Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, son of former president Corazon Aquino, is the man to beat. He declared his candidacy last September, one month after the death of his mother, whose emotional funeral became a rallying cry for disgruntled Filipinos. Early opinion polls gave him a commanding lead over Senator Manuel “Manny” Villar, a billionaire businessman who is also considered a strong candidate.
But the latest independent poll taken in January put the two candidates virtually even. The Pulse Asia polling firm said Mr. Aquino led with 37 percent, with Mr. Villar at 35 percent. One reason is a blitz of TV advertising by Villar, who is financing his own campaign in the run-up to Tuesday, when $11 million per candidate spending limits kicked in.
Lagging behind in the poll were Mr. Estrada, who was ousted in 2001 by protests over corruption, and Gilberto Teodoro, former defense minister under Arroyo. Other hopefuls include an evangelical priest, a senator who runs the Philippines Red Cross, and a prominent environmentalist. The field is likely to narrow by April to two or three candidates.
Philippine elections rarely turn on policy platforms, though candidates will try to tap into popular frustration over poverty, corruption, and inflation. Presidential hopefuls have so far steered clear of specific policies. Aquino pledged Monday at a public forum not to raise taxes. More generally, he has staked his candidacy on his family’s record for honesty and probity and a willingness to tackle graft.