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NEWS UPDATES 17 September 2009

Philippines: Ruling party candidate faces cousin in 2010 poll

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The Philippines' ruling coalition on Wednesday named Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro as its candidate for next year's presidential election, setting up an intriguing showdown against his cousin, AFP reported.

The announcement by the Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition effectively rules out opposition fears that President Gloria Arroyo would cling to power beyond her six-year term next year.

It also means Teodoro will go up against his second cousin, Benigno Aquino, the senator son of late democracy icon Corazon "Cory" Aquino, who will represent the opposition Liberal Party in the May polls.

"In the event that (Aquino) and I would be the ones to face off, the people can expect a dignified fight because even though we are cousins, we will not allow this contest to become personal," Teodoro told reporters last week.

Teodoro, 45, a millionaire Harvard-educated lawyer, was picked over Bayani Fernando, who is in charge of sanitation services and traffic in Manila.

Asked at a forum what he would work for as president, Teodoro said his priority would be "structural reform: economic, political and social reform."

Asked about other presidential candidates, he merely said "all of the candidates are formidable opponents." He did not elaborate.

His triumph appeared to reinforce the enduring primacy of the powerful political clans that have ruled the impoverished Southeast Asian nation since independence from the United States after World War II.

Teodoro, like the Aquinos, came from the landed Cojuangco clan north of Manila. He is the nephew of Cory Aquino, even though the clan split during the years that dictator Ferdinand Marcos ruled the country.

Adding to the election campaign spice, Teodoro's side of the family became known as Marcos cronies while Cory Aquino famously rose to become the leader of the opposition movement that ended Marcos' two-decade reign in 1986.

Teodoro entered national politics in 1998 and served for nine years in the House of Representatives as the elected representative of Tarlac, the Cojuangcos' provincial stronghold.

Before him, two uncles, a great uncle, his great-grandfather, and his own mother had occupied the same seat, which has since passed on to his wife.

With Wednesday's development, the main contenders in the presidential race appear to be Teodoro, Aquino, former president Joseph Estrada and billionaire property developer Manny Villar.

Teodoro had polled just 0.2 percent support in the last independent national surveys last month. However, with eight months to go before the election, the ruling party said the poll numbers did not mean much at this point.

Roland Holmes, president of Manila polling group Pulse Asia, told AFP that Teodoro's prospects were unclear. "It depends on how his campaign will go. It will depend on how his message will be received," Holmes said.

Teodoro became the youngest defence minister in the Philippines at age 43. He was tasked with securing military aid from the United States as the country faces down communist insurgents, Muslim separatists and Islamic militants.

While a strong advocate of increased military spending to modernise the armed services, Teodoro believed economic growth and equal opportunities were the key to solving the decades-long insurgencies.

"It is a truism that when you build a road to an area, (the) security problem is reduced," he said recently.


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