Thu, Mar 04, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Poe gets Supreme Court nod to run in Philippine election

REUTERS , MANILA

Fernando Poe Jr is eligible to run for Philippine president in May's election, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday, handing the film star a critical victory in his bid to unseat President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Poe supporters danced jubilantly at his campaign headquarters after hearing the ruling, which can still be appealed.

"Justice prevails," said Butch Cadsawan, president of one movement supporting Poe.

A transcript of the court's decision released to reporters said its justices had ruled by eight votes to five to support a previous ruling by election body Comelec that Poe was a natural-born Filipino qualified to run for office.

"An hour ago, the Supreme Court decided to dismiss the petition to disqualify Fernando Poe Jr, holding Fernando Poe Jr as a natural-born Filipino qualified to run for president," court spokesman Ismael Khan told reporters.

The long uncertainty over Poe's status has kept the peso near its record low of 56.35 to the US dollar. Despite the ruling, the market is unlikely to find much relief in the short term.

The lawyers who filed the petitions against Poe have 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration. Arroyo has denied being behind the petitions, saying she thinks Poe should run.

Poe boasts massive support from the movie-loving poor for his roles as a champion of the oppressed who lets his fists and guns do most of the talking.

But a Poe presidency is viewed with anxiety by markets worried about his lack of economic or political experience.

The prospect of mass unrest by his supporters if he was disqualified had loomed as an even bigger worry.

Earlier, SWAT teams with assault rifles and riot squads backed by water cannon had surrounded the Supreme Court in central Manila as police restricted traffic.

By late afternoon, there no signs of a major gathering of his supporters, despite earlier reports of a massing of pro-Poe backers.

Opinion polls show him neck-and-neck with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as both run far ahead of four others seeking the nation's highest office.

Ironically, many analysts viewed a "yes" verdict as positive for Arroyo, who has struggled to establish her legitimacy in the eyes of millions of poor after she rode a wave of anti-corruption protests to oust their hero Joseph Estrada, another ex-film star, in early 2001.

But the verdict is sure to boost Poe's campaign, which had been showing signs of flagging as doubts rose over his candidacy.

"The money bags who have been hesitant to put their money on Poe will at this point invest in him just in case he wins," political analyst Joel Rocamora said.

The Supreme Court was weighing petitions questioning whether Poe is in fact a Filipino after his birth out of wedlock to an American mother and a father born early in the last century during the US occupation of the Philippines.

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