MANILA // A man who thinks he is on a mission from God, another who crows like a chicken and yet another who wants to reforest the deserts of the Middle East are among the 99 people who have filed their candidacy for next year's Philippine presidential elections.
Under the constitution anyone who is a Filipino citizen, can read and write and is at least 40 years of age can run for president of this South-East Asian archipelago nation of 92 million. Convicted criminals and anyone certified as insane are excluded. All it costs is the taxi fare or bus ticket to the local electoral office to register, sign a few forms and present a nice photograph. Most of the candidates are what election officials describe as "nuisance" candidates. In previous years an Adolf Hitler and a Jesus Christ registered to run for president.
According to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) 17,880 positions are up for grabs next year from municipal councillors to president of the republic. Ana Marie Pamintuan, a columnist writing in The Philippine Star recently, said: "Success in this country is measured chiefly in terms of wealth, and Filipinos see only a few sure paths to fortune. Not education, not innovation, and certainly not honest hard work.
"One sure path is entertainment. No need to be a college graduate, no need to be on one's best behaviour, and the job requirement includes doing one's best to look good. "For those who are not blessed with real talent, movie star looks, or the guts to display cleavage nurtured, there's another sure path to fame and fortune. It's less glamorous and the job can be acutely boring, so movie stars see it only as part of their retirement plan. But this is where the biggest bucks are made. And if you can yawn your way through the job, day in and out, and still get paid for it, it's not such a bad career shift - politics."
Ben Diokno, a professor of economics at the University of the Philippines, said: "Money is the key - if you don't have at least five billion pesos [Dh400 million] to run a credible campaign there is no point applying." According to James Jimenez, a spokesman for Comelec, 99 candidates for president is a record but by the time the applications are processed between now and February the number will be reduced to five or perhaps seven serious contenders.
In 2004, 84 people filed their nomination papers for president, but after they were vetted the number was reduced to five. It is expected that the final list of candidates will feature Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, 49, an uncharismatic senator who has done little in office but is perceived by the electorate as honest. He tops the opinion polls. Mr Aquino would never have been pushed into the limelight if his mother and former president, Corazon, had not died this year. Mrs Aquino was loved throughout the country and was credited with restoring democracy to the country after the dark years of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Behind Mr Aquino is a self-made multibillionaire senator, Manuel Villar, 59, who grew up in abject poverty in the Tondo district of Manila. Next is the former disgraced president, Joseph "Erap" Estrada, 72. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, his vice president, cut his term short in 2001 when he was thrown out in what he often claims was a coup led by the rich, church and business elites. He was sentenced to life in 2007 for corruption, but Mrs Arroyo pardoned him a few weeks later.
There is the government's candidate and former defence secretary, Gilberto Teodoro, 45, a cousin of Mr Aquino's. Articulate and intelligent, he stands only a slim chance of winning. He hardly rates in the polls. Then there are 95 others, such as Rigoberto Madera, who describes himself as "Star General Ace Diamond, Commander-in-Chief on Earth - Emperor, Ultimate Messiah", who was quoted recently as saying: "Even if I am rejected in the vetting process, I will run for president of the United States, after Barack Obama."
One candidate is the chicken man George Samia, 60, who has said he stands for nothing and crows because it's fun. Another is David Alimurung, 70, who represents the "Majestic Alliance of Positive Activists" who wants to reforest the Middle East. According to Mr Jimenez, all candidates will be considered, but in the end, "the main thing is: are they running in good faith or are they mocking the electoral process?"