Action film star to run in Philippines
By OLIVER TEVES
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
MANILA, Philippines -- Action film star Fernando Poe Jr. announced Wednesday he will run for Philippine president in next May's election, setting up a campaign certain to draw parallels to two other movie idols: former President Joseph Estrada here and Arnold Schwarzenegger in California.
Poe, a political newcomer and close friend of Estrada's, said he was yielding to public pressure, including the signatures of two million voters gathered by supporters.
"Since last year, when I went around the Philippines, I saw what the people need and I saw their clamor, and I cannot turn my back," Poe told supporters and media. "Actually, it is not ambition, it is more ... serving the people and dedicating your life for them."
The 64-year-old Poe - known in the Philippines as FPJ and "Da King" - said he does not yet have a political party backing him, but members of Estrada's Party of the Filipino Masses promised support.
"He wants unity ... and he appeals to all the Filipino people," said Basil de Mesa, vice chairman of Estrada's party organization in nearby Bulacan province.
Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III, who helped convince Poe to run, said the opposition hopes to have a single candidate to increase its chances of beating President Gloria Macapagal and that Poe has agreed to submit to its selection process.
Arroyo, who came to power in January 2001 when Estrada was forced out by massive protests over his alleged corruption, recently reversed a decision not to run and will seek her own six-year term.
Arroyo, visiting northern Nueva Ecija province, refused to react to Poe's announcement, saying: "I will not talk politics."
Despite his popularity, Poe has so far ranked poorly in opinion polls on possible candidates. His strength is the same as Estrada's - the urban poor - but businessmen and others worry about his lack of experience.
His announcement will likely stoke fears of a repeat of Estrada's failed presidency and cause jitters when financial markets reopen Thursday.
Poe, like Estrada, frequently endeared himself as an underdog hero crippling enemies with rapid punches and fancy tricks with a .45 caliber pistol. He has also played true-to-life heroes, including decorated policemen, and appeared in several World War II movies as a soldier or guerrilla fighting Japanese invaders.
A five-time winner in the local version of the Oscars, one of his most memorable roles was a true story - a teacher who became a rebel leader fighting greedy landlords and bureaucrats in the 1920s, when the Philippines was still an American colony.
In his last movie, released in May, he was the buddy of a billiards player portrayed by real-life Filipino pool champion Efren "Bata" Reyes.
Poe started appearing in movies in his teens and has never held public office. But he has been under pressure from politicians, supporters and Estrada to seek the presidency.
"In the life of man, there comes a time that he will have to make a very tough decision. And that day has come for me," Poe said, adding he hopes to unite the divided nation because "I am not a politician."
His candidacy is sure to also draw parallels to Schwarzenegger, an Austrian native who became governor of California last week after capitalizing on popularity stemming from a slew of Hollywood action blockbusters.
Estrada, in detention on corruption charges, was among those to cheer Schwarzenegger's inauguration, urging him to serve by bringing his on-screen heroics to politics.
"The so-called learned people, with all their master's degrees, have no monopoly on leadership," Estrada said last month.
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