recent polls among potential presidential contenders. But she faces questions over her citizenship.
Poe renounced her Filipino citizenship when she moved to the United States to live with her husband, an American man of Filipino descent, and became an American. She became Filipino again a few years after returning to the Philippines in 2005. A lawyer has filed a complaint to have her candidacy voided, arguing that she was a foundling and cannot meet a constitutional requirement for aspirants to be natural-born Filipinos.
PRESIDENT'S PICK: MANUEL "MAR" ROXAS II
Former Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II has several factors in his favor for next year's race: He's the ruling Liberal Party's bet, has a presidential pedigree and, most importantly, is the choice of outgoing President Aquino, who remains popular. He's the grandson of the Philippines' first post-World War II president, a son of a prominent senator who opposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos and a scion of a wealthy political clan.
He was an investment banker before being drawn into politics in 1993 with a successful congressional run. Once a trade secretary, he's credited for helping the Philippines become one of the world's top outsourcing and call center hubs. Roxas, 58, served under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but later became one of her sharpest critics when corruption allegations against her emerged.
Critics blame Roxas for transport woes and widespread crimes that plagued the public when he was at the top of the transport and interior and local government departments, which were in charge of those problems. He has long suffered from low ratings, but they have improved lately.
TOP TO UNDERDOG: JEJOMAR BINAY
A former human rights lawyer who says he rose from poverty through hard work, including collecting pig slop, Vice President Jejomar Binay helped fight Marcos as an activist. After the strongman fell in 1986, Binay started to build a name in politics as mayor of Makati city, the country's version of Wall Street. In 2010, he was elected vice president and was given extra posts to oversee housing concerns and the welfare of millions of overseas Filipino workers, which helped make him popular.
Binay's survey ratings, however, started to dip when he faced allegations of corruption, including the use of dummy businessmen for vast real estate properties, which were investigated in months of televised Senate grillings that he skipped and called a political farce. The 72-year-old has denied any wrongdoing. In an independent voter-preference survey last month, Binay placed a strong third among the top four contenders.
FEISTY SENATOR: MIRIAM SANTIAGO
Sen. Miriam Santiago is running for president for the third time, narrowly losing in 1992 to Fidel Ramos, a former military general who helped lead the 1986 revolt, before finishing seventh among 10 candidates in 1998. The 70-year-old senator, a former law professor and trial court judge, is best known for her sharp tongue, sarcasm and testy demeanor on the public stage.
When she headed the graft-ridden immigration commission, she lashed back at employees who resisted her reforms and demanded her ouster with an unforgettable quip: "They should be chopped into a thousand pieces and fed to the sharks in Manila Bay. But it is problematic whether the sharks will eat them, out of a sense of professional courtesy!"
In 1995, Santiago won a seat in the Senate, where she would later challenge a fellow senator to a fist fight. She has taken a stand against U.S. interests, calling for the termination of the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement, which, she contends, violates Philippine laws. In a dramatic public disclosure last year, she said she had stage-4 lung cancer, but now says that the cancer has regressed and that she is fit to run for president again.